More About Writing Rituals

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

I wrote about writing rituals some five years ago here, but with Sunday’s Superbowl and all the talk of fan rituals– like not shaving for the whole season, or refusing to change underwear as long as the team was winning– I thought it would be fun to revisit our own quirks and foibles, rituals and routines.

My husband’s favorite novelist, Louis L’Amour used to say, “I could sit in the middle of Sunset Boulevard and write with my typewriter on my knees.” He added, ”Temperamental I am not.” You have to love that kind of grit but most of us have a set of rituals or routines that set the stage for creativity.dreamstime_xs_19886647

Maria Popova wrote a great article about the Daily Routines of Famous Authors. It’s fun to read but today I don’t want to talk about famous authors, I want to hear about your rituals and routines.

First, though, just for fun, I want you take this unscientific quiz:

  1. Do you write best in:
    1. Spotless surroundings with a clean desk?
    2. A comfy nest with resources and favorite things piled around?
    3. A setting best slated for an upcoming episode of Hoarders?
  2. Do you do your best work:
    1. In a solitary environment, no music, no people bugging you?
    2. With a little noise, a little music, a few interruptions?
    3. Amid pure chaos? It breeds creativity and that pioneer spirit.
  3. Do you have a certain object or objects that connect to your writing, like scented candles, a certain pen or a favorite drink?
    1. Yes. These are important to set the atmosphere for writing.
    2. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
    3. I’d like to, but I can’t find them from one writing session to the next.
  4. Your daily word count goal:
    1. Is set in stone.
    2. Is a guideline. Sometimes I exceed it, sometimes I fall a little short. I don’t beat myself up over it.
    3. What’s a daily word count goal?
  5. Your writing day:
    1. Follows a pattern.
    2. Is pretty fluid.
    3. Is hit or miss.

Scoring:  Add up the numbers corresponding to your answers.

If you scored 5-8 you are in the Ant group. Your writing environment and routine are very important to you. Beauty and order have high value. You like to control your writing space and your writing time.

If you scored 9-12 You are in our Cricket group. You’re a little more easygoing about where and when you write but you do like some structure to your writing endeavor. You get it done and you don’t make the people around you crazy.

If you scored 13 – 15 you are in our Grasshopper group. You’re the laid back, creative writer. Noise, people and piles inspire your creativity. Dishes and laundry can wait.

So. Once again it’s your turn. Are you an ant? A cricket? A grasshopper? Can you guess where I fall? What are your writing rituals/ habits. Why do these spark creativity?


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77 Responses

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  1. On the job, I’m more of an ant, working at my desk with occasional trips out and about to meet with others or collect information. As a writer, I’m more of a cricket, working where I please with occasional trips to my desk to check my files or collect information. The difference? It’s all about the computer–desktop versus laptop.

    My equipment defines me? That’s something I never considered. Thanks, Wendy, for giving me something to ponder on my commute to work.

  2. Lori Benton says:

    I’m on the Cricket side of an Ant.

    I like to travel, see new places, especially book settings. But I hate to travel because I don’t work well away from home and sometimes travel plans clash with the writing schedule and you can’t leave the writing behind. I need as few distractions as possible to get immersed in the story world, and I need constant access to my books and piles of notes.

    And earplugs.

    Once a first draft is done I could edit anywhere reasonably quiet. Probably not at a Starbucks. I’ve never understood how writers can block out that chaos. Sensory overload!

  3. Michelle Ule says:


    • Ant. Antty. Ant. Ant.

      I love your quizzes, Wendy! So much fun, and yet, very accurate.

      I write best sans interruption. A quiet house. No one shooting a tennis ball, with a hockey stick, at my living room wall. Or a soccer ball at the kitchen wall. Or either of the above at a little brother.

      I sit in the spacious office I share with my husband, AKA the dining room. I have the curtains open so I can look outside to the woods. If I need to get more alone that totally alone, I put in the earbuds and hit play on some classical music.
      I find I’m most creative in the morning, and best at editing in the evening. Beats me why.
      And I have a certain playlist for certain moods. Cough.
      And a good battle tune is ‘O Fortuna’. Or, as they say on Facebook, “Oh For Tuna”.

  4. I fall into the Louis l’Amour category. I wrote a 500-page doctoral dissertation wherever my laptop and I ended up. Starbucks, construction sites, commuter trains, it really made no difference. That’s translated to the rest of my writing, as well.

    But there is an important distinction that should be made between rituals and procedures. I have no rituals, but in much of my day I do follow procedures – getting some things done the same way every time confers efficiency (and sometimes safety).

    An example – setting up for a day at the office in one of my former jobs, personal items had to be arranged in a certain way, and carried in certain places. Morphine syrettes had a specific pocket, and a tourniquet was always looped around the neck. Pyro devices went in one pocket of the ruck, things that went bang in another (and always on top).

    It could be important. If you need morphine, you certainly don’t want someone going all the way through your gear looking for it.

    • Soooooooo, that wasn’t when you worked at Home Depot, then, huh?
      (Kidding, CHILLAX, I know you’ve never worked at Home Depot.)

      Although, I could’ve used some of that pyro/go boom stuff when I was cleaning the bathrooms yesterday…

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      You are blessed that you can write amid chaos.

      I wonder if your procedures ever bordered on “rituals?” I mean were you more productive with the tourniquet looped around your neck?

      Many of my rituals started out as being productivity actions but they soon became part of my comfort environment. For instance I am usually far more creative in meetings if I have a large cup of tea beside me.

      • Interesting question.

        Having everything in its place and ready to hand certainly did give peace of mind, and I did go through a ritual of touching every important item.

        To make sure it was there, yes, but it was also a ritual of comfort and reassurance.

        Well said, Wendy – these thing do go deeper than we know.

  5. I’m an ant verging on cricket. I do best in quiet, but sometimes I listen to music to inspire the mood I need for a certain scene. I don’t write well with—Squirrel!—distractions, but sometimes I go to a coffee shop to get away from home distractions (i.e. kids). I like beauty around me, but if my kitchen (where I write) is a mess, I have more trouble focusing and immersing myself in the story.

    I’m going to take a guess about you. Are you a cricket?

  6. What a neat quiz. I’m a Cricket, but the one thing I can’t have is any distractions. I used to be able to do my homework with a million things going on around me, now I can’t accomplish anything with too much noise–even cooking. It’s odd, I know, but I think the lack of peace and quiet that comes with having children is what makes me cherish those few moments of uninterrupted time.

  7. I’m all over the board: messy writing area, no special trinkets, but also no music, very few distractions, rigid in my writing routine and word counts!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Interesting. Serious about the work but not tuned into the physical environment. Could it be that once you drop into your writing, the environment of the book is where you live?

  8. Angela Mills says:

    I’m a cricket, but messes don’t really bother me, noise and distractions do. I’ve tried writing at Starbucks, and it doesn’t work for me. I usually write before my kids get up, completely quiet is best. I’ve tried background music and if it has any words at all, I’m singing along and distracted. I guess I’m just easily distracted!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      I guess I’m coming to see that physical environment and noise/distractions are two completely different factors. (I warned that my quiz was not scientific.) 🙂

  9. Amanda Dykes says:

    Cricket with a healthy dose of Ant. I don’t know what it is, but as life gets busier, I get more sensitive to noises, clutter, etc.– and find myself struggling to concentrate even with (tragically) my favorite music on, if I’m doing any sort of writing or focus-heavy task.

    But I agree with Jeanne’s sentiment from her comment: sometimes finding a place free of some distractions means learning to live with another set of distractions, and it’s good exercise for the mind. 🙂 What a fun quiz and post; thanks, Wendy!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      I’m wondering if a neuroscientist would tell us that the kind of work we do– writing– and listening to music, conversation, etc., use the same same brain space?

  10. Lori says:

    My writing style differ between home and work. When I am doing technical writing at work, I am a grasshopper. My desk is definitely a mess and writing for engineers can be chaos when there are deadlines to meet and there are many engineers and only one of me.

    At home and doing my own thing, I am more of a cricket.

    • Lori says:

      P.S. I think you are an ant.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      What a good thing that you can be laid back at work when there is no option. An ant in your work environment would end up with anxiety attacks. (Thwarted perfectionism is an evil taskmaster.)

      And yes, you pegged me but I’m one point away from a cricket. As I said, an ant on the cusp of cricket. 🙂

  11. This so much fun, Wendy! I’m at the high end of ant, but only because of my circumstances. I’m not obsessive over the beauty part, but order and control? Yes, please! I could be highly scheduled if my six children would let me. 🙂 So, I have a general routine woven around homeschooling and child care. Most days, most of my writing tasks get done. But if I ever don’t show up here, it’s because I’ve had to choose put-actual-words-on-paper time over checking-agent-and-writer-blogs time.

    Now what happens when you pair two different types? My husband, although not a writer, is a grasshopper, very laid back. He is incredibly helpful around the house, particularly with fixing supper a few times each week, to allow me writing time. But when I emerge from the den and see the mess all over the kitchen, it takes effort not to go all ant on him. Deep breaths and gratitude for the help keep me level-headed. 🙂 Hmmm, there’s a book in that quiz somewhere.

  12. Elissa says:

    Goodness– I’m not sure what I am. It came out cricket, but only because my answers were all over the place.

    I like it quiet, but my workroom is a complete mess (to outside eyes- I know where everything is). I hate distractions, but I have to deal with them anyway. I can start a sentence, jump up to put out a figurative fire, then sit down a half hour later and finish the sentence. I don’t LIKE it, but I can do it. I don’t have word count goals (“fluid” doesn’t begin to describe my usual day) and yet I crave routine.

    I guess I’m a cricket who hops around like a grasshopper while wishing she were an ant.

  13. Laura Frantz says:

    I am an ant at heart but have become a cricket due to my busy family. I do tend to write every day (I have to make myself STOP writing as I love it so much) but don’t ever count words as that’s too much like counting calories!

    Thx for the smile/fun break, Wendy:)

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      And the good thing is, a cricket is much more fun for your young family than an ant. There’s time enough for your antishness to emerge when you are an empty nester.

  14. Even though organized piles inspire my creativity, I’m predominately a cricket who sings (writes) best at night.
    I have a writing playlist, and regularly take breaks to walk a block when my legs and brain need a good stretch.

    Wendy, I think you’re an ant who is surrounded by beautiful things that provide ambiance and inspiration. 🙂

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Organized piles are not the sign of disorganization. They are considered by experts to be a vertical filing system.

      And good for you that you stop and take exercise breaks. I need to do that more. Our own Rachelle Gardner has two desks in her office– a standing desk and a sitting one– both with a computer screen. She is most often at her standing desk.

      • Love that Rachelle diversifies. This also made me laugh because I don’t have a standing desk, but I do set my laptop on the microwave (which is on a low stand)so I can stretch a bit while working.

    • Jenni,
      We share writing rituals/habits ~ sings, writes at night, uses a playlist, and takes break-walks. I use the elliptical late at night.

    • Organized pilers unite! 🙂

  15. I scored a 9. A cricket without the noise. I can’t think with noise! Today when I sat down to write, the neighbor simultaneously started up his snowblower. Fortunately, it didn’t last long. I prefer to write sitting on an exercise ball at my desk-table in a spare bedroom, my two cats and my dog with me. And quiet. Did I say I like quiet?

  16. This was fantastic! I scored Cricket. However, I know that in this phase of life I’m forced to fit it in when I can and be more easy-going than is my natural tendency. My personality would lend itself to Ant, but with young kids, I’ve had to adapt.

  17. Karla Akins says:

    I have no choice but to work in chaos with twins with autism and a mother-in-law living with us with Alzheimer’s. But that’s not what I prefer. I YEARN for solitude! But I’ve had to learn to write in it in order to get anything done. I prefer to be an ant, I’m able to write like a grasshopper but I pretty much stay in cricket territory.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      When you describe you situation, Karla, all I can say is, there are some things far more important than writing and routine. If our Lord were here, I’m guessing he’d be spending far more time caring for your mother-in-law and the twins.

      We like to think of our work as kingdom work but the Bible talks about caring for the poor, the widows and orphans. And he didn’t let the disciples protect his time. He said, “Let the little children come to me. . .” There are all kinds of tasks to which we are called and He often makes a way for us to do the important things concurrently.

  18. Love the quiz, such a fun distraction, Wendy!

    I am a recovering Ant, transitioning to a Cricket. My family may argue this because I still scoop up anything I deem out-of-place as I move through our home.

    Presently, I am sitting amid stacks of organized chapter critiques and outgoing thank you notes, but I am writing and not driving the humans or dogs batty.

    My music playlists are fine-tuned to what I am writing. My window curtains are open to a perfect view of Preston Castle through bare tree maple branches, and my cup of earl grey is nestled within reach on my desk.

    I scored a nine, this time. Who knows what I’ll score if i take the test again tomorrow.

  19. Judy Gann says:

    I’m an ant(8) bordering on cricket. I listen to soft instrumental music, sometimes matching the scene I’m writing.

    Desk must be neat, but resources, notes, close at hand.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      I think I could have guessed this, Judy. But then, I’ve seen your home so it’s not really a guess.

      • Judy Gann says:

        This is so funny, Wendy. I *almost* added, “You probably already guessed this, Wendy” to my comment above. 🙂 You know me too well.

        However, I’d hate for you to see the condition of my house before I left to help with my dad. Major clean up ahead of me. 🙁

  20. Totally and completely an ant!!! Though sometimes I have to adjust and be a cricket. 😉

  21. I’m smack-dab in the middle of the Cricket zone 🙂 Doesn’t surprise me at all.

  22. Fun quiz. I could have answered it the way I would like to write and probably ended up an ant. But the way I have to write with life hitting me from all sides is more cricket. I’d like to say I could write in the middle of the boulevard or like another writer I read once who said he could write with a crying baby in his lap, but I can’t. I’d have to try to make that baby stop crying.

    I need a certain amount of separation from the real world to enter my imaginary world. I don’t want noise, even soft music. I like solitude. But noise happens and my husband is retired! On top of that I have to be a caretaker for my Mom who has dementia. I can’t imagine getting any writing done if I was taking care of her full time plus those twins, Karla. You have my admiration. I certainly don’t get any writing done when my grandkids are visiting. But I have learned to write with a messy desk and to ignore the messy house.

    I’m like Lori. I can edit anywhere, but that first writing takes some alone time. Well, alone if you don’t count your cast of characters. Interesting post and comments that show how different we all are and how we learn to write in spite of life happening.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Yep. It would be hard to be an ant with that kind of need all around you.

      And you do have balance that enhances your writing life. I’m thinking about when you interrupt writing altogether to attend a concert of your husband’s, offering to man the CD table. It’s the perfect kind of interruption because you always offer your books and meet new readers. That’s the kind of flexibility that reaps rewards.

  23. I’m a cricket, but I’m only a few hops away from being a grasshopper. I’d sure like to crawl a little closer toward the ant category, but I’m not sure my long legs will allow it.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Isn’t it funny how we all long to be closer to the ant category– like that’s good writer territory– and we fear the grasshopper. Instead it’s probably just the way God wired you and wonderful writing grows out of who you really are, not what you think you should be.

      • “Wonderful writing grows out of who you really are, not what you think you should be.”
        I had to hold back an exaggerated cheer leading move when I read this. 🙂

  24. Sherry Kyle says:

    Now that my kids are teenagers and more self sufficient, I can honestly say the ant in me is coming out. Truthfully, I’m a cricketI I usually write in a quiet atmosphere (when the kids are in school), but I can write in a crowded coffeehouse and tune everyone out. My friends would say I keep a clean desk, but really it’s just an organized mess. And yes, I have a word count goal, but I’m flexible.

    Wendy, I guessed you’re an ant. You seem highly organized and very driven. I envy people like you.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Confession: A few decades ago I was probably a grasshopper but kept reaching for ant-hood. I did eventually attain full ant-hood. I then spent years learning that perfectionism is a pride/control issue so I’m happily trying to find middle ground. 🙂

  25. Jenni Colson says:

    Fun quiz!

    Looks like I’m a cricket who leans heavily towards ant. However, due to my circumstances, I’m not often able to indulge those tendencies!

    I’m a homeschooling mom of four and my desk is smack dab in the busiest (read: noisiest) area of the house. This evening two of my children are building marble runs about three feet away from where I’m trying to work. Even though I’ve slipped on my headphones and turned the music up, I still can’t drown out the marble noise! However, the bright side is that I can still hear their giggles as I write.

    Oh, and Jeanne and Wendy—I totally hear you about squirrels and shiny objects!

  26. Peter DeHaan says:

    I’m definitely an ant. If I tried to be a cricket, my word count would be cut in half, and as a grasshopper I wouldn’t write anything worth keeping.

  27. This is wonderful. I am a cricket, the first # that was cricket…9 I think. I like to have a pot of green tea with cinnamon and ginger sprinkled in it sitting by our puffy chair while I write. I have soft clothes that I write in and a favorite quilt that I wrap up in. I lounge sideways in the chair-and-a-half with my lap top on my lap and type while my kiddos are at school or at 4:00am if they are home. I can blog if there is chaos…but I can’t revise or write. I can write at Starbucks, but if I’m at home I write better in quiet and clean.

  28. I’m a cricket.

    If other people are in the house I like to play music. Michael W. Smith has some good CDs that are uplifting and don’t have words.

    My writing schedule revolves around my day job, so it’s not as structured as I’d like. When I get home, I usually take the dog out, grab a drink, and go up to my office until my husband gets home. Then it’s dinner and back to my office for a while.

    Wendy, thanks for sharing. I think I could use a little more structure in my writing.

  29. I’m an Ant!!!

    Does that mean I can also carry ten times my weight and work tirelessly? Those two skills would prove very helpful.

    Great quiz.

  30. OK, I am a neatness freak, but it won’t happen with three kiddos running around and we homeschool too ! I am a sometimes music person, but mostly quiet is good. I find it hard to focus on things when others are talking around me. I like having my own space but it hasn’t happened yet…smile
    Not sure where that leaves me !!!
    I was thinking Grasshopper,but I think I am a combo.

  31. PS: I pinned you on my faithfulacresbk pinterest board !!!

  32. donnie says:

    I only write in public places. (coffee houses, cafe’s, Panera Bread & similar places.Most places have free wi-fi, food, drinks, variety of music,etc.

    I’ve been doing this full time for the last seven years when I started writing children’s fiction.

    I enjoy the social simulation with no personal (home oriented) interruptions. I have gotten numerous story and scene ideas as well as character profiles from just looking around.
    I can do this year around because I live in paradise on the central coast of CA.

  33. This quiz was so fun! It showed me how much my writing rituals have change over the years. I was a grasshopper in college, but I’ve evolved into a cricket. How interesting. Thanks!