Why I Love Writing Rituals

My candle this morning. (Note the chicken in the background is ceramic although Fern, the chatty chicken, would have gladly posed.)

It took me 6 matches, but I finally got the sage soy candle (sale at Target – yes!) on my desk lit this morning.  The humidity in the former summer kitchen that is my office is rather high, given all our rain, and the matches just weren’t loving the thought of burning bright.

But I persevered because that little candle is part of my writing ritual.  That single flame dances while I write, a symbol, a reminder, a simple bit of beauty at which to gaze.  It’s a tiny, mighty tool in the array of tools I keep to help myself write.

I believe mightily in writing rituals.  Some people might call them routines, but given the sort of mundane connotation of the word routine, I choose ritual instead.  Rituals are sacred, precious, tied to tribes and families.  Rituals hallow the people and the places of which they are a part.

My writing ritual includes four things:

  • a candle
  • a pen
  • a book of poetry
  • a journal

I use these four small tools to create the shimmering sense of sacred that helps me not only get to the page but stay there.

It is ritual that has encouraged me to discount the idea of inspiration.  With ritual, I know I control the place and opportunity to write, not some abstract concept of muse with her flowing hair and whispering ideas.  Ritual is what gets me here to do the work even when the muse is busy singing her siren song somewhere else.

I know a lot of writers buffet against the ideas of routine or ritual.  We believe – and I get it – that pinning down our creative practices deadens then, makes them feel less “art-y” or something.  I think, too, that we resist the ideas of regular writing because we have been told – by countless writers before us – that THIS is how we do it, do it.  (Sorry, slipped into a little Montell Jordan there.)

I don’t believe there is anything less creative about crafting a way that you work – be that a place, a space, a time, or a lighted candle.  But I also don’t believe that every time, place, practice works for every person.  Creativity defies rules – that’s kind of its deal.

So when someone says they resist routine, I totally understand.  This idea of limiting ourselves to something feels like the opposite of art.

But here’s the thing about routine or ritual – those patterns for our writing help us battle against the very real and very powerful forces that work to keep us from the page every day.  I don’t know how your days go, but mine include a lot of these things:

  • Self-talk about how I could be using these hours to do paying work.
  • Thoughts about the laundry in the house, the weeds in the garden, and the books on my nightstand.
  • Alluring dreams of a Castle marathon and some crochet so that I can finally “get” that show.

Without my rituals, I would be down one strategy against all the internal ways I discount my own work.  And if I can’t even get past my own battles, I am certainly going to have a hard time fighting against a culture that says art is useless, writing should be formulaic and advice-driven, and the worth of something is determine by its monetary value.

Sometimes, lighting this one candle is the only thing that calls to mind the joy and peace I feel when I write.

You may not want to light a candle. You may not find a specific time that writing works every day. You may not have a desk dedicated just for your writing work. But I bet you can find a ritual that helps you cut through the clutter and quiet condemnation about “a better use of your time” that often speaks so loudly.

Here are five things I recommend trying if you want to find your ritual for writing:

  • Think about when you have quiet space – at least 15 minutes – in your week and plan to hold that space for writing.  Maybe it’ll be before the kids get up. Maybe after everyone else goes to bed. Maybe your lunch break.
  • Purchase or find a pen you LOVE and a journal that makes you smile when you see it. These tools are portable (in fact, I’d suggest you keep them with you everywhere), and if they feel good to you, beautiful to your spirit, you’ll want to see them.
  • Select a book that makes your soul swell. Maybe you, like me, get a great deal of joy from reading poetry and books on farming.  Or maybe there’s a novel whose language just lifts your soul.  Any book that makes you love language will do.
  • Read a poem, a chapter, or just a few paragraphs from your book, and then copy down the line that speaks to you most.  Don’t analyze why it jumped out to you. Don’t question the impulse.  Just copy the line into your journal.
  • Use that line as the leaping place for today’s words. Maybe a memory springs to mind. Maybe you find a vein of anger that words want to wrap around. Maybe you just have questions about life or a grief that washes over you. Maybe happiness comes through the words.  Whatever comes, just write it down.  10 minutes. 15 minutes.  Let yourself go.

Then, you can write more if you want. Or you can tuck your pen and journal away and know you have down some good work.  It doesn’t take much to start a ritual.

If you, like Rollan, are “a chunker” (don’t you just love that term?), maybe you’ll just follow this ritual from time to time, although I’d encourage you to get as close to daily with your writing as you can. Daily writing isn’t magic; it won’t make your writing great by some sort of ritualistic spell.  But daily writing does help train your spirit and your mind to write more and daily.  It can be another powerful tool.

My candle is still here burning on this rainy morning, my beacon to the words, a lighthouse past the darkness.

How do you feel about writing rituals or routines? Have any you’d like to share?