The Ritual

The hardest part of writing is pushing through.  

At the very beginning of any project, you get a great idea, start sketching things out in your mind, and everything is great.  It seems so full and rich!

Then you sit down to write and realize you only have a few lines of dialogue, some vague notions of character, and the logic of the story makes no sense.

Congratulations.  This is where the real work starts.

Anyone can write when they’re excited and inspired.  But pros have to be able to write on a consistent basis.  This is the type of work I’m interested in:  The tough, exhausting, difficult, creative work that involves pushing outside of your comfort zone and writing well.

More specifically, I’m interested in the processes that make this kind of everyday writing possible.  I’ve been testing out quite a few different methods, but at their core, the defining characteristic of each of these systems is that they involve creating rituals.

Why are rituals so important?

Psychologists Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz asked that question during their research into why certain exceptional athletes achieve victory in their sports while many of their adversaries who possess similar levels of talent fail.

They found that the top athletes were the individuals who were able to most efficiently preserve their mental and emotional energy — and these athletes were able to do that by creating and utilizing rituals that both relaxed them and focused their attention on their immediate goals.

In their book The Power of Full Engagement, Loehr and Schwartz build off a growing body of scientific evidence which indicates that the capacity we have for creative, mental, and emotional energy is both finite and far more limited than most people would like to believe.  Thus, the adage, “work harder” is largely useless… to achieve greater results, you must focus on utilizing your energy more efficiently.

The authors assert that rituals work because they allow our brain to effectively short-cut the exhausting mental processes involved in figuring out what we should be doing at any given moment, and keep us focused on what to do next.

In my post Behavioral Science, I wrote about the methods and tricks I’m using to push through the natural resistance that accompanies the work behind writing.  Here they are again:

  • Beginning writing at the same time every day
  • Writing an initial ”daily-goal” statement at the start of each writing session
  • Writing to a daily page-goal, regardless of quality
  • Setting a plot point goal
  • Tracking my Churn Rate

I’m also going to add three more methods that I use to that list:

  • Using a kitchen timer to work in writing “sprints”
  • Tracking how much total time I write each day
  • Using a Pavlovian trigger

You may notice that these methods have nothing to do with the creative content of my writing.  Instead, they’re about establishing rituals that make the writing process easier.  Additionally, several of these methods include a “tracking” component — a system of accountability regarding these processes.

That’s 8 total methods I’m testing.  Over the next few days, I’ll be digging into the hows and whys behind these methods.  I’ll include a discussion about what is working, what the challenges are, and any tweaks that I add along the way.

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