How to Create a Writing Ritual That Works
If you’re like most writers, you only have a finite amount of time to call your “writing time.” But writers aren’t machines, which means that a two-hour block of time doesn’t instantly translate into two hours of peak productivity. So how do you utilize this limited amount of time for the best results? And, even more importantly, how can you make sure that you always get the time you need?
Creating a writing ritual is one of the most effective ways to preserve and maximize your time. A writing ritual is a set of steps you take consistently to ensure that you meet your writing goals.
With so many types of writers out there, it may seem impossible to create a ritual that works for everyone. But a proper ritual uses the little things you might already be doing to better support the big thing you’re focusing on—your output during your writing time.
Here's how to approach your writing session to get the most out of it every time:
Schedule your writing time beforehand
There’s no better way to accidentally miss your writing time than planning to write “sometime today.” Instead, decide how much time you can spare to write on any given day. Then look at your schedule and see where that block of time fits best on each day. Is it two hours after work? An hour and a half before bedtime? An hour first thing in the morning? It’s okay if the optimal time differs from day to day; the important thing is that you find somewhere to fit it on your daily schedule.
Then, pencil in your writing time for each day, so you know exactly when it will be. This will take the uncertainty out of when you’ll write each day, and will also let others in your life know your plans.
When that block of time arrives each day, treat it like a meeting or appointment you have to show up for. You could even set an alarm to go off beforehand to make sure you’re ready when it starts. This leads us to the next important part of a good writing ritual…
Take a short period of time beforehand to calm your mind
The idea of beginning your writing session with a serene and quiet mind sounds like paradise, but it’s a privilege many writers don’t have the time or energy for. However, sitting down to write after coming straight from a loud environment—either physically or mentally—will wreak havoc on your focus. So how do you reconcile that desired peace with the stresses of daily life?
First of all, recognize that neither an hour-long meditation nor a perfectly empty mind is necessary. There are many ways to collect ourselves in the minutes leading up to writing. Some writers do a short meditation or take a walk around the block beforehand. Others schedule their writing time after a workout. But even something like waiting quietly while your coffee brews or turning off your music during your drive home can give your mind well-needed relaxation.
The point of this time isn’t as much about finding the perfect state of mind as it is about redirecting your brain’s focus from the worries of the day toward your writing project instead. Think of this state of calm as a secluded train station, where your mind debarks from one loud train and waits for the next train to arrive, to bring it in an entirely new direction.
Turn off social media and other interruptions
You might think that doing one last sweep on your social media platforms means you’re all set to write, now that the distractions are behind you. But something happens as you write: you feel a pull to check in again. The reason this happens isn’t that we believe there’s been an important activity in our absence; it’s because writing is work, and the second we get stuck on something, social media appeals to us as easier.
Take social media off your phone and turn off your computer’s WiFi if you can. Doing this will add an extra step to being able to check social media, which will serve as a reminder (and pattern interrupter) before you automatically jump on again.
Other major sources of interruption include phone and email. These can be harder to turn off, since important information in our lives comes through these channels. If you’re able to, silence your phone or put it in another room. A call or text might kick you out of your thoughts at a crucial moment, causing you to lose motivation that will be hard to recapture.
If you need to keep an eye on email, try keeping your WiFi turned off and checking your email only once every half-hour—preferably on your now social media-less phone, so you won’t be tempted to pop onto your accounts while your WiFi is on.
You’ve scheduled your writing time, showed up, calmed your mind, and cleared away distractions. Now there’s nothing to do but embrace this time to the fullest.
If you’re in the process of writing your first draft, the best strategy is to always write forward. Don’t get caught up in rereading or editing sections you’ve already written. Don’t rewrite sections you’ve started second-guessing. Just focus on reaching your next end goal. The end of the next scene. The end of the chapter. And ultimately, the end of the book. Finishing a first draft is the top advice from successful authors across the board. For a more in-depth dive into finishing your draft, read our 3 Tips for Fast Drafting a Novel.
If you’re struggling with inspiration or motivation, know that this, too, is common. Stay focused on your project, whether it’s outlining your next scene or writing a stream of consciousness from a side character. Without your distractions nearby, you’ll be amazed at where this focused time will take you. For more ideas on inspiration, check out How Do You Find Inspiration?
End your session right
A writing ritual wouldn’t be complete without tying off the end. Jot a few notes beneath your last line to remind yourself where you were planning to go next. Then back up your work. Some people use flash drives, some use Google drives or other online storage accounts, and some email it to themselves. Wherever you back it up, make sure it exists somewhere besides the computer you wrote it on.
Maybe you had a fantastic writing session. Maybe you didn’t. Either way, you should feel good about yourself the rest of the day! You showed up and put in the work. And if this particular session felt like pulling teeth, rest assured that 1) everyone—yes, everyone—has those days, 2) these were words you had to move past to find the better ones beyond, and 3) you would never have known about this direction not to go unless you’d tried it. And now you have, which means your path is better paved for your next writing session.
Make it a habit
Your writing ritual should become part of your daily life. Some people believe in writing every day, while others set aside four or five days a week. Whatever schedule works best for you, stick to it. That block of writing time should become as regular in your schedule as your morning breakfast or your daily workout. Every writing session you complete will contribute to your mind seeing it as a regular activity; the more your body shows up, the more your mind will, too!
A regular writing routine is integral to meeting your goals. But you don’t have to upend your entire life to create one. With the tips in this post, you’ll be able to develop a schedule that works with your personal life and gives you the writing time you need.