Friday, May 5, 2023

Rituals for Writing--The Relief of No Choice

A Woman's Guide to Search & Rescue, my second novel, is getting its cover designed this week. A huge step in making any book real and soon to be released. It takes all my patience to stay patient! Good distractions are needed--and there's only so much pie in the house--so gardening is my answer. Getting deep in the dirt, getting way out of my head. Allowing time to pass and trusting the process.

All those good things.

Spring in New England is an iffy time, too--kind of like my own temperament these days. The week begins with temps soaring into the lovely 70s then plummeting to thirties at night. Birds are loud--they don't care--and spring peepers in our vernal pond are too. My masses of perennials are up, daffodils and hyacinths are a riotous mess. It happens every year, the beautiful routine.

When I'm outside, my head often clears enough to ponder meanings and bigger ideas than fonts or colors or cover images. Spring's renewal also brings to mind other routines and rituals, what we do to celebrate occasions, what we do to launch something creative. I have a certain baseball cap, with the Weaverville Hotel logo, picked up visiting family in northern California. When I put it on, it's instant permission to abandon whatever duties call and go out to the newly planted peas, just to see if any more came up since I last checked. I have certain garden clogs too, a beat-up fleece that smells equally of dog and mud. It's my gardening uniform, I guess. And it clicks me into that activity.

This week, I was browsing Substack newsletters from different writers and creative artists. One talked about uniforms for creative work. The ritual of putting on a certain sweats, a worn-out pair of leggings or jeans, a cozy pair of moccasins. Paint-splatted pants for an artist.

It made me think about other ritual that offer permission to start our daily or weekly writing routine. Like setting out your running or walking clothes before bed, it makes the activity one of no choice.

What's the benefit of no choice, when it comes to writing practice? If you're like me, there are always a thousand other things calling. You may not have a writing uniform (or favorite scarf!) to make you feel ready to ignite creativity. But other rituals can remind you, turn away distractions, help you keep your promise to yourself.

If we know, via these rituals, that we are permitted to write--if we give ourselves no choice but to sit down and do it--there's magic in that. The whole purpose, the goal, of keeping choice at a minimum via ritual is to make writing a welcome habit.

Ritual 1: Place

In my classes, I loved to ask writers: Where do you write? Surprisingly, many had no place of their own. "Dining room table until dinnertime," said one. "My bed," said another. "The bathroom with the door closed" was even on the list--a parent of young children said this.

i remember one writer who decided, after this Q&A, to convert an unused hall closet into her writing space. She built a series of shelves, one as a desk, added lighting and a chair, and began to actually work on her novel. Another finally took over her grown son's bedroom (he'd been out of the house for five years, but she hadn't wanted to disturb his room). Again, the magic of the ritual of one own's place began to work.

I have a day bed in our family room where my dogs sleep and I write on my laptop. I also used to love a certain coffee shop, until the pandemic.

With place, the ritual begins when you enter the space. It triggers the habit. Where do you write best? If you don't have your own place, what might allow you to find one?

Ritual 2: Time

I'm an early-morning person. I get up before anyone else, even the dogs, and I write. For an hour at least, sometimes longer. It sets my day aright, as much as early-morning walks in summer.

I also love writing at night, when it's very silent. But that's more catch-as-catch-can, so I don't consider it my ideal time. Morning is when my ideas are fresh, often flood out after sleep and dreaming. Knowing that I will write when I first get up often sets my creative self up for good ideas on waking. I keep this ritual as a promise to that creative self.

Sometimes the morning writing is mostly freeform, journaling ideas, freewrites. It all counts. I just show up at that time.

A student once asked about limiting time, how to do this. She was afraid of getting too involved in her writing, missing the rest of her life--like work and children. Timers are a lovely answer. Set your phone alarm before you begin. Rely on it, and relax into the writing until it rings. It's great if you have to stop in the middle of something, by the way. Called "Linkage"(I believe I learned about this from a book by Stephen King called On Writing), leaving a sentence even half completed creates a vacuum that will guarantee you showing up the next day.

What's your best time to write? Is it happening for you? Why or why not?

Ritual 3: Props

Some writers light candles. Some play music--even create a playlist of tunes for their character(s) or setting. Some have a certain view or lack of view they have to have in front of their computer or notebook.

My props, truthfully, are few. I don't like to write to music, generally preferring silence or, equally, the noise hum of a coffee shop. I do like warm feet--so a certain pair of fleecy shoes in winter is essential. I bought a low-EMR electric lap blanket for my writing area, again for our northern winters and chilly springs.

I do like a big mug of my favorite tea. I do enjoy the dogs sleeping beside me. My props, I guess.

But you may have a whole list of things you need to write--and this is fine. Ten sharpened pencils, a certain notebook with excellent paper, your own laptop (not the one borrowed from your daughter). Coffee freshly made. Two cookies. A drink. Whatever makes it "writing time" for you.

One friend has a phone call or text checkin with his writing buddy before he starts his writing time. Just "I'm starting now," and again when finished, "I wrote five pages today." Nothing else. It keeps him honest, he says.

Some people call them cheats. Like, anyone should be able to write without any props or special place or time. I disagree. Not all of us can divorce ourselves that easily from the demands of everyday life. Many of us need the small, encouraging signals of our rituals.

This week, consider yours. What do you set up for yourself, what do you need, to begin? What gets you started again after you stop?

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