rit·u·al (rĭch′o̅o̅-əl)n.1.a. The prescribed order of a religious ceremony.b. The body of ceremonies or rites used in a place of worship.2.a. The prescribed form of conducting a formal secular ceremony: the ritual of an inauguration.b. The body of ceremonies used by a fraternal organization.3. A book of rites or ceremonial forms.4. ritualsa. A ceremonial act or a series of such acts.b. The performance of such acts.5.a. A detailed method of procedure faithfully or regularly followed: My household chores have become a morning ritual.b. A state or condition characterized by the presence of established procedure or routine: “Prison was a ritual—reenacted daily, year in, year out. Prisoners came and went; generations came and went; and yet the ritual endured” (William H. Hallahan).adj.1. Associated with or performed according to a rite or ritual: a priest’s ritual garments; a ritual sacrifice.2. Being part of an established routine: a ritual glass of milk before bed.
[From Latin rītuālis, of rites, from rītus, rite; see rite.]
Besides flaying wombats in the moonlight and drinking elephant blood from glass slippers, what’s your ritual?
Remembering that Rule #1 of Writers’ Club is THERE IS NO WRITERS’ CLUB, what are the things you do to help you identify yourself as a card-carrying member of the Writers’ Club? What are your ceremonial acts as a writer?
The healthiest writers have rituals. Whatever their rituals might be, they serve to help them stay on track in their writing lives. Life is busy. We don’t always have the luxury of discovering hidden pockets of time that we can use in whatever way we like. This is why ceremonies help. For instance, it’s always a good idea to earmark time…to give yourself a daily allotment of time that is 100% dedicated to writing. If you feel you’d be a more productive writer in the morning, pencil in 8am-9am (or whatever hour in the day that works best for you—you decide) as WRITING TIME on your daily planner. Every day. And DO NOT DEVIATE. Whether it’s just an everyday day, Christmas, or you’re on vacation in Kathmandu, make that hour your time to write every single day of your life. If you’re more productive in the evening, pencil in 8pm-9pm as WRITING TIME. Or 2am-3am. You get it. Pick an hour and own it. Make it yours. That’s the best daily ritual a writer can have.
There are so many rituals you can add to your writing life. And the beauty of it is none of them need to make a lick of sense to anybody else but you. Here’s a couple ideas:
- Take a walk before you sit down to write. Make it a walking meditation through the woods or a stroll downtown in the deafening din of rush hour. Do it every time. Make it the way you start your writing day.
- Make a mixed tape of the music that most suits your writing. Listen to it every time you write, or every time before you begin to write. Turn it into your Pavlov’s Dog tape. Every time you hear one of those songs in the wild, you will want to write. You will be recalling the writer in you at times when you least expect it. Connection and association helps us to maintain productivity.
- Booze. Not for everyone. (-: Pour a shot of Jack Daniels, inhale it…and begin writing.
- Don that threadbare plaid housecoat you keep in the back of the closet. You know the one, your writing robe. Own it. Be a writer every single time you put it on. Or that one dress, one pair of shoes, pipe, whatever it may be. If you have something specific that you wear when you write, make it a magical source of inspiration every single time you don it.
- Sit-Ups, Jumping-Jacks and Dance Moves. Want to inject some health-conscious moves into your everyday writing routine? Go for it. Give yourself a ten-minute workout either before or after you put down your words.
- Sketch. Make other creative endeavors part of your routine. Draw for 15 minutes and follow up with 45 minutes of writing.
- Coffee or Tea. Even the benign everyday routine of making coffee or steeping tea can be done from a place of meditative peacefulness. Before you write every morning, take yourself to the kitchen and perform the task of making coffee or tea. Take your time. Meditate as the kettle boils or the coffee drips. Attain inner peace while the water ruminates. Or maybe ruminate while the water attains inner peace. Make this an important ritual that will set you up for an excellent hour of writing.
Of course, these are just a few easy suggestions. What every writer has to do is FIND YOUR OWN WAY. Just remember when you’re picking and choosing the proper rituals that will inspire your word-flow that there are rituals that will end badly. You want to find something that will make you limber and ready to hit the words. You want to be kind to yourself and create an environment that will be conducive to creativity. If your pre-writing ritual is 10 minutes on Facebook, followed by 10 minutes on Twitter, you may NEVER get to the point where you’re putting words on paper. Choose wisely, grasshopper. And choose based on the kind of person you are, not based on what other people tell you you should do. Charles Dickens always rearranged the ornaments on his desk into a certain order prior to writing. That was his ritual. I don’t have ornaments on my desk. Truth be told, I don’t have a desk. If I thought I needed to follow his ritual in order to write, I’d spend all my writing time at Ikea worrying over which desk would serve me best. So don’t take yourself too far afield from who you are to find the rituals that work best for you. Just pamper your writing time, and the time leading up to it. Make sure you’re ready, every day, to tackle the task.
If you are not aware of Donald Hebb, you should be. The Hebbian Theory, brought to its simplest, kind of says, “Cells that fire together, wire together.” You get those rituals in place, and every time you take part in the ritual you’re brain will be preparing to write. ‘Oh, I’m doing the making coffee ritual! I get to write now!’
Writer Steven Pressfield outlined his ritual-filled pre-writing morning in his book, THE WAR OF ART:
I head back to my office, crank up the computer. My lucky hooded sweatshirt is draped over the chair, with the lucky charm I got from a gypsy in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer for only eight bucks in francs, and my lucky LARGO name tag that came from a dream I once had. I put it on. On my thesaurus is my lucky cannon that my friend Bob Versandi gave me from Morro Castle, Cuba. I point it toward my chair, so it can fire inspiration into me. I say my prayer, which is the Invocation of the Muse from Homer’s Odyssey, translation by T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, that my deal mate Paul Rink gave me and which sits near my shelf with the cuff links that belonged to my father and my lucky acorn from the battlefield at Thermopylae. It’s about ten-thirty now. I sit down and plunge in.”
Do you see? Some of his rituals are quirky, yes…but they work for him. They give him the routine he needs to ‘plunge in‘. Could I write without the container of trail mix beside me? Probably. But I don’t want to. Eating that trail mix is firing my synapses…telling me it’s time to write. Like Pavlov’s Dog, I write.
Trigger yourself to be a better writer through ritual. Now, off you go…go forth and write!