Ed Gandia, creator of the truly helpful High-Income Business Writing even if your focus isn’t business writing sent a newsletter that details his morning writing ritual.
It’s extensive and includes a gratitude list, writing morning pages a la Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, followed by a something creative which at the moment is some drawing. Apparently the whole article isn’t (yet?) on the web or I’d link you to it.
As I read through the article I of course recognized some of my own rituals. My morning routine is something like this most weekday mornings:
Up at 5 if not earlier. Make coffee, feed cats. Almost an hours worth of what I call spiritual reading. Twenty minutes of meditation followed by 10 minutes of walking meditation.
After the meditation I spend some time in feeding cats the rest of their breakfast, unlocking some doors around the center, then at around 7 I’m at the computer either with reheated coffee or green tea.
As some of you know I now begin my writing day with my 5 minute writing projects. I’ve been having trouble with one of those projects and I plan today or tomorrow to take some time and see if I can figure out why it’s snarled. Plus, this morning although I did my meditations and door unlocking, and the first of the five minute projects (which really took 18) I’ve blown my day all to pieces. More about that in a minute.
Why writing rituals work
Ed lists several reasons why his ritual works so well for him. The one I resonate most with is his statement, “Morning pages exercise helps me get rid of all the “head trash” and all the noise in my head.” I recognize head trash and meditation has helped me calm that monkey mind.
Novelist Robin Storey in Writers’ Rituals and Why They Work says this about why such rituals, strange and mundane, work:
In a post called Why Weird Writing Rituals Work on the Women On Writing blog, Rosanne Bane, author of Aroundthe Writer’s Block – Using Brain Science to Solve Writers’ Resistance, talks about the psychology of writers’ rituals, which make perfect neurological sense. When a group of neurons that process a certain behaviour are frequently activated at the same time as the neurons for another behaviour, those two groups of neurons will begin to act together simultaneously.
There’s something to be said for habits
Although I love the idea that my writing rituals are perhaps sacred and bring some of Carl Jung’s ‘numinous other’ to my writing, that feels a bit grandiose to me. I was almost disappointed to find Storey’s article because she makes such a case for habit – my writing rituals and yours have been training our brain neurons!
So what happened to me today?
Okay, what happened today is I broke discipline. Instead of moving through my five minute exercises I let the first one I did run on way too long – and yes, I’ve given myself permission to turn the five minutes into 10 to good effect. Unconsciously drifting a long for almost 20 minutes doesn’t support me, because it was unconscious. When I deliberately decide to make a change, things generally are much smoother. Then I moved to writing this article, ignoring the other projects I usually spend about 10 minutes on daily.
There really is value in repetition. When I make use of a habit I’ve formed I free my mind to do it’s creative thing.
Of course, habit can also become stultifying – at which point I think it’s safe to say it’s no longer a ritual or at least no longer a productive ritual.
Out of my breaking discipline today has come the recognition that I need to re-examine my whole morning routine. I’ll keep the coffee, reading and meditation, and I’ll keep some of the five minute exercises. My hunch, however, is one of those is a writing project with no legs; my job may be to dump it or at least put it aside for later, if ever.
Discipline through ritual, formal or otherwise, can work for us and so can breaking discipline – either can help create clarity. I just need to be willing to watch myself and recognize what’s working and what’s not.
How about you? What are your writing rituals and when do you know it’s time to change them?
Yes, you really will get a free ebook about writing when you subscribe to the newsletter.
Write well and often,