I’m a morning person, always have been, so my day begins around 5am, Monday-Friday. Perhaps you are the same, perhaps not. But getting up early didn’t necessarily mean that I was ready to hunker down and work on my book.
In fact, it took me an embarrassingly long time to sort out what I needed to ready myself to write, but once I did, I found that having a pre-writing ritual, one that begins before I go to bed, has helped me prepare, physically and mentally, to focus on my work.
Whether you are an early morning crafter, a sneak-30mins-in-at-lunch wordsmith, or a pre-bed genius, I have found these mind-calming practices to aid my mental space before I sit down to write. Depending on your time and preferences, not all of these things may work for you or be your cup of tea, but if you’re struggling to get started maybe one might be your ticket to a clear mind. The ultimate goal is after all to come to your writing practice ready and excited to work.
READING POETRY BEFORE BED: (3-10 minutes, sometimes longer) Years ago I attended a short story workshop held by the Knoxville Writer’s Guild. The instructor, whose name I’ve completely forgotten, talked about how reading poetry before bed helped prepare her for writing. I believe falling asleep to someone’s curated words, makes us more cognizant of our own word choice and how we assemble our sentences as opposed to just vomiting them out (though this can be useful too; I’ll come back to that in a minute). I just finished Mary Oliver’s collection Why I Wake Early, a collection I choose because Oliver is amazing and because the title poem is the essence of why I get up two hours before I need to in order to “find” myself and write.
MEDITATION: (5min) This is still the hardest for me, but I still attempt to completely clear my head though meditation as the last thing I do before bed and the first thing when I wake. I sometimes use meditation music or sometimes just listen to the quiet of the morning or night to think of nothing at all. O.k., I am lying. I think about a lemon spinning against a black background. But my goal is to think of nothing but that for five solid minutes. I fight to not think about the list of things I need to get done that day, or in the evening, the list of things I didn’t. Or about analyzing something that someone said, or if I should attempt making kombucha again after epically failing by allowing my last scoby to turn into a science experiment. Lemon. Just think about the lemon.
MORNING PAGES: (15-30min) Although I’ve never been consistent at journaling, I began doing Morning Pages after Write By Midnight. The exercise was introduced to me by a fellow writer and one of my former co-teachers. If you are unfamiliar, Morning Pages, created by Julia Cameron who wrote The Artist’s Way, are three hand-written pages in which anything that comes into your mind becomes words on a page. This is your “vomiting” exercise, a cleaning exercise. This is detox. These pages are not high art; they will not win you a Pulitzer or the Printz or the Newberry. Sometimes I use these pages to hash out a problem I need to solve in my plot or to have “words” with one of my characters. This is actually one of my favorite parts of my ritual.
OTHER WRITER’S PEP TALKS: (5min) I’ve been reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, a collection of short essays for writers needing to get over themselves. Because as writers, if there’s anything we need to keep in check it’s our ego and it’s habit to thrive on fear of failure and self-doubt. If you choose, let Morning Pages be your humbler, then put whatever is holding you back in a box with a hefty lock and write. (The next collection of pre-writing pep talks on my list: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Conversations on Writing.)
YOGA:(15-30 + 3 for Shavasana (corpse/resting pose) = 18-33min) I started practicing yoga when I was 20, so this part of my routine feels like a warm hug from an old and sincere friend. I use the app Down Dog (which is free though you can upgrade and pay $50 a year. A shout out to our friend, Jackie, for the recommendation) or I’ll do a traditional sun salutation. If you are a mid-day writer and work outside your home, there are several poses you could do at your desk or on your break. I do yoga after dropping my kids off at school so I don’t feel rushed.
A ROOM OF MY OWN:(5min) Ok, so Virginia Woolf may have had a room of her own, I at least have my dinning room table. While I wait for the water to boil for my tea, I like taking a few minutes to create a sacred place by clearing my work space of anything that isn’t related to my writing. This helps me feel like I’m doing my commute to work; it’s a transitional exercise for me. If you tend to do your writing at your office/classroom while on break (or while you’re supposed to be working – hey, I won’t judge), perhaps you could find a special place that distinguishes your writing time from everything else in your day.
And that in a nutshell is my pre-writing ritual.
While doing all these things can take approximately 50-90 minutes, I have found that I waste less of my writing time getting distracted or finding reasons not to write. You could say I get my wiggles out.
As mentioned above, I know not everyone has that much time to spare, but I do whole-heartedly encourage you to find, if you haven’t already, something that helps clear you mind, be it from the list above, or from your own savvy arsenal of tricks. And as always feel free to share them in the comments.