Katie and I have often wondered: How do they do it, those productive writers? (Actually, we’re a little loathe to use the word “productive”—it can really haunt a person.)
Sometimes it’s a real mystery. What works for one person—maybe putting on a white coat, like Joyce—won’t be the same as for another. Maybe going commando is your thing.
Learning how to sit down and write is usually half the battle. Especially if you subscribe to the 10,000 hours theory of mastery.
That's why Creative Rituals is a book (and fun website—try that link!) that has really inspired us, because it’s clear proof that the way a writer works has nothing to do with any proven system—it’s every creative for herself.
In its pages, Toni Morrison confessed, “I am not able to write regularly … I have always had a nine-to-five job.” We learn that Jane Austen “wrote in the family sitting room, ‘subject to all kinds of casual interruptions.’” But Gertrude Stein was fortunate (maybe) to have Alice B Toklas help create the ideal conditions for writing, getting up at six a.m. to brush their poodle’s teeth. Stein would get up about four hours later, and eventually they would go for a drive until they found a good spot for writing:
“...She [preferred] to write outdoors. Miss Stein liked to look at rocks and cows in the intervals of her writing. If the cow didn’t seem to fit in with Miss Stein’s mood, the ladies got into the car and drove on to another cow.”
Gertrude Stein admitted that she could rarely write for more than half an hour a day.
And if you once had a great writing routine but don’t anymore, heed Anne Rice, who said, “The most important thing, when I look back over my career, has been the ability to change routines.”
Need a place to get started? There are writing workshops like ours, of course, to give you some structure and impetus, and then there are also lots of rituals to steal.
Cow-watching doesn’t just belong to Gertrude Stein.
Staring out the window,
Katie & Carolyn
Consider the Ritual
A big part of making writing ritual successful is in how you think about it. There aren't any rules, and it isn't an obligation. Five minutes is enough! In fact, we have a friend who’s written a novel in five minutes a day.
Instead of a prompt this week, take some time to consider how you like to write or what riches your writing time can offer you. What do you get from a writing session? What time of day do you prefer to do it? Where? What helps set the mood for your creativity?
If you really want to get to a prompt, experiment with some of the prompts from our previous newsletters and try writing under very different conditions than you usually do. What happens to your writing? Does it make a big difference?
Tell us about your experiences in the comments!