I belong to Apex writers and am part of the Accelerators group, led by Forrest Wolverton. In Accelerators, Forrest uses brain research to help us unlock our writing and career goals (It’s more complicated than that, but that’s the gist). Last week, we were talking about the rituals we all use to get us in ‘the zone’ for writing, and it made me think about how we all do that, and how I, in particular, do that.
A lot of writers suggest (preach) that you need to write first thing in the morning, when your brain is freshest. And there’s a lot to recommend that approach.
I absolutely cannot do that. My brain does not wake up for several hours, and in the times I’ve made myself write first thing in the morning, the work I’ve produced has been hot garbage. No, the only thing I can do first thing in the morning is exercise. This doesn’t need my mind’s participation, really, which is a good thing. So, usually, I get up and go for a long hike, usually an hour or more. On days I work at my day job, I do this early in the morning.
But the hike has become part of my ritual for writing. During the hike, I consider what it is I’m going to be writing later, and how I want to approach it. It gives me an opportunity to visualize scenes. The hike is part of my writing process, even when I don’t write immediately afterward.
Now, when I’m at home, writing in my office, I make myself a fresh cup of coffee and put a fresh scented wax melt in the burner, usually a fresh linen or sea breeze scent. Then I meditate for ten minutes, using Jeff Warren’s Daily Trip on the calm app (not getting paid by calm but hey if they wanted to, they could throw me some money). This helps put me in the proper mindset, no matter what else has been going on that day. Once that is done, I come back to the present, and put on some non-vocal music. Apple Music has a playlist called Pure Focus that is ideal for this purpose. It consists of electronic and instrumental music that is pleasant, but not distracting (also not getting paid by Apple music, but again, I’d take the money if they offered it). If I listen to music with lyrics, I want to stop and sing along to it, and that’s no good. It’s impossible to sing and write at the same time, at least for me (feel free to take this statement as a personal challenge).
First, I read everything I wrote during the last writing session. I can tell because I typed it in green text. I give this a light edit as I go, then I am ready to begin drafting for the day. I shoot for 2000 words, and this usually takes me 90 minutes or so.
So, that’s my ritual for writing at home, in my office.
A couple of days a week, I write at the Redding Library. This is usually immediately following a long hike, and I do my meditation in the car (not while I’m driving) before I go in.
The Redding library is pretty large, and my journey through the lower floors and up the stairs has become part of my ritual. As I climb those stairs, I feel myself ascending through the levels, coming closer to the person I need to be to get the writing done. From there, I find a table, open my laptop, and the ritual proceeds. I have been getting a lot of writing done since I have been doing these things, and better yet, I am happy with the work I have been producing. All the separate pieces of the ritual combine to transform me into the type of person who is in contact with their creative well, their source of inspiration.
It’s not like I can’t write unless I do all of these things, it’s just harder to get into the mindspace of the story, to keep track of where I am and what’s going on. To write, you must get a little bit lost, and these things help me lose myself and find the story. I didn’t come up with these steps all at once, but assembled them somewhere over the course of the past three years.
So, I can’t do this first thing in the morning, but my rituals put me in the proper mindset. I need the physical exercise and the mental exercise both. I’m really happy I found a way for both of these parts of myself to work together.