What gets you in the mood?

Writing rituals are surprisingly important to me and I always forget that until I try writing without first going through a number of them. A ritual is anything that gets you into the mindset that you are now going to sit down and produce x number of words or pages. This is what you’ve contracted from your muse, and now that the creature is a faithful visitor you have to come through on your end.

My first ritual is to clear the decks. As I may have mentioned, I write in my laundry room/pantry so I don’t have a lot of room. And I’m messy. So my first order of business when I’ve finished one project and I am starting another is to clear everything to do with the old project from my desk. That means copy edited bits, critique group notes, mail, research materials, everything gets put away or recycled.

When the desk is clear, I put on a CD. I tend to “use up” CDs by writing to them. If I try to reuse, say, Lucinda Williams’s West to jumpstart a new writing project, the earlier project would bleed over; it was like getting interference. So I would move on to something else. A collection called Christmas Adagios is a favorite of mine; I’ll play it in July if I have to. I can always write to Ave Maria.

So I have my ritual. Cleaning, music, writing. It establishes that I’m serious, and I’ve created the headspace I need to work.

So when is it procrastination? Well, when I clean some other part of the house other than my desk. Or fold laundry, or take a walk, or get a cup of tea, or sit down and check my email or play a game of Minesweeper (which, by the way, I took off of my computer).

Research can be procrastination, which is why I tend to research in books, not on the Internet (except for a quick fact check); if I’m reading I expect to be away from my computer. Market research can be procrastination. Getting a bit too nitpicky about the music until I find the right one, that’s a favorite of mine.

The key to avoiding procrastination is simply to establish a ritual. Make it a strong one, then try to do it every time you sit down to write. A lot of writing is muscle memory anyway. See, it is like an exercise program!

Anyway, now I have a desk to clean off and some music to dig up. Happy productive writing!


Bethe B. · February 17, 2009 at 9:31 am

Do you use different rituals when you need to revise something as opposed to writing something new?

Patrice Sarath · February 17, 2009 at 6:33 pm

Well, music is always a must, because for some reason it signals that I’m serious.

But it’s actually easier to sit down for editing so I am apt to skip my getting started rituals when I’m revising a finished piece. But don’t tell anyone. ; -)

What about you? I’m always interested in what other people do, mostly because I’m nosy, and also because I figure people have their own starters. I was talking with another writer one time and we both found out that when we were stuck, we would stop and brush our hair and sort of figure things out that way.

Bizarre, I know.

Bethe B. · February 18, 2009 at 9:05 am

Since I have children aged five and eight, the best starter for me is to leave the house. I go to a coffee shop or book store: somewhere with no laundry to be folded, no rooms to be cleaned and no Cub Scout materials to be organized. Once there, jumping into writing is fairly easy. Unfortunately, the chance to get away like that is rare, so I’m trying to develop rituals at home that allow me to write. Right now I am concentrating on sitting down each night to just do SOMETHING with writing, whether it’s revising or producing new material. My best trick so far seems to be to write while my husband is at the piano (though I still need to put on music because he uses the electronic piano and headphones.) Maybe it’s just that then I don’t feeling guilty about sitting at the computer to do something for me, not like when he’s cleaning the dishes or make lunches for the next day.
Next I need to tackle the pitfall of continuing to revise something that doesn’t need to be revised anymore just because it’s easier than moving on to the next section.

Patrice Sarath · February 18, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Interesting. I find I’m too distracted to write when I leave the house, so no coffee shops or bookstores for me. I like the idea of you sitting down to your creative work and your husband to his — that sounds like a really comfortable solution.

The guilt thing is too bad. I think that mothers are prone to it, and we shouldn’t be! But we are. But we shouldn’t be! (But we are…)

And yes, the ultimate in procrastination is revision. Everyone does it.

Hey, is your work-in-progress the one I saw a couple of years ago at the Armadillocon workshop? Because if it is, I wanted to ask how it is going.

Bethe B. · February 24, 2009 at 8:34 am

Answer about the work-in-progress would be too long and rambling here, so I replied by email. Let me know if you don’t get it.

Patrice Sarath · February 24, 2009 at 5:39 pm

Darn. I didn’t. Try again please? The easiest email is my hotmail — patricesarath and you know the rest.

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