I composed these 5 daily writing rituals for writing better after a period of writer’s block – which I didn’t believe in before I had it – and discovered that by creating firm habits, the block like ice in the sun melted and the words began to flow.
It’s not easy being a writer. It’s not easy being anything. Even a fisherman on the salt sea below a blue sky on sunny days has stretches without a catch. But there are few blue sky days for writers and creating rituals will help you shrug off the insomnia and self-doubt so you can ‘Get black on white,’ as Guy de Maupassant put it.
The worst thing about writing is that even when you have finished, you haven’t finished. You write those dystopian words ‘The End’ thinking on the rational left side of the brain that ‘that’s good enough,’ while knowing with the creative right that it could be better.
Tolstoy’s wife Sofia copied out seven drafts of War and Peace – by hand.
In spite of their reputation for being boozers and bohemians, misanthropes and narcissists, most writers are morning people who begin their daily rituals sitting before the monitor, lined pad or velum sheet with a sharpened plume and mug of coffee. In the first hour after you wake you have your best ideas. But it takes a good hour on the job before the caffeine kicks in and the words find their rhythm. In the second hour, that’s when the writing gets done.
Hemingway rose ‘before first light’ so that he could come to his work and ‘warm as you write.’ Henry Miller wrote for two to three hours every morning and stopped at midday. Anthony Trollope’s daily rituals began at 5.30 with strong coffee and no breakfast. Like Miller, he worked for three hours, a watch in front of him, and set down 250 words every quarter of an hour. He wrote 47 novels that way.
Thomas Mann – Death in Venice – was another early morning labourer. ‘Every passage becomes a passage. Every adjective a decision. Anything that didn’t come by noon would have to wait until the next day. ‘I had to force myself to clench my teeth and take one small step at a time.’
Gustave Flaubert hated noise. While writing Madame Bovary, he worked through the humming silence of night and confessed in a letter how he foresaw terrifying difficulties. ‘It’s no easy business to be simple,’ he said.
5 Daily Writing Rituals
- Find your space and put a lock on the door. Your space is sacred, your sanctuary. Your brain. Clean your space yourself. Vacuum the floor. Wash the windows. Gather the dust. Rearrange the books.
- Start work at the same time every day. Use the same coffee cup – or whisky glass if you’re a night writer – and get those words down even if they’re the wrong words and you know even as they go down on the paper that you’re going to change them. It is through the act of writing that the writing gets better. When you stop thinking about the writing, that’s when invisible portals in the universe open and pour the words into your head.
- Create your own daily rituals. Leave work undone from the previous day so you can jump straight in. Or, go back to the beginning of the section you’re writing and read through again, making changes. There is no right pattern only your own.
- Take a long walk every day, preferably in a park or along a riverbank. Words like rhythm and, while you are walking, they find each other and spill from your mind when you least expect them. Carry a notebook or use Voice Memos on a smartphone to gather up these rare jewels.
- Go crazy once in a while. Forget the darling rituals and attack the manuscript at a different time, in a different place, in bed, standing up. Print the latest chapter of your book and sit in a bar or the park to read through. Attack the work like it’s a castle keep when it is least expecting you – at three in the morning after a night out, drunk or sick or at sunrise with a hangover or feeling wonderful like a freshly minted coin.
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This is is wonderful and helpful to me as a writer. I have applied some of these principles and have learnt more to practice from this piece. Thanks.
Best of luck with your writing – it is never easy but at least rewarding – sometimes