Writing Rituals

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Our Books & Such offices are closed for Christmas Break. We decided to choose some oldies but goodies to re-blog. This is a blog post I wrote almost seven years ago but the wisdom from these writers remains just as useful. Here goes:

What is it about writers that we tend to have little rituals that mark our work.

I can’t write unless my office is orderly. In fact, I prefer that the whole house be clean. Oh, yes, and the garden weeded, watered and the lawn mowed. I write best when there are fresh flowers on the dining room table. (As I write this, I have gorgeous white long-stem roses from Costco–perfect flowers, unbelievable price.) I like to have candles lit, but no music. Silence is best. Wouldn’t you say it’s a good thing I don’t write for a living?IMG_0006

I asked a few writing friends if they have any rituals that help prime the pump. Here are their answers:

Gayle Roper says: “I need silence. No music. No movement of other people– hard now that there’s a retired husband in the house. And I need a good game of Spider Solitaire.” Note: Since this time, Gayle’s wonderful husband, Chuck, went to heaven but I’m guessing she still needs her silence and solitaire.

Deb Raney says:  “Before I start writing, I have to have the bed made, dishes done and house reasonably straight. Then I light scented candles, put instrumental music on Pandora on my computer, and pour steaming coffee into a specially chosen mug (from a cupboard that houses about 50 of them in all different shapes and sizes!)”

Maureen Lang says: “I’m not especially neat. My desk is full of unfiled papers, scraps of notes littered around me meant to serve as reminders of something especially important, piles of books and scattered reading glasses (I bought one pair of glasses for every room of the house but somehow they all end up on my desk). However, I have a hard time concentrating on my work if there are dishes in my sink, my bed is unmade, or the house is especially cluttered from last night’s family ‘togetherness.’ So, after I pop out of bed (yes, I’m one of those annoyingly chirpy early risers) I always set the covers neatly in place, shower then have a quiet time over breakfast. Immediately after that I make sure the dishes are in the dishwasher then do a quick pick up around the 1st floor (where my study is). I’m then ready to sit at my worn, old desk in my tattered, old chair, neither of which could I bear to part with even when the room around it was redecorated. First I glance through my emails, deleting most. All of this takes a little over an hour. But it gives me a clean conscience to start my writing day. I’ve done my best to keep order around me, so my mind can fly off to storyland.”

James Scott Bell says: “I try to think hard about my project before I go to sleep, so the “boys in the basement” (h/t Stephen King) can work overnight. As fast as I can in the morning (after making the coffee, of course) I write down whatever comes to mind for about five minutes.”

DiAnn Mills says: “I close my eyes and envision myself as my character–whether it’s the protagonist or the antagonist–in the scene I’m about to write. I roll some dialogue around in my head, add a little sensory perception, then dive into my ‘role.’ I write my best in a comfy chair in our Texas Room. Actually it’s our game room in a Texas-Wild West theme.”

So how about you? What kind of things do you do to get ready to write? (Talk among yourselves, dear friends. I’m celebrating Christmas with my computer off.)


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  1. No habits or rituals here, I’;m afraid (well, except for the requirement of three goats and a guy playing a trumpet). I work where and when I can, and when I could still converse, could talk and write at the same time.

  2. Silence to write. Classical music to edit.
    None of this “I must clean my house” stuff.
    UNLESS I’m going over other people’s edits on my work…then I’d pretty much dig down to the foundation, move the house an inch, and then re-paint the sky.

  3. James and DiAnn would sum up my writing life. The night before, I ponder my next scene … or whatever scene comes to mind. Hopefully it’s the next one I need to write. I like to go in order. 😉 But if ideas come to me for later down the road, I jot them down in my journal book. I’m always pondering my black moment and all leading up to it. My girls now point out the “black moment” in the Hallmark movies. 🙂 I usually play music as I’m thinking about the work … I’ll sometimes have a theme song. And I sometimes play the music while I’m writing, softly. I make lots of notes before I fall asleep at night … then jump up and type it out next morning. I usually write first, then worry about the housework. I need to get it written out before I forget anything, small details maybe I didn’t jot down … maybe something I woke up thinking about or thought about through the night. 😉

    • Shelli, I’m with you: “write first”. It’s risky though, since one late morning I answered the door in my housecoat as I’d been on a writing roll (I ended up having my breakfast for lunch).

      • That’s so funny, Wendy. Yeah … I’ve had instances like that, too. The volunteer fireman or the septic system man comes by. I’m running through the house like mad … 🙂 And yes … writing is a weight loss program for me, when I’m writing the first draft. 😉

    • What are your theme songs, Shelli? Mine tend to be rather ‘hard’; AC/DC and the like. The opening bells from “Hell’s Bells” have gotten me through many an issue of writers’ block.
      * One thing I have noticed – and I wonder if anyone has the same experience – is that while I storyboard both overall plot and scenes, my characters really seem to exist in their own reality, and their lives exist independent of my writing. I’m entrusted with their story, yes, but it’s still THEIR story. To me – they are beloved of the Almighty, and are real in His Mighty Heart.
      * Do you think I will meet my characters in Heaven, and be able to shake their hands and thank them?

  4. Carol Ashby says:

    Like Andrew, I have no special rituals. Turn on the laptop, open the latest Word document, and type away wherever, whenever, and around whomever. Silence and neatness are no better than noise and clutter. However, I do like to have a dish of either chocolate chips (minis are best) or dark-chocolate M&Ms handy. I’m very health conscious, and dark chocolate is a scientifically validated health food. The countries with the largest per-capita numbers of Nobel Prize winners also have the highest per-capita chocolate consumption. The statistic may not prove cause and effect, but why take the chance? If chocolate is good for Nobels, maybe it’s good for Pulitzers and Christys, too.

    • Yes, but what KIND of chocolate, Carol? ABout the obly thing I can face now is hershey’s Krackl…and it works for me.

      • And boy, did I, like write that, like, whoa, WAY too , like, fast. Like, hey. Really.

      • Jennifer made me fall in love with Cadbury’s dairy milk chocolate. I think that’s the name. MMM.

      • The Cadbury’s is too rich for me…but Jennifer DID make me fall in love with God’s rather tough-minded Grace, and with the Saviour who is anything but a limp-wristed Lamb Chop.
        * So THERE, Jennifer. You brought someone, truly, albeit kicking and screaming, to Christ. Happy now?

      • Andrew, what are you saying??
        Kicking and screaming?
        Please explain.
        *Not for me*!!
        But for all of us who love you.

      • Jennifer, to be plain, it’s this…your example, here, on your blog, and in offline comms, have shown me the true face of Christ. I had thought I was a Christian; I had thought I knew. I was wrong.
        * You have witnessed Christ as few have, and you have pulled together the courage to put it ‘out there’. I’m dead certain that I am not the only one in this community whose eyes have been opened by your staunch faith, and you bravery in adversity (38,000 words when confined to BED???).
        * But for me, the reading – and re-reading – of your comments here (and your blog) have made me realize that the Big J was far more real, and far more personal, than I could have conceived.
        * You have had the courage to wear your Heart of Faith on your sleeve – in public. Your example has been a beacon, when faith has eluded me. And I found far more than I could have hoped.
        * THIS is what community means.

      • Carol Ashby says:

        The “study” didn’t reports the brand names. I LOVE Krackel! I mine them all out of the Halloween bags. Not something to expose kids to.

  5. Merry Christmas, Wendy (& everyone). Thank you for sharing a variety of writing rituals so that we all feel at home here. During NaNoWriMo, I discovered I can write at anytime of the day or night, even though I prefer quiet morning times. My main ritual is to read over the writing from the session before so my mind leaves my house and enters the story world. I also need to know I won’t be interrupted–so I hang a note on my writing room entrance to ward off intruders (unless they’re near death).
    Blessings for 2016 ~ Wendy Mac

    • Yes! I love the story world. I’ll read over a previous scene, too … and I love how tidbits surface to add to my work as I progress … at first, it will seem so hum-drum … but then, bits and pieces come to me to spice it up. 🙂

      • Carol Ashby says:

        Shelli and Wendy, I hear you. I reread what I wrote yesterday as well before writing the new scene. Sometimes I go back and read several days’ worth of scenes before writing the next one. Sometimes I even pop back several chapters to make sure the new scene flows from what already happened. You are right about the extras that pop into my mind after I know what is coming later. Those are often the sweetest parts of the writing. I wonder if most of us do that.

        I’m a plotter, not a pantser, so I always know how the story is going to end, but so many of the details of the best scenes just show up without having planned them, and I sometimes need to change something about a character in view of what will happen in later scenes. Sometimes I get so immersed in fine-tuning the earlier work that the whole writing session turns into setting the stage for the new scene rather than writing the new scene itself. Does that happen to you often?

      • CaroI, I can relate to much of what you’re saying about needing to go back and fine tune characters and scenes because, as James Scott Bell & Steven King would say, “The boys in the basement have been busy.” I’m a recovering pantser who will need to reread J.S.B.’s plotting book several times before I’m fully indoctrinated. It will save my sanity during edits. But I need to outline loosely to allow my muse the freedom it thrives on. I tend to stay away from heavy editing until I’ve got the first draft down (otherwise I get bogged down and lose my momentum).

        “Finish the book” is my mantra.

      • Carol Ashby says:

        Wendy, I don’t think I could write pantser. I’m too left brain, given my science background. It is great being retired so I can write for as many hours as I want most days. I don’t have to struggle to find time to finish and can work ’til 3 am if I’m in the flow. The only bad thing about being retired is being old enough to be retired.

    • Makes sense, Wendy Mac…and as barbara might say, that is probably the reason I don’t do it!
      * I live the Story World so vividly…even when a WIP is in process for years…that it’s just part of a continuum with my own life. Makes me feel like I don’t own my brain any more.

      • Andrew, I’ve read one of your short stories on your blog–you write so poignantly that I can still remember my breath being caught away as I reached the end of your story. I pray that your personal story on earth is lived out longer and richer than you ever imagined. God is like that–isn’t He? Full of good surprises and Love. Blessings to you and Barbara for 2016 and beyond. I’m sorry you’ve suffered so much. It seems that many (if not all) of the best writers have bled in life before they bled on paper. I admire and respect your passion for the craft of writing. Write on, dear Andrew.

  6. While it’s not a writing ritual, there is a way that I have to begin my days now –
    * After letting out the ‘urgent dogs’ – the ones with small or damaged bladders – I have to take the first morphine dose, and smoke a cigar to help with the absorption and cut the nausea.
    * Along with this, I read something to build morale. In recent weeks I’ve been at rock-bottom, and have to build the motivation to do ANYTHING from scratch, every day. There is no longer the innate feeling of worth, either in my writing or in ‘me’, and it takes some focused effort to find a reason for going on.
    * Commensurate with this, while I read Scripture, I do avoid the tags like ‘you are fearfully and wonderfully made”, because I don’t feel it. It hurts too much. The meaning for all of this has to lie deeper, and for me it’s found in context, that while dreadful things may happen – and are happening, today – that there is indeed an overall plan, and while I have a fatal mission, I have nonetheless not been forgotten.
    * Does anyone else come to this? The above was not easy to write, and I nearly canceled the reply…but I’d love to know if anyone out there has to start the climb fresh every morning, with the rungs of the ladder ice-hot from the night’s chill.

    • One thing that helps me, Andrew, is remembering that God’s way are definitely not my ways. “Worth” … “fearfully and wonderfully” may mean totally different things from what my small brain can comprehend. From what we’ve been taught or led to believe. There is so much more … you are so much more … more than words, for sure. We can’t get stuck on the bottom rung. Higher and higher.

    • Carol Ashby says:

      I’m not yet where I have to struggle with every morning, but it’s only a matter of time for every one of us. We’re all on a fatal mission. Some deaths are just easier than others. I’ve told friends I’m not afraid of death because I know what Jesus did, but that doesn’t mean I’m not afraid of the process of dying. You’ve given us all so many gifts as you’ve shared your understanding gained by being further down the road than me. I don’t know if He will, but I sure hope God answers my prayers for you the way I want Him to. We all want to keep you here with us.

    • Norma says:

      Andrew, more times than I care to remember, I’ve had to climb the hill day after endless day. We get weary of the pain. Even a minor conflict with my teen, like happened last night, can make the next day harder to face. My struggles haven’t been physical for the most part, but the emotional can dictate, overpower and debilitate (as I’m sure you well know). Scripture can seem trite when quoted or dispensed like a bandaid, the bandaid doesn’t heal anything, because there is a greater, deeper need. We cling to that which we need the most (God and those dearest to us) to get through the day. But we are running on empty. And there are times when we know God is there but He is in the shadows, and we can’t access His presence in a fulfilling way. He seems distant and uncaring. But He is there. He is. And He lets us struggle. That’s the part we don’t understand, and often fight. I hope this doesn’t seem trite either, it is in those times of utter trust but in the forsakn lands, that we learn to be water-walkers.

  7. Beyond the outward comforts and parameters, I find that my need for peace in my closest relationships is an essential element in my writing. Also, my spiritual life and peace with its inward dimensions makes a great difference in the quality of my writing. When there is conflict or ongoing emotional distress, my writing has a tone I don’t like, it sounds stale and stilted, not natural and warm. Inward peace (even during crazy times) is something I must nurture on a daily basis. Right now both of my elderly parents are hospitalized in separate rehab facilities. It’s a challenge to maintain peace in the center of my focus, but it is essential for my well-being. Sometimes I can only say, “Lord Jesus, help me.” He is a faithful friend to me. I miss writing, those times, like now, when my pen is silenced because of circumstances. Yet, these times are rich. My parents need me, and that is a privilege. Their eyes light up when I enter their rooms. Mother lent one of my books to another rehab patient….the woman commented to me how inspirational it was to her….and the gift keeps giving.

  8. About half of the time (more during school and summer vacation for my boys) I’m writing at 4:00am while the house is silent and dark. I only turn on one lamp, so that I don’t see any dirty dishes or legos scattered across the floor (for who in their right mind would clean at 4:00am anyway?) and I stumble around making a cup of strong tea and an egg. I read my Bible, check writing blogs and e-mail and then write as fast as I can before my 3 wonderful boys wake up.

    • Carol Ashby says:

      Clean at 4am? Depends on who’s coming and how much time I have left til they arrive.
      I bet we overlap in time if not space, Kristen. I’m in the mountain time zone.

  9. Peter DeHaan says:

    In comparison my list is short. I only need silence, no movement, and a clean desk.

    (Thinking about my writing as I go to sleep is a bad thing. It all but guarantees I won’t sleep and will likely be up writing at midnight or three a.m. to get the ideas out of my head in hopes of getting some sleep.)

  10. Karla Akins says:

    I’d love to have the luxury of a ritual but I don’t. I have to write when the opportunity presents itself, dirty dishes in the sink or not. Living with autism and Alzheimer’s requires stealth writing!