“I've written in every imaginable location; a repurposed closet, the kitchen table, the bleachers while my kids had basketball practice, the front seat of the car when they were at soccer. In airports. On trains. In the break room when I was supposed to be wolfing down dinner. In the back of classrooms when I was supposed to be paying attention.” – Laurie Halse Anderson, Born Oct. 23, 1961.
That is a big chunk of a quotation, but it’s important.
Some writers swear by having a routine. They develop complex rituals. Sometimes it involves certain equipment. Perhaps certain objects. Certain locations, or moods.
And that is certainly a valid way to create a comfortable and familiar space. That’s great for cultivating and developing ideas, sure.
But to me, when it comes to the actual writing. The hacking out of the actual words. The part that comes after you’ve decided what to say, and all that’s left is typing it up?
You need to start doing that EVERYWHERE. Practice it. Force it. Do it where it’s loud, and uncomfortable, and inconvenient.
Bring an iPad everywhere like I do. Use your smartphone sometimes. Keep notebooks stashed in you car and bust it out to churn some words out when you’re out and about.
Because it ELIMINATES this bullshit, warm-up, get-ready process that we don’t really need. It helps you practice going from dead cold to flaming hot, in an instant, whenever you want to.
And guess what?
Even if you HAVEN’T fully thought out what you’re writing yet, it doesn’t matter. Making the words flow from the fingers to the page or the screen can unclog your brain when stuck.
But not if it takes you 30 minutes to get yourself grinding and can only do it in you special, magical writing retreat.
So do it. You should already be writing every day anyway. Add to that discipline a simple rule that you must do SOME of that writing in an environment that is not conducive to it. Hell, it can even be HOSTILE to it.
I do a lot of my writing in booming barrooms. I’m writing this right now from the cramped economy seat on a transatlantic flight, and the guy in front of me is fully reclined.
Hell, if I’m being perfectly honest, I have trouble getting going with work if I am in a quiet, peaceful place. I need sound. I need chaos. I need to be surrounded by strangers and scenery and that STIMULATES the part of my brain that likes to say things that are on my mind.
It’s the opposite of zen. It is sometimes frantic, and furious, and explosive. It feels like I’m stealing it somehow. A heist of words and ideas, taken from a place they shouldn’t be found.
And it makes me better. It makes me more prolific. It helps me write in a way that surprises myself, and if I’m surprised, the reader is, too.
It makes the work come to life. Because it has to fight its way out to exist when you birth it out in the field.
And listen, start slow. Write at the park, or in a cafe during off-peak hours. Work your way up to real challenges like a mall at holiday season, or a bar with a house DJ bumping beats while patrons dance.
But challenge is the point. Challenge yourself to master your craft so you can do it anywhere at any time, no matter what the circumstances.
And you’ll be better for it.
<!—- lagniappe I think a good practical companion to this piece is a bit of insight into HOW to use “writing on the go” to serve you best. First, keep an idea file. Develop the habit of writing down all your ideas as soon as you have them. And I don’t mean quickly jot down some shorthand gist. I mean write a couple of paragraphs and really capture it in full. Read it back to yourself out loud three times. Correct it or expand it until it’s safe to let it fall out of your brain. Then, before moving on, brainstorm a second, variant idea to do instead of, or alongside your first one. I try to do at least three. If you’ve ever seen any of my “thirteen things” posts in the group, that is one use of this process. What you are trying to do is train your brain to have ideas in litters instead of birthing them one at a time. When you need something to write about in the future, and don’t have an idea on deck already, pull out the idea file. Grab an idea, and plan it out as a full piece. A basic multi-paragraph format is best. Intro. Story. Problem. Solution. Closing. Simple. If that isn’t enough to pull the content out of you easily, break it down by sentence. The point is to find a template that works for you, and then use it enough times that it becomes internalized and your brain starts organizing your ideas in this format to begin with. Finally, I want to give you a tip to achieve that zen, shut-out-the-world, “I can write anywhere” brain. Start small. No need to go for full chaos at first. But an easy way to start is to put on some music and when it stops, take a break. I listen to old records in my office, and a side of an LP is about 25 to 30 minutes and that’s perfect. If you’re using streaming music, make a playlist of 6 songs. When the 5 minute break is over, music goes back on, work begins again. Work is just writing. Not editing. Not thinking. Just churning out the words to fulfill the plan you made earlier. Get it out first. Finish a draft and then polish it later. My hope is that these ideas and exercises help you the way they helped me, which is to make my work process conform to what I want it to be. I want to be able to sit down, create off the prompt, say something sensible and meaningful and structured - that can effectively transfer my thoughts to another reader. As fast as just talking. To get there, you have to practice doing it like that, and here is how you can. —->
3 thoughts on “Destroy Your Writing Rituals to Set Your Skill Free”
What great reminders. I am like that where I like sound in the background when I write.
For whatever reason I can imagine a bunch of us all going to a strip bar, while everyone else has T&A in their face, I'd look over and see you elbow deep in writing some shit on your ipad.
This thought not only makes me laugh pretty hard, but feel slight envy as I admire the ability to focus in such an environment, lol.
Thank you for everything, always.
Thank you for your great advice.
Love your daily mails. Don't stop. Ever.