Writing Ritually and Habitually

Some writers can write anywhere, anytime, under any conditions. Some of us need routine. And some of us have obsessive compulsive rituals we need to follow for any writing to happen. I am pretty adaptable in my habits but I do have preferences. This is my favorite way to write:

Place: I recently converted part of my finished basement into a writing space and art studio. Prior to that, I was sharing a desk with my husband in an alcove of our bedroom and using the kitchen counter for art projects. I’m sure you can imagine the mess I was making. In the basement studio —I call it my subterranean lair, because in my head I am a superhero— I have sliding glass doors and a large double window for natural light and lots of plants just outside for a view of nature as well. I have a long countertop area to use for drawing and an area for my computer and monitor at the other end. My easel stands in front of the window for my canvases. This setup keeps my on my feet for not just for art but for writing, too. Standing is my preferred posture; it’s better than sitting on your kiester all day. Trust me, I‘m a doctor— at least until August 31st! Besides that, it makes it easier to move around. If I’m working out a scene in my head, I might pace or dance around if I have music playing. And that is definitely a healthy habit to have!

Time: I seem to have all my best ideas in the wee hours of the night, and alas, so many of them are gone by morning. However, when something truly inspired wakes me up, I have a notebook and pen nearby so I can tiptoe to the bathroom and scribble it down. As for my lengthy writing sessions, I prefer to start first thing in the morning, write for at least an hour or two and break off for my exercise; I usually don’t write in the middle of the day. I also may write in the evenings, just before bed, but often that leaves me unable to turn my brain off for sleep. Not cool; I love sleep.

Music: I like to write with music on in the background, but it isn’t absolutely essential. Complete quiet is fine, too. When I do have music on, it is usually classical, jazz, or soft electronic music. The only time that changes is if I’m writing something ‘energetic’ like an argument, a comedic scene or a big revelation. In that case, I might put on dance music or loud rock. Under normal circumstances, though, I get too distracted with the lyrics. For drawing and painting, I choose my music based on the mood of the piece I want to create. Sometimes, it’s not even music but nature sounds that make the backdrop to my artwork.

Beverages: Early morning writing requires coffee, at least two cups. And by cups, I mean giant mugs. If I find myself writing in the afternoon, then I have tea. And after 5:00, well it’s happy hour, right? Seriously, though I don’t over-imbibe while I write. Occasionally, a whisky or a pint is a little lubrication for the creative mind, but too much of that and you end up with a mess on your hands and a whole lot of rewriting to do! (See this episode of Drinking Adventurously for more on that subject).

Goals: In paying attention to the habits of other successful writers like Stephen King, Lisa Scottoline, John Grisham, and Nora Roberts, the single habit they all share is setting writing goals. Perhaps it is as vague as ‘a page a day’ —if you are writing a page that is filled with dialogue, that might not be very many words, whereas a scene-setting narration with lots of description might have a high word count. Other goals may be specific to word count, chapter completion, character development or plot resolution. My goals are usually tied to plot resolutions. In other words, I write until I finish up a scene at an appropriate spot. It isn’t always the end of a chapter, but that is most often the way it ends up.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in writing these past four years, there is not a right way or a wrong way to write, as long as you keep writing! Tell me, fellow writers, what are your rituals?

64 thoughts on “Writing Ritually and Habitually

    1. It’s a work in progress, but functional! I want to have cabinets/shelves under the counters to store my supplies eventually. But I think having a routine for your creative pursuits is important, otherwise they get pushed to the back of the priority list!

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  1. Love the lair! I don’t have enough of a ritual over summer, when the kids are home and everything’s a little haphazard. Once they get back to school, I’ll get my cup of coffee and writing time in the morning once I drop them off at school. I’m a little excited about getting back to the routine!

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    1. I know what you mean about summer. I don’t have kids but it still feels like there are too many distractions from writing time. I swear I’ve had a picnic, graduation party, bridal shower, yada, yada, every weekend this summer! I’m looking forward to fall too!

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  2. A comfortable quiet place with no mental distractions works for me. Thinking about what to cook for dinner, when I can get to the post office, did I change the car oil? All no no’s. I clear my head of the daily grind to write that story one word at a time.

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    1. Yes! That’s it exactly. Clear the distractions and focus. Having a place to ‘go’ to is helpful to me. Even if it is just downstairs, it is away from the living space. 🙂

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  3. Loving your little creative space, Meg! That’s a workshop of dreams for some of us without one. I’ve got a spare room of my house, which, when I bought it two years ago, I knew would become my study… sadly it’s still full of boxes that we just haven’t been able to unpack or had a place to put them. Mess only begets more mess.

    Whole post was a nice little insight into the way you work, I love that. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Shaun. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Coincidentally I have also been cleaning out and purging a lot of unnecessary belongings. I highly recommend it. And start with just one box at a time! You deserve a nice space to work!

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  4. That’s gorgeous studio Meg. I write wherever, I have an office but seldom go there anymore preferring a straight back chair over the big arm chair in there. Where ever you are choosing to work the results are remarkable and stunning art and writing.

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    1. Thank you so much, Holly. My new office/studio feels like a dedicated creative space and I think that is helpful for me to be focused! Obviously what you are doing is working for you, too, my talented friend! 😘

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  5. Thanks for sharing! I’ve really been thinking about this. I’m a creature of habit, but it’s hard for me to form habits that are just for myself. It’s something I’m working on. I really prefer to write in a place that’s busy: in a cafe, in a restaurant, on a train. At home I get too distracted, though, my office is the dining room table, so…

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    1. You know… oddly, a busy place can help me focus, too. I travel with my husband on business trips occasionally. When I’ve exhausted my sightseeing options, I take my iPad and write in the hotel lobby. I guess ‘a lot’ of distraction might have the opposite effect! 😃

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    1. Thank you! This is just Ikea stuff: a section of countertop on support stands that have a shelf beneath. Very inexpensive! My eventual plan is to have cabinets or shelving underneath for storage but this is working for now. 😉

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  6. If I am inspired (so, you know, not lately), it doesn’t matter where I am to write. If I am not inspired, it doesn’t matter either because I can’t write anyway. I nearly always have music playing but it doesn’t usually distract me. Other things do distract me, though… especially when someone starts talking to me while I’m trying to get a thought written. Then I forget what I was writing.

    I would love to have the space for a lair… but that’s not going to happen. Any space in my house gets claimed by others… and of course, I let them have it.

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    1. When I’m in the midst of a long project, I sometimes have to force myself to write. Those are the times when you are not necessarily inspired but have to push through anyway. And fortunately, the result of pushing through is that the act of putting words down helps to generate inspiration. That’s how it goes for me anyway. The ‘lair’ can be a state of mind. Some writers go to public places to write because that’s what works best for them. The local coffee shop or library could be your creative space. I hope the inspiration keeps coming, Sandra! ❤️

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  7. I took over a third bedroom where I have my exercise equipment, a small desk that allows me to stand or sit, and the greatest office chair I’ve ever seen. It reclines and has a pull-out footrest. Until I find shelves I like, my books sit on the floor. I write whenever my little Jinn whispers in my ear. I never know when that will be. I have gotten up at night and stayed at it until early afternoon. I take advantage of his words whenever I can.

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    1. That office chair sounds amazing! I have plans for shelves and cabinets eventually too. My supplies and books are in baskets and bins for now. And yes, you have to take advantage of those bursts of inspiration when they come! Hope he talks to you frequently!

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  8. I wish I could say I have a routine, but I’ve always had trouble with finding focus. Whenever I do delve into writing or editing, it eventually absorbs me and I get productive results. I’ve started keeping a word-count log to be accountable to myself. I also use a stand-up desk. Sitting would drive me nuts! But in the evenings, I will relax in my recliner with vino and sometimes that produces some great material. Oh, all the things I think as I’m falling asleep! Sometimes I force myself to get up and jot them down, but I just want to sleep…..😴

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    1. I’m at my best in the midst of a long project otherwise my focus tends to wander too. Like right now, trying to finish up my very long short story / very short novella or whatever it ends up being… I’ve had a tough time staying on track.

      Isn’t the standing desk the best? I can’t imagine trying to sit at a desk all day and write! And there must be something special about that half asleep state! I think it might be the most creative state in which the mind works. If only there were a better way to record the ideas without rousing ourselves to do it!

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  9. I like what you’ve done here, I think one of the reasons why I struggle to find writing time is that I don’t have that quiet space to really do it. Someplace like a basement to do all of this would be great.
    Come come you’re only a doctor until the end of the month?

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  10. Very nice write. I’m a wee-hours-of-the-morning writer primarily, and wholeheartedly agree with your coffee prescription. I’m into the Gilmore Girl-sized mugs myself. I don’t disagree with occasionally imbibing adult beverages either, but for first drafts only. Anything I write while sipping at a whiskey and ginger ale is about half as brilliant as I thought the next day.

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  11. I love hearing about other writer’s rituals and what kind of “lair” they have created as a creativity nook.
    I’m much better at night, bc I’m a night owl and like you I have trouble turning my brain off when I lie down – causing less sleep and an inability ( and hatred) of waking up super early.

    I made a writer’s nook out of what used to be a walk in storage closet off of my bedroom . It’s not as gremlin as it sounds, lol. It has room for a desk and many shelves to house my mini library, and a walls to hang ideas and inspirations. It has a glass door so I see out onto the porch. But it’s tucked enough away that it can look like the inside of my brain and not be noticed by company 🙂
    My favorite time is getting up on a Sunday, making coffee, sitting out on my porch( nature seems to unlock my mind) then going into my nook to write .

    Thanks for this! I hope to share it!

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    1. That sounds like a great space! I’m relieved to have windows for a nice view, too. We will be moving in the next 6-8 months so I hope my next place will have room for a lair! Thanks for stopping by!

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  12. Excellent post! I’ve noticed that when I’m in ‘my writing place’ the inspiration comes more easily; it’s like subconsciously I know writing is what I do there! Just like the perfect espresso beverage leads to quality writing time. (You think I’m joking. I’m serious! Okay, maybe a little overstated.). I’ve started naturally associating these places and things with writing. Keep posting! 💕

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    1. Thank you, Stephie. It’s good to foster habits that inspire our writing, whatever they may be. Time, place and accoutrements can all be important assets to our experience. Best of luck to you! 💜

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  13. I am probably the only true novice here so I am still developing my routine. It took a little while but what I’ve found is that I simply have to get out of the house. At first I found that I could write best on the tube, but taking the district line up to Upminster and back every day seemed a little extreme. Of course there was always the option of the circle line, but I digress. Now I have discovered a wonderful little coffee shop where I can sit for a couple of hours and tap away very happily. It seems to be working and I’ve made more progress in the past two weeks than in the two months preceding it. Any advice would be gratefully appreciated and thank you for your very timely post! Katie

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    1. Everyone has a routine and every routine is different. The best advice is just write consistently. Try different places, times and ambience and do whatever works best for you. It sounds like you found it in your coffee shop! Best of luck Katie!

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    1. It sounds like you have excellent conditions for writing. That has been my experience too, although it’s about to change – we’re moving in the spring!

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