Every writer should have one.
If you’ve ever watched your day fritter away, then you know how frustrating it is to have some time available which then becomes a total wash. Or you know the feeling of working really hard but seeming to accomplish nothing. Or knowing exactly what you need to be doing, but somehow always finding yourself doing something else. All day long.
In a way, that can be a good thing, a good experience. Because it teaches you: I do not want it to be that way. It feels awful. It sucks. And you know it would be far, far better for your writing life to go for a day hike, plan a day at the museum, or consciously dedicate yourself to all of Season 2 of Game of Thrones with popcorn breaks, than it is to spend a whole day in such purgatory.
And this grey area is often fairly present even on not-so-bad days.
The good news is, it’s not as hard as it might seem to set yourself up for a successful day, over and over again. And this comes down the acute power of ritual.
Ritual: Rare and Precious Actions, Repeated
Have you ever seen a pro basketball player take a free-throw shot? Every single one of them have a pre-shot ritual. Coaches who are hired as part of the profit and glory machines of pro basketball make every player develop their own pre-shot ritual. Because it works. In a few short moments, the whole next minute or so of shooting is set up for maximum success.
There is a window of opportunity to get the most benefit and set up the most future success, and it lies right at the beginning. Miss that window, and its uphill from there.
And the same is true for writing. Every writer should develop their own writing ritual, and it should be staged right at the window of opportunity where the smallest amount of action creates the greatest results. You can set up your entire successful day with your morning writer’s ritual.
The greatest area for leverage is to train ourselves to wake up productive almost every day. There are precious actions, some of which may be rare in our life, which if used at the right time and manner can ensure we have an awesome day that does not become derailed.
Thing is, we already have habits and trainings deeply ingrained in us. They were laid down during childhood, during whenever. The triggers go off and the repetitive scripted behaviors go off. And we are watching helplessly as our day fritters away.
But we can lay down new tracks quite quickly indeed if we hit our morning window of opportunity where we get the most possible effect for what we put in. Thus we can set the context and frame for the rest of the day. The highest potential change we can make is in our morning ritual, and it frames and sets the context not only for our day, but also the next day, next week, next month, next year, and our life.
And the opposite is also true, if we skimp, cheat, cut corners on this moment of opportunity we screw up the rest of our day and cheat ourselves of our future life.
So what we need to do is create our own personal morning ritual, that addresses the key aspects of our physical, emotional, and attentional energies and sets them on the right track from the start. We need these aspects fired up and strong. We can’t skimp on this.
As academic writers our urge to go anxiously straight to work and take care of business is going to be strong sometimes and we will need to exercise some restraint and patience and faith to commit to a morning ritual.
I am going to be upfront right now: I recommend an hour or even longer, almost every morning, dedicated to a writer’s ritual, at least on some days. That may immediately strike off an alarm in the mind that says “No Way. Not for Me. I’m too Busy.” If so, the next question should be, “Well how much are you getting done?” If the answer is, “I wish it were a lot more,” then please do consider choosing which of these voices you are going to listen to.
Luckily, we can still practice a morning ritual in a shorter maintenance version on days when, for instance, we teach first thing in the morning. Or at least we can create some version of a Morning Writer’s Ritual to get at least some benefit.
If we repeat high quality actions at the right times we can completely shift the track of our lives. What seems like an irrecoverable loss of an hour becomes something totally productive, totally energizing, totally revolutionary.
We need only focus in on the key window that will unlock our power.
So here is an example:
- Wake up, drink a cup of water or lemon water. We are dehydrated upon waking and reaching for water is the first thing we should do.
- Take care of our teeth, bathroom duties, etc.
- Exercise. This is huge. Although it feels unwanted in the body, this totally turns things around. It doesn’t mean exercising in a no pain no gain exhaustion mode. But at least firing up the body.
- Meditate, focus. For 5 minutes or 40 minutes—some moments to caring for the mind is just as important as caring for the teeth.
- Eat a wonderfully nourishing meal
- Relax, in a bath tub, or for a short pause on the couch, allowing yourself to enjoy, as thoroughly as possible, a few moments of doing nothing. This could also include or be substituted with some short, low stakes, freewriting for the sake of relaxing or letting whatever come up.
You’ve Got to Try This!
Having a back-up, abbreviated version is also great for those days when we have to head out to work right away. An alternative is to get up extra early, but sleep is so important it’s probably best to do the abbreviated version.
There is a lot more I could say about all this, but some adaptation of these things lasting about an hour on most days will almost completely seal your fate: you will be a happy, productive person on track with your writing. Otherwise, you can feel like you are clawing your way through a swamp of unsatisfying and unproductive actions, bouncing around like a pinball, and at the end feel miserable about yourself.
But with the repetitive, high-value actions of the daily writers ritual, the triggers that send you into purgatory space will have a lot of trouble getting hooked up with the repetitive behaviors that they normally hook up with. Instead you will be on your way to a great writing day. You’ll feel clear, focused, safe, secure, confident, centered and strong. And happy.