The Comfort of Writing Rituals During a Pandemic (or Anytime)

On discussion boards, I’ve noticed three different reactions to the pandemic among writers:

  • -I am way too anxious (and/or too  busy with children/grandchildren at home) to possibly get any writing done.
  • -I’m writing, but I’m so distracted that it’s really tough.
  • -I’m getting more writing done than usual because the rest of my life is canceled.

I realize how fortunate I’ve been to be in that third group. My husband teases me about my “can’t say no” disease when it comes to volunteer commitments. I always huffily explain that each of my volunteer jobs is important and adds meaning to my life. But I do have to admit that taking a break from them has been a boon to my writing. My original goal, for example, was to have completed the first draft of my latest work-in-progress, Deadly Setup, by the end of May. Instead, I typed “The End” five weeks sooner than anticipated. It’s not that I don’t have plenty of work left to do on the manuscript. But I’m still startled that I’m actually ahead of schedule!

One thing I’ve found helpful is to have writing rituals, things I do before I get going on my writing work for the day. In that way, I think I’m no different than anyone setting themselves up to undertake something that’s going to require focus and concentration. Watch your favorite baseball player preparing to face a pitcher, or a basketball player getting ready to shoot free throws, and chances are you’ll notice that they repeat physical actions that mentally prepare them to perform—whether it’s swinging the bat or bouncing the basketball a certain number of times.

Now that I think about it, when I was dancing professionally, I was the same way. There were certain exercises I absolutely had to do to feel confident I was ready to go on stage. One of my husband’s favorite stories is asking me before a performance if I wanted to review a section of a duet we were about to perform, and my saying, “I can’t right now. I’m only up to dégagés in my warmup.”

As a writer, my rituals involve creating the illusion of entering my own little writer’s cave. In the mornings, after I exercise, I go into my office, water and coffee in tow, and shut my door. Then I light a candle, turn the string of lights on around my desk that my dear husband has strung up, and boot up my computer. I open up the day’s work and always begin by reviewing and doing some light editing on what I wrote the day before. That seems to really help me push on to new writing.

I’ve also recently been playing lots of music. The protagonist in Deadly Setup is a pianist and loves old standards from the American Songbook that she grew up listening to because of generations of jazz and popular musicians in her family. I know many writers who need absolute silence, but for me, music helps me go into my writing zone.

Of course, I haven’t mentioned the most important aspect of my own writing ritual, which is repetition. The more consecutive days I enter my office to write, the more productive I am—and the more I enjoy the process. As I’ve talked about before, the only thing that has ever consistently worked for me is “butt-in-chair.”

So now you know what I do that seems to work for me. But I’d love to know what your rituals are for writing or any creative work you do. My philosophy has always been to do “whatever works” which will undoubtedly be different for each of us.





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