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Why writing rituals work

April 28, 2019

 

 

 

Once upon a time, I pooh-poohed writing rituals. Gonzo, my creative brain, is as disobedient as she’s frolicsome: she wouldn’t stand for structure.

Oh.

I seem to have collected, apparently accidentally, writing habits odd enough for Gonzo to have picked them. Though she declines to discuss these habits become rituals, they certainly tickle her. I know this, because they work.

 

Following our rituals, I write consistently, faster, better and, this is the important bit, more happily.

 

The desk in the image is Rudyard Kipling’s at his house Bateman’s. According to The Writer’s Desk, the desk is so much tidier than Kipling kept it - he called it his dunghill and once lost a whole chapter in the mess. He’d lie on a daybed listening for inspiration, ‘drift, wait, obey’.

 

You’ll know that many writers develop rituals. They might always write naked, in their underpants or wearing magic hats, they’ll write standing up, lying down, or have their best ideas by walking all day or eating apples in the bath.

 

What’s going on here? According to Mr Google, there’s an array of Science Facts to explain it. Rituals are an act of attention, express intent and discipline, which increases our intrinsic interest in and enjoyment of what follows. They’ve  been shown to increase emotional stability and confidence by providing a sense of control, which reduces anxieties and other negative feelings. Rituals remind us of and connect us to previous experiences of pleasure and success. As they bring us to a positive state of mind, rituals bring us to an open and creative state of mind.

 

Carrying out rituals to achieve a certain result increases the likeliness you will. Naming a series of acts a ritual increases its effects. Studies suggest we have an innate sense of which rituals are most likely to help – those with many steps and repeated steps, in other words the rituals which take more effort. After carrying out our ritual, perhaps we change our other behaviours to support it.

 

So, on this occasion, I’m not just imagining things. Me and Gonzo’s writing rituals really are making a difference. We hope you've found yours and that they're successful as they're delicious (and more comfortable than mine).

 

My writing ritual

  1. Before rising, tell the Twitter something smiley.

  2. Dress in PE kit, just in case (see point 18).

  3. Make the bed. For some reason it is vital to do grievous violence unto the pillows.

  4. Turn on the kitchen radio, dance while washing the dishes, turn off the radio.

  5. Look out of the window for a cormorant or heron. It's okay if you don't see one, but magic if you do.

  6. Tidy the shoes in the hallway (if there are more than two pairs, the surfeit must return to the wardrobe). I don't know why.

  7. Plump the sofa cushions, see above re grievous violence. Set the future date when actual housework must happen, knowing it probably won’t.

  8. Make tea, using only the lucky writing mug (books and tea make Mavis happy), bring to desk.

  9. Read the word of the day, feel a bit cleverer.

  10. Prepare desk: smooth tablecloth, enjoy picture of giant robot attacking Eastbourne, appreciate cut flowers, wake up laptop, arrange current favourite pens and lucky notebooks (ideas, writing craft), open work in progress notebook and attempt to decipher notes to self.

  11. If building or DIY noise can be heard, pace about muttering invective until satisfied.

  12. Apply lucky writing socks.

  13. It is time. Sit.

  14. Set the phone to gong hourly to remind you that you have a body.

  15. If Gonzo is yelling a new idea at you, scribble down any parts that almost make sense. She won’t play otherwise.

  16. Write (oblivious to hourly gongs) until you suffer the dreaded glue-brain.

  17. When you suffer the dreaded glue-brain, make more tea, utmost tea. Gonzo adores tea. 

  18. If the glue-brain is of the tea-resistant variety, Zumba like a maniac then shower-daydream before applying lucky writing t-shirt along with lucky writing socks. Gonzo will be cock-a-hoop.

  19. Write until Gonzo declares victory / write until Mr G intervenes on medical grounds. If you skipped step 18 - congratulations, you've written like a diva but your legs are numb.

  20. Stagger, blinking, towards the wine. Your ritual is complete.

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