Getting Quiet and Letting Go of Expectations

One of the hardest parts of writing fiction for me is the getting started part. Every time I sit down to write, it takes a good twenty to thirty minutes to find a groove. Which is frustrating when you’ve only got an hour and a half to write. I’m always looking for strategies to increase my efficiency (btw, have you seen this awesome post on increasing your daily word count?), so I’m happy to welcome Alyssa Archer to talk about methods for settling down and getting busy…

workingAs human beings, we design transitions for ourselves. We might move from sleep to wakefulness with an alarm clock, toothbrush, and a cup of coffee. Our routines propel us from one mode of being to another. And yet we often plop down in front of the computer or notebook and expect to transition instantly from day-to-day life to writing genius. As a result, we might do a lot of throat clearing, writing meaningless or empty paragraphs, and wasting a lot of time in the process.

Consider developing a set of writing rituals that work much like your waking routine to propel you from the state of everyday being to that of creative master. If you sustain the habit of following these rituals, there’s a good chance they’ll catapult you past the half hour of wasted writing time by giving your subconscious additional clues that it’s time to write. The following are some suggestions for you to build your own creative routine. Choose a few that suit you, or design some of your own.

Get ready. Take care of anything that might distract you during your writing. Get a snack, make some tea, go to the bathroom, let the dog out. Don’t do the dishes, but do spend a few moments caring for yourself before you enter your work zone.

Start with intention. Regardless of your specific writing goals for this session (e.g., write a chapter or write for 60 minutes), choose a one word intention for the feeling you’d like to embody at the end of your writing session. Maybe it’s “creative” or “accomplished” or “happy” or “masterful.” Focusing on the emotion unhooks the intention from any paralyzing expectation of a certain accomplishment and yet provides the subconscious with an immediate goal that sends the desired message: it’s time to get to work.

Settle down with a snow globe meditation. Imagine yourself as a giant snow globe all shaken up—the emotions, flotsam and jetsam of your daily cares, what’s for dinner, all your chattering thoughts swirling inside. Sit and envision the settling of the snow globe, each of the flakes moving slower and slower until at last they have all fallen, a layer of forgotten cares resting at the bottom of your consciousness, leaving a blank canvas for your creativity.

Do nothing for two minutes. Visit this website at the start of each session for two minutes of peaceful reflection at the beach.

Pick a theme song for you as a writer. Play it at the start of each writing session. Much like that cup of coffee or slug of mouth wash, this Pavlovian approach will wake up the writer in you within a few bars of music. Every time you hear that song, your fingers will itch for the keyboard.

Light a candle or ring a bell. Mark the time you start your writing session. Again, ritual is a tool for telling your body and mind to prepare for a certain activity. You don’t want to overdo it, but you want to send clear signals. I am writing now.

Leave the voices behind. Banish the voices of your inner critic, your grandmother, and your 12th grade English teacher; banish your fear of what you’ll have to do if your writing is successful, and banish your fear that it won’t be. Those voices are simply not welcome in the writing zone. Treat your ritual as the threshold that, once crossed, leaves only you and your writing in the room. If these voices crop up despite their lack of invitation (how rude!), simply notice that they’re there and tell them you’ll get back to them later. Do it out loud if it helps. “I know, Granny. I know. This writing isn’t for you, though. It’s for me. I’ll talk to you later.” Added benefit: anyone in the vicinity will now be convinced you are an artist.

Honor your commitment. Write for as long or as far as you said you would. Don’t stop early. Train your mind to follow through.

Close the sacred space. When the timer goes off or you’ve otherwise reached your goal for the session, put your tools away and blow out your candle or ring your bell, acknowledging that your writing time is over. Check in with your intention. How do you feel? How was the writing? Acknowledge your transition and accomplishment for the session. I think an ounce of divinely dark chocolate is in order. You deserve it.

Alyssa ArcherAlyssa Archer is passionate about to building commitment to the craft of writing through community and, along with co-founders Leslie Watts and Jennifer Hritz, she created a year-long, online writing program called Writership to do just that. She has published a paranormal romance novel, Across the Veil, and is currently at work on a second book. Please visit her online at www.writership.org.

Image: Hans @ Pixabay

About BECCA PUGLISI

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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54 Responses to Getting Quiet and Letting Go of Expectations

  1. This sort of advice was really lacking outside of “sit down and write”.

    Thanks so much from someone whose brain requires a whole lotta cues.

  2. Leslie R. says:

    Any suggestions for people who have to write in different spaces with different distractions all the time? I love the IDEA of rituals, but I’m really struggling to find that one thing to signal the beginning of my writing time that can be used at any time or place I need to write. I sometimes write at home, but don’t have a dedicated space, and more often I’m writing on my lunch hour at work – if I can find a space, or backstage between scenes with one ear tuned to what’s going on so I don’t miss an entrance (I’m currently working on a show with our community theater and don’t want to put my writing completely on hold until it’s over).

    • Leslie, this is kind of a goofy suggestion, but do you have something you can carry with you that can represent writing time? A knick-knack or a pen that you only use for writing, something like that? When I was writing my novel in January, I had a little Olaf figurine that sat on my desk; when it was time to write, I’d sit him right next to my computer, kind of signaling that it was time to get serious ;). If you found something you could carry around with you, you could sit it out wherever you are, whenever you’re ready to write. Maybe that could signal you that it’s Writing Time. Another idea is a particular snack or drink that you only eat/drink when you write. If it’s a snack, you could pack it in your bag and always have it with you. Just a few thoughts.

      • Leslie says:

        Thanks, Becca, I will try that. I’m definitely the kind of person who benefits from rituals – especially dedicated space – so feeling so unmoored has been very difficult.

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  5. Mark says:

    What a great idea Alyssa, thank you! I definitely need to develop a writing ritual to help set my creative routine flowing.

  6. I love this reminder to quiet and center as a writing ritual. The sensory connection works for me: warm tea, small candlelight, a single bell. I’m going to try some of these ideas!

  7. Thanks so much for this! I’ve never been much of a writing ritual person, but my morning routine is definitely Pavlovian – if I take a shower in the afternoon instead, I still have to brush my teeth when I get out! It makes sense that it would work for writing and I really like the idea of the candle. Sit down, shut off email and internet, light the candle, and write. Will have to look for soundtrack music to trigger it, too.

  8. CC Riley says:

    I love this and I love rituals! I have one, but I’m really glad I read this post because my ritual seems to take just a little too much time. All of these suggestions are quick and to the point!

  9. Some great suggestions here. Thanks.

  10. Rosi says:

    Excellent advice. I especially like the Snow Globe Meditation and the Do Nothing for 2 Minutes. Thanks for all of these.

  11. Rhea Rhodan says:

    Thank you so much for this post. Just what I needed!

  12. Jemi Fraser says:

    Great advice! I don’t usually get a whole hour at a time – more like 15 or 20 minute chunks so my rituals have to be quick — grab a tea and open the laptop mostly covers it 🙂

  13. Angela Brown says:

    I hadn’t really considered establishing a ritual. But it makes a great deal of sense. I’ll have to try this for my next evening writing session then build it from there as a habit.

  14. Awesome post!
    I LOVE the “do nothing for 2 minutes” link and saved it in my bookmarks. What a great idea!
    🙂

  15. I love the lighting of the candle to begin and blowing it out to finish. Great idea. The candle alone would settle me down. The settling of a snowglobe’s snowflakes is also a great way to visualize calming down and getting ready to write. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Marissa Graff says:

    Alyssa, wonderful post! Such good ideas here. I’m a big fan of the candle and music myself. I like your ideas to have an intention and honor your commitment. For me, those are important. I picked up a tip recently to write two pages a day, and that resonates with me. I get too overwhelmed by high daily word counts and will end up avoiding writing altogether if I don’t keep it doable. Thanks again!

    • Marissa, you’re so welcome. The intention setting is the latest addition to my personal routine. It adds a great deal of depth for me. I hope it does the same for you!

  17. I used to burn candles all the time when I was younger but babies and pets got me out of the habit. Maybe I’ll try to find a safe spot and use some of those candles that have dust layering them, lol.

  18. Love this! You’ve some ideas I hadn’t considered and I’ll set to work trying them. I’m a fantasy writer and I have a playlist on my computer that I consider my “soundtrack.” Although I play all kinds of music while writing, especially if I’m trying to set a mood, my soundtrack is the music that takes me to the place I need to go. It’s all orchestrated, so I don’t have to worry about lyrics distracting me when I’m focusing (lyrics can come later and that’s okay). The candle idea? Brilliant! Thank you.

  19. Thank you for this post. I like that ocean view site. I think developing a writing ritual will not only help me, but might help my retired husband remember that I’m unavailable for a certain time. 🙂

  20. Wendy Clarke says:

    Such good advice, Alyssa. I particularly like the idea of the bell to signify writing time – I did a degree in psychology many, many years ago now, and the idea of a Pavlovian signal appeals to me… just got to buy one now!

  21. I can’t do the candle–I’d forget it and leave it burning. But I do love cup of hot tea in my hands, and the same song playing over and over.

    Great ideas!

    Shannon

  22. Sasha Knight says:

    “Honor your commitment. Write for as long or as far as you said you would. Don’t stop early. Train your mind to follow through.”

    I’m taking this and posting it on my wall.
    I always have to have a particular song on to get me started and I only play it when I’m writing. Awesome suggestions!

  23. Gwynneth White says:

    Lovely post. I recognise some of the ideas – music and candle which i already do – but I liked the fresh input, especially the snow globe. I will definitely try that!
    Cheers
    Gwynneth
    http://gwynnethwhite.blogspot.co.uk/

  24. I love these tips. One of my writing rituals is that I always have a candle going. When that candle gets lit, I know it’s time to start writing. That has been really helpful for me.

    Timers can be another helpful tool. I give myself 5-10 minutes of checking email and Facebook before I start writing. Then, I light the candle and it’s on to the real work. So if you do find your writing time getting sucked away by social media, give yourself a limit and set a timer. When the timer goes off, so does the social media :).

    Thank you so much for being here today, Alyssa!

  25. This is fabulous, Alyssa – thank you. Have now bookmarked this and will definitely try it out. I already find music a powerful tool.

  26. Trisha says:

    I have no problem starting to write – what I am struggling with right now is revising!

  27. I can’t even begin to describe how much I love this post. I get all my stuff ready to go, but then the lure of social media hits and I end up wasting far too much time on it. I have made it part of my routine really, and it is taking over.

    I can see how this will help me pull it out of the routine by allotting some time to it before starting my ritual and preparedness. Thanks so much, Alyssa!

  28. This is dang brilliant! I found the link on FB while I was wasting my limited time settling in to edit. I’m going to give this a try next time.

  29. Vicki Rocho says:

    Nice suggestions! It helps to have some sort of visual signal to the kids that you are working and not to be disturbed…like one of those clocks businesses use when they’re out to lunch! 🙂

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