Rituals, Habits, and Getting the Words Down

I think we all have them. Even those who don’t think so, I believe all writers have them. I do. I’ve had several over the years that worked well for me and that at the time, I wasn’t aware of their significance. It was only after a certain point that I realized, hey, this is something, this is necessary for my brain to focus. I had trained my brain to recognize certain things and turn on writing mode.

I won’t lie, either. I needed writing rituals. Sure, I could sit down and crank out words, usually with very little prior thought, but there’s something special and zen-like if the ritual is followed, if the ritual is observed.

For me, it was more than one thing…

Coffee. I needed to have a cup of coffee sitting on the table/desk. And no, water in a coffee mug or anything else in a coffee mug, didn’t work. It had to be coffee, and often it had to be hot coffee. Regular, a latte, a macchiato, a cappuccino… Whatever it was, it needed to be coffee of some sort. I mean, why do y’all think I have such a huge mug collection?

Hoodie. I had a Kyle Busch hoodie that I bought one year after the season had ended and I wore that thing All. The. Time. It was comfy, oversized, and I loved it. It currently has rips and threads and holes and a rather interesting smell to it. However, if I were to wash it, it would likely disintegrate. I no longer use it, but for many years, it was a necessary part of my writing life. No matter the season, I wore it if I was writing.

Music. I need music to write with. I need songs that I know by heart, that I can sing along with. You know, the kind like… Well, for me, it’s 80’s music. I can sing along without giving it any thought whatsoever. I hear the music and the words just come out. It’s that type of mindless mindfulness that I need when I write. Writing in silence doesn’t work for me for the most part. In silence, I struggle with my editor brain, my floundering self-esteem and self confidence as a writer, and I second guess every single word, phrase, fragment, sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, until I’ve second guessed the whole book and figure it’s the worst thing ever written and I hate it. Music in my ears keeps that shit at bay. Music in my ears calms me and allows me to get down to it. But like I said, it has to be music and songs I know by heart. I have to be able to sing along or tune it out while I’ve tuned it in.

Writing movies. It’s no secret that if you’ve followed me for some time now, that you know I have several go-to movies when I’m in a writing slump. When I need to be reminded that writers of other books, and screenplays, and even songs understand that writing is not a straight line from A to B. It’s not something that goes away. It’s not something that always flows or is the best combination of words ever put down on paper or screen. Writing is HARD. Writing may come easier for some at any given time, but every writer feels and experiences the struggle and sometimes I need to be reminded of this by way of Michael Douglas in his pink bathrobe in Wonder Boys or Emma Thompson standing on top of her desk as she’s trying to figure out how to kill Harold Crick in Stranger than Fiction or Diane Keaton trying to write her latest play and struggling with it until she falls in love and gets her heart broken and then the words come pouring out in Something’s Gotta Give. These movies do something for me that help me get through, that help me see how much I love writing…when it’s going well, and how much I love that there are others who know the struggle when it’s not.

Those things were part of what I needed to write all the books I did when I first began writing. After a while, when I began struggling with the words, those rituals… Well, they didn’t help. My issues went far deeper and I’m still trying to claw my way back out of the darkness.

I’ve begun trying to develop better writing habits and honoring writing rituals that help me keep those habits alive and well.

I can now write without coffee on my desk. I prefer to have it rather than not, but a glass of water will often do the trick.

My hoodie has been relegated to the coat rack. I like to be cozy still and sometimes I’ll put on a cardigan or use another hoodie, but mostly I’ll just wear long sleeves and only use something else if I get cold, which is often. But I don’t need anything like it to write anymore. I think I find that rather sad.

Music is still and likely will always be a MUST.

Writing movies… I still love them so much and I always find something new in them. I won’t be giving them up any time soon, either.

I recently read a book called Finish by Jon Acuff. I loved it. And one of the things he talks about is having these little habits or rituals that help trigger the brain, to tell it that it’s time to write and get down to business. I understood this for myself as stated in the previous rituals, but I understand it more now because I struggle more and more with staying focused, and so, I’ve incorporated a few things…

A dedicated workspace. I used to roam the house or wherever to write and no doubt I can still write in coffee shops or in hotels or on the couch or at the kitchen table or even up in the bed… Nope. Scratch that last one. I’m too sleepy all the time to try to write in bed. But I’ve found that having a home office, a desk that I picked out and bought along with a chair, a computer set-up I like and some things on my desk that make me happy or feel productive or just because helps me center and somewhat tap into that focus.

Music. The constant. Always. I have lovely pink over the ear headphones and I have a fantastic JBL speaker. I use them both. Obviously not at the same time. But they pump the music to me and that’s what I need. Also, a subscription to Spotify Premium. I know some think it’s a waste of money, but I have to say, it’s been an amazing tool for me for not only music, but for podcasts, too. And I’ll talk about those another time.

A candle. Jon Acuff says he lights a balsam candle or fir candle and the scent triggers his brain that it’s time to work. I love candles, especially the ones with wood wicks because I love listening to the crackle as they burn. I love a good balsam candle, but a good pumpkin spice one is nice, along with cinnamon. I like strong, warm scented candles that I associate with cozy thoughts and feelings. Seeing that flame flickering helps my brain calm and start to focus, as well.

A timer. One on my phone or on my fitness band or even one I’ve downloaded to the computer. I write best with sprints. I focus better if I do sprints, so I set a timer each time I sit down to write and it helps narrow my focus. I need words during a set amount of time and the shorter the period the better for me. Some do 30min, 60min, even 90min writing sprints. Those are too long for me. I have done as short as 5min and cranked out 200 words. 10min is between 300-400. 20min is between 600-700 (on a good day). But the writing sprints have saved me so many times when it comes to needing words. When I think, ‘ugh, I still need to write’, it’s a feeling that is stressful and daunting. But… when I look at it from the view of 10min. That’s it. I can write for 10min without breaking a sweat and then I don’t think about it. I just write. And before I know it, I’m on my 3rd sprint and nearing 1000-1200 words.

And nature. This is one that is becoming more of a thing for me. I like looking out at the sky, the green of the grass, the magnolia tree, the bushes around the deck. I like looking outside when I write. It’s not necessary for me, but I love it and the more I can do it, the more at peace I feel.

All writers have things that work or don’t work for them. All writers struggle from time to time and the systems that we put in place, either consciously or unconsciously, help us get the words in so that you can have books to read one day. Habits and rituals don’t always remain the same. They shift and change as we shift and change as human beings, as writers. I am constantly learning this.

I’m working to develop writing habits that help me be much more consistent than I’ve been in a number of years and it’s not been as painful as I expected. I’m working with much more love and grace for myself and for whatever process it is that I am working at any given moment. But if I do keep to the things above, I’ve learned that I am more successful in my endeavors than when I try to go off script and free-wheel my way though the fog.

Lissa

Happy National Novel Writing Month!

Please hold me!!!

Nah… I’ve got this. Maybe.

I’ve never won NaNoWriMo. I’ve never even come close. I usually give up and try to figure something else out and then get lost in baking and cooking for Thanksgiving and never look back, only come December to feel like a complete and utter failure because I couldn’t get a measly 50,000 words written in 30 days. I mean, look at all those who DO it! Look at all those who do it on a monthly or hell, do it every 2 weeks all year long! And me, I couldn’t even do it for one month, one freakin’ month.

That was the shit I’d tell myself every year. And sure, I told myself a few times that I wasn’t going to participate at all, but then I’d give in and fail before I got started good. Like… 2 days. Maybe 3. But 2 days of doing it, of cranking out words, of getting more than the minimum daily word count of 1667 and I’d be on such a roll and I’d be so gung-ho and I’d be… Done. I would doddle through the next week or so, but no real effort. I’d tell myself next year would be better. And news flash, next year would not be better.

So, why am I doing it at all? Because I love a challenge. Because my head is screwed on a little different this time around. Because I can’t help myself. I won Camp NaNoWriMo over the summer and damned if I’m not going to give NaNoWriMo a whopping good try.

I have been really excited this year for NaNoWriMo. I’ve been working on getting my house clean so I wouldn’t have to do it over the weekend, and I’ve done the grocery shopping and some meal prep and some organization stuff to keep me on track and I’ve been so damn excited that… Wait for it… I burnt myself out two days ago. I was exhausted. Literally exhausted. I couldn’t put two words together. I was in bed and asleep before 10pm and slept nearly 9 hours. That was a lot for me considering I usually only sleep 4-6 hours, if I’m lucky. But when I woke up yesterday, I felt re-energized and ready to go. I simply hadn’t paced my excitement.

And now, today is the day. Today is the day hundreds of thousands of writers around the world attempt to hash out 50,000 words in the next 30 days. This year should be interesting for the writers in US who celebrate Thanksgiving as the last 3 days of NaNoWriMo take place over Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Rivalry Saturday.

So, as author Chris Fox states at the end of most of his YouTube videos, I have to get back to the writing.

If you read this and are participating, I am wishing you the best of luck.

If you read this and are thinking about it, but unsure, try it. Despite my previous years of not finishing, you will learn a lot about yourself as a writer. Just visit the website and sign up https://nanowrimo.org/

If you read this and aren’t quite ready for the 50,000 word novel challenge, especially at the holidays, there’s always Camp NaNoWriMo which is held in both April and July with word count goals of anywhere from 10,000 to 1,000,000. I will be participating each of those months next year.

If you’re interested, I’ve created a Facebook group for moral support, kicking ass support, or whatever other support you may need to get through NaNoWriMo. There are also dozens of word sprint groups on Facebook, local NaNoWriMo groups, forums on the NaNoWriMo site itself, so… Join in somewhere. You won’t regret it.

10K Weekends For Writers – September 2016

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Happy September, y’all!

The kids are back in school and it’s time to get back down to the business of writing!

I’m done with client edits for a few weeks and have a great number of words to write.

It’s also the opening weekend of college football and there are a ton of games I will be watching from tonight thru Monday night. I will need to be very efficient with my time, which will mean a timer will be placed on my words so that I get the max out my effort.

As always, anyone is welcome to join in! Just sign up with the Linky below. Comment with your starting word count today and come back to comment with you ending word count on Monday evening (because it’s a holiday weekend in the US, we’ll take our 10K Weekend into Monday).

Let’s have some fun! And don’t forget it’s #10KWeekendsForWriters on social media.

~lissa

10K Weekends For Writers – Week 7

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It’s that time again, writers! Time for an attempt at 10,000 words in a weekend. Do you have word count to meet? Do you have a book you want to make serious progress on? Do you have one big project or multiple ones to get words in on? Then this is for you!

From Thursday (tonight) to Sunday at 10pm, is the time to get your write on!

Sign up with the Linky below. Keep track of your word count. Add the hashtag #10KWeekendsForWriters to your social media posts and get writing! Invite friends to join too!

Questions or comments? Contact me please! This is meant as a fun way to connect and get writing.

I’ll be writing in sprints between watching Nascar races. So, let’s write!

~lissa

10K Weekends For Writers – Week 2

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Are y’all ready? Do you have 10K words in you? Do you need to do some hard and heavy writing over the weekend? This is the challenge for you!

Beginning at 7pm on Thursday night (tonight) and ending at 10pm on Sunday night, the goal is 10,000 words. If you come in under that, it’s cool. Maybe it’s something to work up to. Maybe you’ll get it right out of the gate. You may write 10,000 words in a day. Whatever your ability and timetable, you have a whole weekend to get in as many words as you can.

Check in with the Linky below. Keep track of where you started with your word count and where you ended, then come back on Sunday night and leave a comment on this post about your progress.

So, let’s get writing! Feel free to grab the 10KWeekendsForWriters badge for your site or social media and be sure to use the #10KWeekendsForWriters hashtag so we can all check in over the next few days.

Any questions, leave a comment!

Are you ready? Let’s get writing!

~lissa