I define my writing ritual as a series of unique actions taken that tells my brain it’s writing and creation time. This is part preparation, part boundary-setting, part protective aura. I know that when folks hear the word ritual they think of the religious aspect often attached to the term, but I don’t see it like that at all.
There has been a lot of writing on writing rituals already, so I want to share my personal experience with them and talk about how other experiences in my life told me I needed to do this or give up writing. Yes, it was that bleak.
Why a writing ritual? The busier I got with teaching, running two businesses, and all the other day to day things one has to do to survive, I watched the desire to work on my book projects dwindle at an alarming rate. Gone were the gut punch butterflies around the anticipation of finally sitting down to work on a character, or a pivotal scene in my novel. I kept saying tomorrow, next week, or I’d tell myself “just one more hour on client work and then I swear I’ll get to writing,” but this was not working.
In creating an intention around the writing, I invited my brain to properly shift from work mode to creative mode. Having a writing ritual allowed me to warm up my body before jumping into the cold deep end of the pool (or, let’s be honest, I’d drown in no time). But what can a writing ritual do? Here’s what it’s done for me:
● allowed me to honour time for myself
● helped me invite in the right energy
● helped me warm up for the writing and cool down from whatever I was doing prior to sitting down to write.
Some time last year, I had a really terrible experience with someone in the industry. It was one of those all-consuming situations where someone wanted to completely derail me for no other reason except for the clear fact that they were unhappy where they were with their own writing career. She harassed me by email, social media, and yes she even showed up at events front and centre. I realized that it wasn’t me she was threatened by, but those who worked hard for any kind of success became a barrier to this person. What this month-long toxic experience did to me and my writing practice was scary. When I had time to write, this person’s negative words and ill wishes popped into my head. They took over. I tried to avoid the writing because of the unhealthy situation that was now tied to it. I had to find a way to settle into the act of writing. Something powerful, something exciting, fresh and new. I needed to start over, claim my time and space again, and fast.
I have a few rituals that I rotate, and below is one of my most recent ones:
Set the stage
Before I begin my writing session (these are quick 30-minutes bursts, I no longer have the time to write for hours at a time, and that’s ok), I set up my collaborators (I have to thank fellow writer Betsy Warland for this one). Laptop, notebook, pens, snacks, beverage, and a sign on my door that says “writing in session”. I make sure I have everything I need around me, so that there is no real excuse to jump up out of my seat.
Set the intention
Whether my goal is to do some quick abstract prose poem mash ups to include in my novel or whether I want to free write on setting, I set a really specific and attainable goal for those 30 minutes. Intentions are something I focus on outside of writing too. This action is a huge part of my life, and it should be. When we give ourselves permission to slow down, we can hold the necessary space for intentional moves, decisions, and actions. And yes, this took me years to figure out.
Invite in the correct energy
Lavender scented essential oil room spray is one of my favourite ways to create fresh energy in the space I am writing in. It smells lovely, it awakens my senses, and it kind of reminds me to breathe, which leads me into my next point.
Quick breathing exercise
I take three minutes to clear all the “old air” from my lungs. In expelling this old air, I also release all those negative thoughts. Quick and simple deep breaths, in and out.
Self-love mirror pep talk
Yes I have a mirror attached to my desk. I cannot avoid talking to myself if I have to look at myself while I write. And this is such a fantastic way to challenge myself. It’s harder to give up when you are forced to stare yourself down, or look yourself in the eye when you’re doing it.
Thirty minutes of uninterrupted, well-intentioned, clear-headed writing. Sometimes this means two pages of unconnected bullet points, shopping lists, or doodles. But the time set and spent totally freshens my mind. I can try again tomorrow. The result will always be different.
Writing rituals saved me from not writing. They saved me from giving up. They also reminded me that we have to find ways to take back the power that toxic relationships can
steal from us.
The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Chelene Knight is the author of the poetry collection Braided Skin and the memoir Dear Current Occupant, winner of the 2018 Vancouver Book Award. Her essays have appeared in multiple Canadian and American literary journals, plus the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. Her work is anthologized in Making Room, Love Me True, Sustenance, The Summer Book, and Black Writers Matter.
The Toronto Star called Knight, “one of the storytellers we need most right now.” In addition to her work as a writer, Knight is managing editor at Room, programming director for the Growing Room Festival, and CEO of #LearnWritingEssentials. She often gives talks about home, belonging and belief, inclusivity, and community building through authentic storytelling.
Knight is currently working on Junie, a novel set in Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley, forthcoming in 2020.