Writing Wednesday: The Role of Ritual and Routine (Or, How To Get Back On The Wagon)

Writing – it’s a joy, an art, a mystery, a discipline. Plenty of wrong answers, and a plethora of right ones. How-to’s, when-to’s, must-do’s, don’t do’s – so much to remember, so much to think about. And when it’s all going well, we just write it. Doubts are ignored, hopes soar, words stream onto the page and we are all at once happy and hungry for more.

And then something happens. We write ourselves into a corner. Life intervenes. Holidays, or family visits, or the washing machine breaks, or we get a really bad cold. The happy writer routine flies out the window. A day, and then a week flies by without words hitting the page. A new feeling fills the heart.

Despair? Guilt? Fear? Hard to say. Definitely something worse than discomfort. Got to get back to the page, got to find the words again. But it’s like the quicksand is sucking us away, and the treasure is just over there and we just can’t get it, and if this was a nightmare I would be awake by now!

So what to do? How to get back on the writing wagon? How to find the words again when it feels like they are teasing us and we will never ever catch them ever again.

Two words. Ritual. Routine.

I have a zillion different herbal teas, a sample of which I reserve for my writing time. I have biscuits that I generally keep for when I am writing too – that way, when things are going well, I don’t have to move when the munchies strike, and when things are going badly, I can write about the biscuits. I have a very noisy clothes dryer, the rumble from which I can hear as I sit at my desk. On days the words won’t come, I make sure to put that on. Maybe you have a cream you can put on your hands, or a calendar you can tick the day off on. Something sensory, something pleasant, something you can associate specifically with writing, without it actually being writing. A ritual that doesn’t connect you to the internet, but rather connects you to what makes you, you.

Of course, this advice works best retrospectively. By which I mean, if you have a ritual before you start writing, then when something stops you from writing, doing the ritual can help you start up again. It jogs your brain into a different way of thinking. Helps you remember what writing feels like – without the actual writing bit. But if you don’t have a specific ritual that you have consciously put in place, you have to go back and think about the places that you were, and things you did when you were writing. Favourite writing mug? Favourite pen? Music? Take a walk beforehand? Shower? Salad for lunch?

When you’re trying to get back to the words, you don’t want to be buying a new notebook and rearranging your desk in the hope that the new words will come (the exception is, obviously, if you have written yourself into a corner). You want to capture the essence of what it was to be writing the way you were writing – just maybe without the pressure to do the actual writing.

So find, and do the rituals. Every day. And write. Badly. Or write what you’ve already written. Tell yourself it’s not about the words, it’s about the routine. It’s about the ritual, and the action and the doing. And before you know it, the words will come rushing back, just to see what you are up to.

Writing. It’s a mystery.

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