Do you have a hard time getting started when it comes to writing? Do you find yourself staring at a blank screen, unable to produce anything worth reading? If so, you need to start using a pre-writing ritual.
A pre-writing ritual will help you get your creative juices flowing. In this blog post, we will discuss the benefits of pre-writing rituals and how to set one up for yourself.
What To Do Before You Start Writing
So what should you do as part of your pre-writing routine? It really depends on what works best for you. Some people like to take a few minutes to meditate or do some light stretching, while others prefer to listen to music, light an incense stick, or doodle on a notepad.
The important thing is to find something that helps you to relax and get into a creative mindset. If you can find a pre-writing ritual that you enjoy, it will make the writing process much easier and more enjoyable.
It doesn't have to be overly complicated or involved. Try taking two or three minutes to close your eyes and listen to some music for inspiration.
It's important to find something that works for you and that you can stick to consistently. Even if you just do one thing for two minutes, that's better than not doing anything and feeling guilty about it.
It's important to define a successful writing session before you start. Do you want to reach a certain word count, finish a scene, or spend a certain amount of time writing, e.g. two hours or twenty minutes?
Whatever your goal, make it concrete and binary. Concrete, as in something you can measure. Binary, as in something you either did or didn't do. Writing 200 words is concrete and binary; “following the muse” is neither.
Your goal doesn't have to be much; many people commit to write just 200 words a day and find that very helpful.
Here are some ideas for possible rituals. Note that you don't have to do all of these; try out one and see how it goes.
- Make a cup of coffee or tea.
- Gather your tools. If you use a writing timer, index cards, a special pen, or a favorite mug, make sure they're all on your desk before you start writing.
- Begin with the end in mind. Think about what you want to write for a few minutes. Are you working on a novel, a short story, an essay, or a new draft of your current project? What do you want to accomplish by the end of the day?
- Write your goal on a post-it and stick it to your monitor. When you've reached your goal, either rip it up or save it somehow, e.g. in a bullet journal.
- Visualize yourself writing the piece, and any difficulties that might arise.
- Exercise. Try stretching, yoga, kettle bells, a short walk, or a run on the elliptical or exercise bike. Anything that gets your heart pumping will help you write.
- Go for a walk or bike ride. If you write somewhere like a coffee shop or a library, start by going for a short ride to clear your head. You can also take a walk around the block if you write at home.
- Meditate, either in silence or with a guided meditation.
- Light a candle or a stick of incense.
- Free write: write whatever comes to mind about anything at all for a set amount of space (e.g. 1-3 pages) or time (e.g. 5 minutes). Julia Cameron recommends doing this in her book The Artist's Way.
- Say your favorite affirmations. browse my list of affirmations for writers, or create your own.
- Watch a short YouTube video about something creative. Be careful, though, one video leads to another!
- Read something inspiring, even if it's just a quote on the wall of your room.
- Draw a tarot card, perhaps after asking a question about what you're going to write.
- Pray or ask God/the universe/etc. for guidance.
- Write down every thought, idea, and story that comes to mind for 1-5 minutes. This can help clear your mind so you can focus.
Start by adding one of these many ideas and to your daily writing routine. Remember, pre-writing rituals are meant to help you get into a creative mindset so that you can write better and faster. If it feels like a chore, then it's probably not the right activity for you.
The key is to experiment until you find something that works for you. Start small, maybe with just one or two stretches, or a one minute brain dump to clear out any writer's block. Once you've found something that works, stick to it and make it part of your daily writing routine.
How Long Should a Pre-Writing Ritual Take?
There is no right answer to this question, but most pre-writing rituals take from one to thirty minutes. It's important to find a balance between something that is long enough to be effective, but not so long that it feels like a chore or cuts into your writing time.
The pre-writing ritual should be something you look forward to, not something you dread. If it starts to feel like a chore, then it's probably not the right activity for you.
Writing Rituals of Other Writers
Many writers have rituals that they follow before beginning to write. Books like Daily Rituals, and websites like Writing Routines, can offer inspiration to find the perfect pre-writing ritual for you. Here are some example pre-writing rituals from established authors:
Viet Tanh Nguyen
In an interview with Writing Routines, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Tanh Nguyen discussed his creative process in depth. He discussed how he gained inspiration for his novel, The Sympathizer, by reading a few pages from one of his favorite books before starting to write.
I was reading a novel called The Land at the End of the World by the Portuguese writer António Lobo Antunes and it came to me at a very fortuitous time because it had been reissued in a new translation right when I was starting The Sympathizer and struggling to find a beginning and when I read that book it really blew the doors open for me. I fell in love with the rhythm and the voice and I wanted some of that for my own book. So what I did was I would read two or three pages of that novel every morning until I was so affected, so seized by Lobo Antunes’s prose, that I just had to write myself.
Dr. Cate Shanahan: Coffee, Breakfast, and Exercise
Dr. Cate Shanahan is a board-certified MD who has written several books on diet and nutrition. In an interview with Writing Routines, she said that her writing ritual consists of two simple things: diet and exercise.
“1 cup cold brewed coffee in ¼ cup raw cream and 1 cup raw milk I am good to go,” Dr. Shanahan says, adding that she's eaten the same breakfast for almost twenty years. She has another ritual of “10 minutes of yoga and 450 core crunches. I also take activity breaks every hour or so to do a not very demanding workout video that gets the sludge out.”
My Pre-Writing Ritual: CESAR VIII
This is the writing ritual I've developed over several years. I have three kids, so I have to write in the early morning and I'm not a morning person by nature. Because of this, I have to make sure I use my time wisely.
The acronym CESAR VIII stands for the activities I do before I start writing. I try to do all of them before I sit down to write at my computer, otherwise I'm liable to start surfing the internet. CESAR VIII stands for:
- III -as in a three-minute writing sprint where I don't do anything but write.
This may seem like a lot, but it rarely takes me more than twenty minutes, if even that. I usually spend two or three minutes on each activity, sometimes less. The point is to get into the right mental state to write, and to clear away small tasks that might distract me from entering a flow state.
Let's go over all of these activities in order.
There's something about tidying up my desk that helps clear my head and make it easier to write. Maybe it's the fact that I'm removing distractions from my environment, or maybe it's just the mental act of organizing my space that helps get me in the mood to write.
I think it also stops you from getting up to clean when inspiration isn't coming. For me me, this just means taking a few minutes to organize my desk and clear away any clutter.
I also like to close any open tabs on my computer, and disconnect from the internet. I've lost so many days of writing to mindless internet surfing. No need to lose another one.
I'm no Marie Kondo, and I just moved, so my office is still full of boxes. However, I like to clean up at least one or two things around my workspace before I start. That helps set the tone of clearing away distractions before I begin.
I like to do a few stretches, especially back stretches, since I'm going to be sitting down. Sometimes when I have a bit more time I'll spend a few minutes on the exercise bike.
I find that exercise is a great way to burn off some of that pre-writing anxiety. Exercise is also good for your mental health. You don't have to be Lance Armstrong, or Bruce Lee, to get some benefit from it.
Meditation is a great way to warm up your mind for writing. I like to do a quick two-minute meditation, focusing on my breath. Sometimes I like to do a longer guided meditation.
Regular meditation makes it much easier to come up with creative ideas. This is because when you're quiet and relaxed, your mind is more open to new thoughts. I highly recommend adding some meditation into your daily routine, even if it's just a few minutes in the morning.
I have a list of affirmations that I read through before I start writing. Usually I'll have 1-3 affirmations every day. I say them out loud ten times in a row. Even if they feel dippy. Especially if they feel dippy.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- “Today, I will make art that connects with others and makes them feel understood.”
- “Today I will do work that is honest and from the heart.”
- “I am a clear channel for creativity.”
- “I give myself permission to enjoy creating art.”
- “I don't chase, I attract. Good ideas flow to me and find me effortlessly.”
- “I am a creative person. My creativity is valuable.”
- “I am a capable writer. I can write well and achieve my goals.”
- “Today I will write 1,000 words.” (or 200/500/750 words, etc.)
- “Today I will finish the plot line chart for the first book.”
- “I will be ready to write when writing begins.”
You can find more of my affirmations for writers here.
Rituals bring meaning to our lives, and affirmations can help define that meaning in clear language. Whatever affirmations you choose, make sure they resonate with you. If they don't, you won't believe them and they won't be effective.
Remember that these affirmations are for you, not for other people. They might sound a little dippy to other people, but they can affect your subconscious, how you carry yourself, and the stories you tell.
Just before I get started, I spend a few minutes “reminiscing” about an ideal version of the day that's to come. I write down all the things I accomplished today before they've actually happened. At the end of the day, I reread this reminiscence and grade it out of ten. Did I accomplish everything I set out to accomplish? Even if the answer is “no,”
If I'm pressed for time, I'll just write down three things I'm going to do today as if I've already done then. For example, if I'm writing the first draft of a book, I might write:
- I finished writing three more scenes today.
- I'm so glad I finished writing that chapter. It wasn't easy but I have something to work with now.
- I can't believe I wrote 10,000 words in ninety minutes! I didn't think I could do that, but I did.
Most of the time, I'd rather make the goals too big than too small. That inspires me to push harder. However, sometimes I want to set a modest goal that's easy to reach. Either way, I like to have some idea of what the “perfect day” looks like before it starts.
Finally, I spend a minute or two visualizing my ideal writing day. What does it look like? How does it feel?
I close my eyes and see myself sitting down at my desk, feeling relaxed and ready to write. I see the words flowing from my fingers onto the page. I feel the satisfaction of entering a flow state and the inspiration that comes to me as I write.
When I'm done visualizing, I open my eyes and start writing. Inspiration doesn't always flow from the first moment, but it's so much easier to start when I've completed the ritual for the day. All my ideas aren't clamoring for my attention, and it's a little quieter in my head.
III (Three-Minute Writing Sprint)
Writing sprints make it easy to get into the flow of writing. For three minutes, I write in whatever project I'm working on at the moment.
If you’re looking for a way to jumpstart your writing and consistency, consider developing a pre-writing ritual. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy or time consuming – in fact, even just a few minutes of focus can do the trick. What works for others may not work for you, so experiment until you find something that gets your creative juices flowing. And don’t forget – once you have your routine down pat, make sure to stick to it! Consistency is key when it comes to productivity. Ready to get started?