Writing Rituals: A Creature Of Habit

Daily routines give me a sense of right-ness, I admit with unabashed glee.  From the moment I wake, ritual reigns supreme.  Quiet time with a cup of coffee or hot tea, reciting Sh’ma, speaking aloud a blessing, preparing my boys for school, computer time.  The repetitive nature of ritual comforts me, offers structure to measure my days.  Writing is no different.

I’ve a writing nook, well, more like an overstuffed chair in the far end of my L-shaped living room.  It’s slanted away from television, offering me a view of my side yard.  Comfy chair and ottoman, check.  Basket-o-notebooks beside, check.  Side-table laden with #7 mechanical pencils and Black Pearl erasers, check.  Glasses, check.  Steaming cup of tea, check.  Ahhh!  Sweet mysteries of life.  Ha!  This is my favorite space to sit and conjure words.  The sounds of chirping birds, the cool breeze wafting through triple hung windows, the solitude of my mind – these allow for the creative spark to unfurl, for my pencil to scrape across the white pages in steady strokes.

But at times, ritual becomes stifling – gasp!  Yes, I’ve said it aloud!  When the words will not come, when my muse stamps her foot and refuses to play nicely, sulking in the corner and scowling at me with her pinched face, I deploy counter-measures (sorry, daughter, wife, and now mother to military persons somehow infects one with military speak…lol).  I’ll likely never be a ‘free-spirit’, revamping my entire set of habitual routines – I’d probably expire, explode, or freak-out without my structured way of life.  But change can be good.  For a confessed creature of habit such as myself, those changes come in the form of ‘alternate-habits’.  It’s the best way to describe my ridiculous control issues…ha!

Adding soft background music is a favorite ‘alternate-habit’.  I can only listen to instrumental music, as catchy lyrics distract me – and believe me; no one wants to hear my singing anyway!  At other times, I migrate to my bedroom, spreading my notebooks on the bed and propping myself up with scads of pillows.  About once a month, I travel to one of two coffee shops and allow the conversational hum of fellow patrons to envelop me, to lull me into that nirvana of focus I need to become a part of the story.

There are other aspects of writing rituals.  For example, I read over the last scene I’ve written, often the last chapter.  It pulls me into the mood of the story, reminds me where exactly I was headed, evokes the emotions of my characters.  Equally important is reviewing my character profile from time to time.  It’s amazing how easy it is to stray from the original vision you set down for a particular character, to absently forget a quirk or theme you’d catalogued for adding character depth and continuity.  I write a summary for each chapter, briefly detailing the scenes I want to write and the emotions I want to highlight.  At the beginning of each writing session, I review.  This helps me with scene transition and foreshadowing.  Delish!

While I am an eager advocate for ritual, it’s best to remember that nothing is written in stone!  Deviate from your regular same-old-same-old once in a while.  You just may discover a new ritual, a new habit that will loose your creativity in unexpected ways and add a little something special to your butt-in-chair-writing-sessions.

~ Nadja

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Shauna’s Writing Rituals

Here we are, the fourth week of learning the Spellbound Scribes’ writing rituals and/or routines. Learning a lot about us, huh? We’re all pretty much shattering the glamorous façade of what a writer really is, aren’t we? Well, that’s okay, hopefully it gives you hope that you’re on the right track if you want to be a writer too.

So now it’s my turn. I’m gonna give you the run down based on what I do when I start a brand new project. This is also based on working from home, full time at writing. When I had an office job and access to my personal email I would just steal writing time. Basically I wouldn’t take my two 15 minute brakes and lump that time into my lunch hour and force out the words during that time to reach my daily goals. Now things are entirely different. Here goes…

Day one

Wake with the dogs around 7 am (earlier if hubs has an early morning client). Put on pants, don’t bother changing t-shirt I slept in, and take dogs for their morning walk.

Sit down at laptop and check book reports on various sites, catch up on Twitter, check email, check Facebook pages, check Kindleboards.

Accept coffee from hubs. Check everything I already checked one more time. Go make breakfast.

Wander into office and sit down at desk.

Open Pandora and spend way too much time perfecting a soundtrack to write to. Glance at clock and realize it is lunch time. Go make lunch, watch some TV with hubs while we eat. Take dogs for second walk.

Back online checking everything again – contribute to social networking. Decide soundtrack is good, call it a day.

Day two

Repeat day one up until sitting at desk. Turn on Pandora station for new project. Turn on TV and put on mindless sitcom reruns (unless it’s that magical time that ABCfamily is playing four days of Harry Potter…). I need noise to drown out dogs, hubs and clients, neighbors and traffic.

Open brand new word doc. Stare at screen.

Stare at screen s’more.

Decide I need to put on real clothes, flat iron hair and put on some make up to feel human again.

Sit back down at desk. Wait for narrator to start talking to me. Once she does, pound out a few hundred words (probably 250-500), then check social media sites again, edit Pandora play list, kill 30 minutes. Go back to document and pound out the remaining words until I reach a minimum of 1000 words (keep going if I have the momentum). Go back to internet.

Lunch/TV/Dog break.

Back to desk, listen for narrator. If she’s still speaking to me that day I continue on until I find a natural stopping point (note, this could be in the middle of a big, exciting scene, so that when I come back tomorrow I don’t have to sit and wait for the narrator to start speaking again).

Realize I haven’t blogged in over a week. Knock out 1-4 blog posts and schedule them.

Back online.

Day three

Repeat day two – still liking and disliking songs on Pandora, getting increasingly angry with Pandora for screwing up my perfect soundtrack.

Day four through sixty-four-ish

Repeat day two – always changing “blogging” for “proofreading previous work” or “editing previous work” or “going over editorial notes on previous work” – just whatever the day calls for. And always screaming at Pandora for playing songs that have nothing to do with my perfect playlist.

That’s basically it. Every day is always different from the others; sometimes I can stay in my PJs all day long, only changing when it’s time to work out, and some days only being in a planned outfit with hair and makeup done will make me feel human. I don’t understand how people use “Freedom” software to turn off their internet while they work. I need these quick little beaks to let an idea or character conversation percolate in the back of my head until it comes to fruition.

I have no magic formula. I just know that I need noise, both with the TV on and the right Pandora station on and a cuppa coffee or water. Also, it’s funny to note that when I was in college I could only write at night (creatively or for school) and would stay up into the morning hours just working away. Now if I don’t hit my stride before lunch I am kicking myself for missing the mark. If that happens I do write in the evening because I have to, have to, get at least 1000 words for the day to feel like I accomplished anything but I prefer to work in the morning now. It’s very weird how we change over time. But the noise factor has never changed.

The music station is especially important for me though because it helps me get back into the right frame of mind no matter where I am. Last year I had jury duty (this is the 2nd time this has happened to me while writing The Elemental Series) and was surrounded by strangers in a hot, packed room. A lot of people would just take this as an excuse not to be able to get into the right frame of mind to create. I didn’t; I just put on my headphones, hunkered down in one of the cubbies I managed to steal before someone else, turned on Pandora and wrote over 4,000 words that day (we were never called to hear a case). Only breaking for lunch in the middle of the day.  So I know the right soundtrack is my special, magic key to writing. If I have to, I can give up everything else, but because I don’t have to, I don’t. It makes me happy to write this way so I do. It gets me through the dreaded first draft.

Oh and bear in mind, I have moved on from the “this sucks! I must edit and go back!” syndrome. You gotta get over that before you’re ever gonna finish anything. The key to my writing routine is… wait for it… wait for it… I write.

The Right Way to Write

The Perfect Writing Routine
After several years of newspaper reporting and a couple years of almost full-time fiction writing, I have finally perfected the right writing routine, one that balances sanity and productivity and allows me to fulfill my responsibilities and still remain creative. Would you like to know about this perfect writing routine? It’s quite simple:

  1. Get up early, at about seven a.m., to go for a run or go to the gym.
  2. Come home and shower at about eight, eat a well-rounded breakfast, drink some tea, check your email, and settle in at your well-organized desk. (Where you probably should have some sort of bulletin board of inspiring images and to-do lists and quotes from your heroes.)
  3. Turn on your ideal book-writing soundtrack, which you devised during the initial planning process.
  4. Pull out the perfect outline (made the previous night: see step 7 &8), and write according to its plan.
  5. Write until noonish.
  6. Lunch break!
  7. Write some more.
  8. By four o’clock, you’ve been writing for at least six hours. If you’re satisfied with your word count, which you should be after all this distraction-free working, put aside what you’ve written for the day, and think about what you’d like to accomplish tomorrow.
  9. Write out your perfect outline for tomorrow.
  10. At 5 or 5:30, stop working, and start cooking the perfect dinner.
  11. Enjoy the perfect dinner with your family, and then spend quality time with them or perhaps reading your favorite book and enjoying a glass of expensive wine before bed.
  12. Go to sleep at a reasonable hour, and do it all again tomorrow.

See? Perfect, right?

But that is not how I work, unless I’m having a fit of efficiency. I said I’d devised this perfect plan: that does not mean I adhere to it. I get productive self-improvement fits maybe once every other month, and they last about four days before I become exhausted and start trying to serve cold cereal as the perfect dinner.

How I Actually Work
I am actually capable of great productivity, but I’m rather an eccentric worker, especially when it comes to schedules. Here is what my “ritual” actually looks like:

  1. Get up at 9, then mope around because it’s before 10 and I hate mornings. Moping usually includes at least one cup of tea, some toast, and pictures of LOL Cats.
  2. Drag myself to the gym, then drag myself back home for a shower, complaining the whole time.
  3. Write my blog post for the day.
  4. Start pulling out novel-notes, try to select the perfect writing music, get distracted by an email, and then realize it’s just about time for lunch.
  5. Eat lunch, usually accompanied with watching an episode of some TV show I’ve already seen.
  6. Browse the internet.
  7. Realize it’s after 1 p.m., and it’s time to get to work if I actually want to get anything done. Sit down on the couch with the laptop to write.
  8. Realize I have nothing to drink, and head to the kitchen for liquid refreshment of some sort. I must have a drink to write. This can be water, tea, more tea, or, if it’s late in the day, a glass of wine.
  9. Return to the couch to get to work.
  10. Fiddle with sunlamp until it’s shining perfectly across my face. This is difficult because I have to balance it on the arm of the couch, and I inevitably trip over the cord at least once a day when I’m going to or returning from the kitchen with yet another beverage.
  11. Work until about four, then work a little harder because the business day is almost done.
  12. Stop at around 5 for dinner, family time, et cetera.
  13. Realize my back hurts, and gripe at myself for working on the couch and not at my work table. Make mental note to clean work table tonight so I can work there tomorrow.
  14. After an episode or two of something, forget about note to clean work table and instead sit down to work again at 8 or 9, and then work till I feel too frazzled to work any longer, usually around 11 or, if I’m feeling very productive, midnight.
  15. Realize that it’s midnight and I still haven’t gotten ready for bed. Rush around to get ready, and then crawl into bed.
  16. Read until way too late.
  17. Sleep, then wake up the next morning to repeat, cranky that I stayed up so late.

And there you have it. The daily habits of an inefficient night-owl writer. I have a few habits (like the incessant need for water or tea, or the ineffectual use of the sunlamp) that remind me of a dog turning in circles before lying down in its bed: they really accomplish nothing, but they sure make me feel better about eventually meeting my goal.

I suggest you follow the earlier, perfect routine… unless it drives you, like me, to drinking ridiculous amounts of tea and lots of nervous eye-twitching. In that case, I suggest that you, too, devise your own inefficient and perfectly comfy writing ritual.

Four-Step Writing Ritual

Image credit: Crilleb50 on DeviantArt.com

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

Ah, how I love that quote. I shared it with my husband (who’s not a writer) and he looked at me for a long moment before going, “Huh?” I guess to truly appreciate it, you have to know what it’s like to sweat blood onto paper and then think your blood isn’t red enough.

So, in an attempt to get you to understand our “process” (or possibly to show you just how strange we writers are), this go-around we’re talking about weird writing rituals. I’m working on book two of my urban fantasy series (tentatively titled Entangled), and I’ve done my fair share of weird “ritualing.”

When I was writing my first book—only my second full-length manuscript; the first will never see the light of day—I did everything short of standing on my head to get the words to flow.

I Skyped with one of my writer friends who swore by writing longhand. I tried that, and it worked for a short while. A very short while.

Then I read somewhere that someone else “wrote” while taking walks around her neighborhood. She’d dictate notes into the voice recorder on her phone. I tried that one night while lying in bed. My husband, who was taking a bath, poked his head out of the bathroom.

“What’s that creepy sound?” he asked, looking around with shifty eyes. I sighed and told him it was just me, talking softly into the recorder. After that I was too self-conscious to continue with the dictation plan.

What I’ve consistently stuck with, though, are the steps that lead up to my writing.

Step one: Get a giant tumbler of coffee.

Step two: Open the blinds in the study.

Step three: Turn on my sun lamp (even if it’s bright outside, I have to have my sun lamp on).

Step four: Write! Something about lots of bright light makes me write more productively.

If we ever move to some place like Seattle, I’ll have to buy stock in one of the sun lamp companies. At the very least, one whole wall of my study would have to be lined with them.

If you write, do you have a weird writing ritual you’d like to share? If you’re a reader, do you have a reading ritual?