Rituals, every writer has them. They vary from writer to writer, from writing at a certain time every day to creating an atmosphere, or meditating to prime the brain. Rituals become a part of our writing process.
My last post focused on the psychological hacks I discovered to get my head back in the game after a long hiatus (to read Psychological Hacks for Writers click here). On reflection, I discovered alongside my psychological hacks, writing rituals formed organically and are also aiding productivity. The rituals and psychological hacks work together to cement strong writing habits. I see them as different elements; psychological hacks are more about brain training (motivation, focus, and prioritising) in broad ways that can be applied to anything, and writing rituals are more specific to writers.
Writing Room Atmosphere
Creating a writing atmosphere signals to The Muse that it’s time to write. Create a space you want to write in. Try a creative writing-only zone. If space is an issue, accessorise your desk for writing sessions. I know writers who bring out crystals for writing. A special tablecloth might do the trick. My thing is candles. I love candles. They create an atmosphere and sense of peace.
Candles have an effect on my mind, the same way the ocean does. Only it’s far more practical for me to burn than to visit the beach multiple times a day. My brain associates the flickering flame with writing time. Novel writing occurs in the same room, at the same desk. I prefer smaller jar candles, so after my two hours of writing, I blow out without issue (big candles should be burnt longer to avoid wastage).
I know writers who love taking their laptops and writing in a variety of locations. Coffee shops are popular. For me, the stimuli of different locations keep the muse away and bog my focus.
I do blogging and other stuff in a different room on a different computer. I’m finding I am more productive this way because my brain is switching between tasks more efficiently.
Every writer needs to find their own rhythm and not be afraid to try new times to write (as life permits). Not all of us can write at the same time each day. For years, I did most of my creative work for 3–5 hours at night. A night owl at heart. Not a morning person… the morning brings out my inner zombie. But, life took hold, and by night the energy monster left me with nothing, writing took a hit and depression set in (playing with my imaginary friends keeps me sane). As a solution, I switched my daily routine around and writing for the novel is the first task I do after breakfast. I tend not to write for any more than two hours at a time because for me it’s more energy efficient by avoiding burnout. Writing routinely is like dating The Muse. She knows when to turn up.
Alternatively, I can write for hours and hours at night and enjoy the process more, but I find the following morning The Muse is exhausted and my morning writing routine takes a hit. If I have a commitment and can’t get words down in the morning, writing the night before might be a viable choice I make, but on an ordinary day, no. Morning writing shows my brain writing comes first. Even 20 minutes is enough to keep the creative motor running and gives me an amazing feeling I carry throughout the day. Look at me, I can be a writer and manage commitments. (More on the psychological power of morning writing can be read here).
Morning writing also often leaves me with the option to complete another writing session with an energised brain before dinner. Before dinner feels like an organic habit. Two writing sessions produce more words than one long nighttime writing session. During my experimentation, three sessions in a day gives me a burn out the next day. Writing fiction is energy intensive. If the following day is a planned day off, pushing The Muse might be worth it. The key is knowing your limitations. You can only do that by trial and error.
The Writing Log
A writing log is another great way to help focus your mind on writing projects and another way to access the creative brain. At the end of each day, I write in my writing log. The writing log is probably more akin to a journal or diary on writing. It’s my place where I can reflect on my thoughts and feelings about what I’ve written or learnt. From time to time, the journalling fixes plot holes and offers new solutions. Sometimes, I remind myself where I am going story-wise. This brain-dumping exercise is a must. When busy, I don’t reflect a lot, but even a little goes a long way. I’ve been keeping a writing log for years. The process keeps me mindful of what I am writing.
Writing Progress as a Visual
As writers, it can be tricky to see progress. Most of us write directly onto electronic devices. There is no physical representation. Of course, some writers print off their chapters as they are written and watch the paper grow. I’m way too stingy to do that. The trees, the trees! Instead, I created a blank monthly calendar pdf from a standard calendar app and fill it in by recording the scene I wrote for the corresponding day and my word count. Because my handwriting rivals a 5-year-old’s, I have the pdf on my iPad and fill the calendar in using the app, GoodNotes 5. I view this document daily and watching the boxes fill up feels like a game. The boxes help with motivation because visually I don’t want to miss a day. If I know I need to miss a day, because hey that’s life, I write more the day before… or I could make sure I write a sentence. I also set a minimum word count for the week to prevent cheating. As I type this, my minimum word count is 5000 words per week but I will consider increasing shortly.
Many writers record word counts with spreadsheets. Others colour in trackers.
The Writing-Only Device
Writer friends often ask me about my process. We’re all different and writers are nerds at heart. Most of us love (and hate tech). I’m a Mac girl. For years, I have been using the novel writing app, Scrivener. I write in “scenes” by nature. A hangover from my scriptwriting days. My stories are in manageable chunks before I start the write-up. How I outline and plot is for a later post.
I had no problem with typing and using Scrivener until… I discovered Dragon Professional and the wonderful world of dictation. As of 2023, Dragon Professional only works on Windows, the Mac app was discontinued years ago. Spew dust! Several years ago, I purchased a Dell XSP 15 to operate Dragon Professional. That machine and I didn’t bond. The speakers and mic are terrible. The external mic keeps cutting out and the trackpad hurt my hands after a while… Dragon Professional was ok on the Dell, but not great in the end. Granted the screen was beautiful. My point is I didn’t want to use it. Juggling between Mac and Windows was tedious. Black Friday came around last year and the Surface Pro was heavily discounted. I jumped on it. Even though I am still a Mac girl, over the past couple of months I bonded with Surface Pro for writing. It reminds me more of working on my iPad than a laptop. I can pick the lightweight Surface Pro and use Dragon Professional anywhere.
I have a workflow happening. Mostly I use Scrivener for windows (the app syncs with the Mac version) and MS word. For each day, I create an MS Word document saving with the day’s date and the way I go (I use the day’s date because I don’t always know what I am writing before I start and auto-save is your friend). Often I’ll leave myself a reminder of what happens next, so I can jump straight in for the next writing session. Starting is the hardest part. The more I prep for a scene, the faster I write. Although more random details come out with vaguely planned scenes. A balance is good. After writing, I copy and paste the writing into Scrivener.
Having a designated device for creative writing helps me get into creative mode. I’m not as distracted by other apps and the internet. I don’t have to prepare and set up apps and equipment to write. Not everyone can be as spoiled as me. I love my tech toys. Dragon Professional is awesome for productivity. I have picked up dictating again this week and my word count per session is nearly double.
A writer’s process includes rituals. Some are fancy, and some are simple. Rituals are an individual thing. What works more for me might not work for you. Hell, what is working for me now may not work for me in the future. As writers, we pluck ideas from here and there. Generate your own writing rituals. Create an atmosphere. Start a writing log or play the calendar game. Maybe a new toy would do the trick.
Do you have any writing rituals? What’s your writer’s process? Share below.
Categories: Writing, Writing Battles
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