Thursday, March 12, 2015

Writing Rituals (Dangers and Benefits)

By Charlee Vale

The question comes up everywhere for writers: in interviews, at events, one-on-one. It can take different and varying forms. 'Do you have something you need to have while writing?' 'What does your daily process look like?' 'Do you listen to music while you write?'

These questions, while they have slightly different answers, are trying to get to a root question: Do you have an writing rituals?

We're fascinated by rituals. We want to know what works for other so that maybe we'll pick up a spark of genius that might work for us. We want to wonder and marvel at the peculiarities and the simplicities of the way others work. Perhaps we want validation for our own set of unique rituals. There's an entire book dedicated to the rituals and practices of famous writers and artists. (It's actually very cool) You can find it here.

But what drives writing rituals, and do they help us or harm us? I don't have a definitive answer. I only have my own experience to draw from, in which the answer was: both.

During the Summer of 2013, I had a book that poured out of me like no book I had written before. I was writing anywhere from 2-5,000 words a day. For me, that's crazy.

Now, I tend towards the disorganized in my personal space. 'A place for everything' has never been, and never will be my motto. However, as I've gotten older I've noticed that I focused and am far more productive when I do a several things: Sit upright at a desk or table, have a clean work environment, and have noise canceling headphones on with my music. I also love tea to no end, so I would always make tea when I wrote.

I don't know if it was a conscious or subconscious thing, but those things quickly arranged themselves into a ritual. I would go to the kitchen and put on water for tea. Then I would go back to my writing space/room and make the bed. Then I would clean up anything that happened to be on the floor, and then the desk. When that was finished I would go and make the tea, and then sit down to write.

By itself that seems pretty harmless. However, it quickly became clear to me that I was associating my productivity and creativity with this ritual. I had to do it. If I didn't, how would I write? How would I be able to continue putting out this amazing level of words if I didn't keep doing things the way I had been doing them?

That right there is the danger of ritual. When we rely on an outside source to make sure we have our creativity, it becomes a problem. I stopped doing those things in that order, and spoiler alert, I'm just fine. So is my writing.

That's not to say that I didn't learn anything. I now know that the act of making tea helps me clear my mind after a difficult day. I know that having a clean workspace helps me, and that motivates me to keep it clean all the time instead of rushing to do it before my productive hours. Those things are a healthy boost to my creativity, though my creativity doesn't depend on them.

Let me know in the comments if you have any rituals, and what things you think really help you!

Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, bookseller, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, on Novel Thoughts, on Twitter, resisting the urge to make her bed obsessively. 


JeffO said...

I don't know that I'd say I have 'rituals' exactly. When I was working on my first serious novel, I did have a short (5 or 6 songs) playlist I liked to listen to right as I started out, but I haven't done that since. I do tend to waste a lot of time before getting started, doing a bunch of other things first, but not in any particular order or pattern I can think of.

Liza said...

I don't have a ritual while I write, but I tend to get started better if I've had breakfast and read the paper first. I don't often listen to music, but when I do, I wonder why I don't more often. The right music seems to connect me more with the story.

Matt Sinclair said...

My only ritual these days has been that when I get on the train heading home after work, that's my time to work on story, whether it's editing, writing, or dealing with the administrative rigamarole of running a publishing company. If a friend stops by to sit and chat or if my wife calls, I feel a bit put off from my routine, but I deal with it. Sometimes I lose the writing time, but overall, I end up accomplishing what I set out to do, week by week. That also helps for me: having weekly goals rather than daily ones.