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Alice Bradley is the co-author (with Eden M. Kennedy) of Let’s Panic About Babies (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011) and writes the award-winning blog Finslippy.

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The importance of ritual

By Alice Bradley |

Om.

Do you have a ritual that sets your writing routine in motion?  Setting aside 15 minutes a day is in itself a ritual, of course. But how you begin can make all the difference.

A ritual doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Twyla Tharp discusses ritual in her book  The Creative Habit (which you should own, by the way). She begins each day by getting up at 5:30 am (a time of day that makes me cry if I happen to find myself awake during it, but never mind), putting on her workout clothes, leaving her apartment, and hailing a cab. Then she goes to the gym, where she begins her day. The ritual, she says, is not in the exercises she performs: the ritual is the cab.

It’s not fancy, but then, it doesn’t have to be. You can ritualize whatever it is that signals your beginning: whether that’s lacing up your shoes, turning on your computer, lighting a candle, putting a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door, turning off your cell phone. Perform these acts mindfully, and there you are: your ritual. Once the ritual is completed, you’ll find yourself writing every day before you have the chance to second-guess yourself.

“First steps are hard,” Twyla writes, which is putting it mildly. First steps are the hardest. Anyone who exercises regularly will advise someone starting out to get out the door before there’s have the chance to question what you’re doing. The minute your conscious mind has a say in your routine, you’re screwed. You can always find an excuse not to go through with something. Creating a ritual is a way of telling yourself: we’re doing this. It’s okay. Look, we’ve already begun.

Stephen King describes his daily ritual in the book “Writers Dreaming:”

I know that there are certain things that I do if I sit down to write: I have the glass of water or I have a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down around 8:00 – or 8:15 or 8:30 – somewhere within that half hour every morning. I have my vitamin pill; I have my music; I have my same seat; and the papers are all arranged in the same places. It’s a series of things. The cumulative purpose of doing those things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind: you’re going to be dreaming soon.

Me, I start writing at the same time every day. It has to be right after I’ve walked the dog and eaten breakfast. The most important thing for me when I’m starting my work day is having a cup of coffee by my side as well as a glass of water. (I’m always thirsty, and if I only have coffee, I will be a frantic mess within an hour.) When I bring my glass and mug over to wherever I’ve set up my computer, that’s my signal that it’s time to work. It’s not much, but it’s effective. The minute I place those two drinks on the table, something clicks.

This week, think about your writing ritual. Do you already have one in place? Do you need one?

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About Alice Bradley

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Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley is the co-author (with Eden M. Kennedy) of Let’s Panic About Babies (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011) and writes the award-winning blog Finslippy.

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3 thoughts on “The importance of ritual

  1. Marinka says:

    Coffee figures into my ritual too. But now I’m going to hail a cab.

  2. It's Not Like a Cat says:

    Great post! With a 17-month-old and a 3-yr-old, I find it hard to carve out a ritual. If I wake early, the younger one wants to nurse (actually, he wakes ME up) and he wants to nurse/be with me if I’m home. I recently ran a marathon, but somehow training for that was easier than writing, because I would get up at 5:30 and leave the house! But to write at that time of day, I have to be home, and my husband doesn’t quite see that having the baby on me is not so helpful to the writing process or my concentration.

    My day is nonstop mayhem until about 9:30 p.m., at which point I can churn out a blog post but I’m not really at my writing best. I wish I could have quiet and alone time first thing in the morning or else have somewhere to go at that time of day. The local cafe opens a little later, but I wouldn’t be able to get there and then get home in time to get my older son off to preschool and for my husband to be able to get ready for work.

    As for space, I now share a desk with my husband, so I don’t really have my own space. I now take my computer into the kitchen and write there! Or in the dining room. Any clear table that isn’t cluttered with someone else’s stuff…

    So all of this is to say that I like the idea of ritual but I’m struggling with it right now. I really need one (and a place…Virginia Woolf was so right!!).

  3. Kerry says:

    I have to fast from other forms of media for at least 15-30 minutes before I can write anything decent. I have to be away from the TV and radio, even conversation with other people pulls me from a writing mindset. The best way I’ve found to do this is to take my dog for a half hour walk, then come home, hole up, and write for an hour.

    Reading this post has made me so jealous of those whose full time (paid) job is writing. God, to get up everyday, walk the dog, brew coffee, sit down and write? That sounds so great. I will keep my fingers crossed that that scenario is in my future.

    (Oh, and PS – while I’m sorry that your writing posts get fewer comments, I prefer this quiet place with true supporters to the riot of the last few weeks of the Dell giveaway!)

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