Should I develop a writing ritual?

It depends. This is essential for some writers and a non-issue for others. There does not seem to be a universal rule about the usefulness writing rituals, but plenty of writers use them. Many people have a routine that involves preparing their writing space or desk in a particular way. Often a cup of coffee is involved. Sharpening pencils may be mostly a bygone ritual, but even just firing up the laptop and opening files for the writing session are mini-rituals of a sort. Some people like to browse email for a while, as if getting into the cool water of writing gradually, before moving into to their project. There are short warm-up writing exercises like “free writing” that some people find useful. Books by Peter Elbow, Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron explore this approach in various ways. It is a low stress way to get your fingers moving, and free writing helps with idea generation as well. If you are usually set and ready to write without any sort of preliminary ritual,
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Scared Straight

The Shining is a good “scared straight” movie for writers engaged in the procrastination/binge cycle. Jack Nicholson portrays a school teacher who takes a caretaker job at a closed resort in the mountains because he wants lots of free time to write without the time constraints of his teaching job.

As often happens to writers with gobs of unstructured time, he does not make good use of it. Jack spends weeks just procrastinating, sleeping in, eating and avoiding his writing. Eventually he sits down at the typewriter and goes on a monomaniacal writing binge. When his wife gently inquires about his writing he becomes enraged. The next thing you know, he is demon-possessed and killing people with an axe.

This doesn’t have to happen to you. All you have to do is work on your writing regularly. A spoonful of words every day is good preventative medicine for a Jack-attack.

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Time, schedules and writing productivity

Are any of the following issues familiar?

• An inability or reluctance to make future plans about writing 

• An inability or reluctance to schedule your day

• An inability or reluctance to stick with a schedule you have made

• Losing track of time, getting distracted

• Chronic lateness

• Overbooking your time

• An inability to estimate how long a task will take

• Overwhelm and anxiety when thinking of the future • Working too long at a stretch

• An inability to write except just before or after deadlines

• Insufficient prioritizing of writing relative to other activities and commitments

• Over-focusing on the passage of time and worrying that time is too short

A more extensive discussion is in my book, The Blocked Writer’s Book of the Dead.

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Lost in a Daydream: Sigmund Freud, Jon Kabot-Zinn, and The Lovin’ Spoonful

Freud was dreamy. He wrote a lot.

What a day for a daydream…..  or is it? If chronic daydreaming is a barrier for you with regards to writing, what can you do? Sigmund would recommend  several years of psychoanalytic exploration of your unconscious impulses and dream imagery, but do you have the time and money for that? John Sebastian did.

External people, structures and reminders about the passage of time and your goal of writing help with this problem. It is difficult to remind yourself to come back and write when your self is drifting merrily on the unconscious streams.

An alarm, or other sonic reminder in your computer can alert you periodically that it’s time to write again. A person in your life can, with your consent, also gently alert you to the fact that you are daydreaming. A class or critique group can provide a regular check-in opportunity that may keep you on task. Make a schedule of a set, consistent daily and weekly non-dreaming writing time, and track your progress.

The practice of mindfulness meditation, as taught by Jon Kabot Zinn and Continue reading

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Daydreaming: Time wasting escape or creativity aid?

What happens when you drift off into periods of reflection and daydreaming?  There is some sense of letting go of your usual awareness of the world, and allowing something else to happen. Evidently your conscious mind needs to take a holiday every so often.

Some writers say they connect with good ideas during the daydreaming state, and it is fuel for their creative process. Freud thought the contents of the unconscious mind are more accessible to writers when they let their minds drift.

Daydreaming can also be a habit that interferes with writing. If you tend to fall into a waking dream to avoid facing challenges in your writing, you have probably learned to Continue reading

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Elvis Costello is writing the book everyday. Are you?

Sometimes I will start one of my writing productivity talks or workshops by playing Elvis Costello’s song, Every Day I Write the Book . While the theme of his song is more about love than writing, the chorus is a repetitive “Every day, every day, every day, every day I write the book.” This is a very useful tape loop to implant in the mind of a blocked writer.

Speaking of tape loops and music, writers really vary in terms of what they need in terms of external sound when they write. Some crave absolute uninterrupted silence, others like a cacophony of ambient cafe noise, and others gravitate toward music. When I write songs I require complete silence so I can hear internally. I generally work in silence for other types of writing, but on occasion I’ll get into the zone in a cafe and somehow appreciate being encased in a shroud of muffled conversations.

Writing can be lonely, and if this is uncomfortable for you, writing in public may help mute the distraction of those feelings. If you aren’t writing because there are too many external distractions, you may need to consciously create a better insulated bubble to write in. Experiment.

Elvis Costello has written hundreds of songs, which indicates he probably does write just about every day. Try it out, and one day you’ll discover you’ve actually written the book too.

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William Holden’s writer’s block leads to an unfortunate demise in “Sunset Boulevard”

William Holden is pulled from the pool in Sunset Blvd

In his role as a struggling young screenwriter in Hollywood, William Holden in Sunset Boulevard pays heavily for giving up his craft to move in with an aged, has-been, profoundly narcissistic silent-film screen idol (Gloria Swanson).

Bill has experienced serious rejection as a writer in tinsel-town, and is eventually reduced to hiding his car from the repo man. A chance meeting with Gloria offers an opportunity for Bill to make some good cash editing her own screenplay, which she is counting on as a comeback vehicle for her moribund career.

Holden is sucked deeper into Gloria’s insanity by his own greed and becomes her kept man and lover, turning down opportunities to return to his writing and a normal relationship. When he finally decides to leave and tells the truth to Gloria about her terrible screenplay…well, you should watch it, but I can tell you Gloria is none too happy about this conversation, and Bill ends up floating face down in the pool.

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