My Writing Process

I don’t have one.

All right, that was a cheap cold opening, and also not 100% accurate. It’s not a lie, either. Because in most cases I don’t have a consistent process that I follow when I write. I don’t start at exactly the same time each day, I don’t have certain music on, or have to have a certain type of tea with me. In fact I almost never consume anything while I write. But even that isn’t part of my process per se; I was trained early not to eat or drink near a computer, and for the most part that has stuck with me.

Shock of all shocks, I don’t even write every day. Most days, but not every day. I’m supposed to write something, every day, aren’t I? At least according to the writing process scriptures on which many writing advice sermons are based. Chapters in that book include “Butt In Chair” and “No Twitter!”

Don’t misunderstand me, please. I’m not saying that those with a highly regimented writing process don’t know how to write. Writing is hard, my friends, and if waking up every morning at 6:04AM and sitting down to write for a non-negotiable hour while drinking tea helps you to get any writing done, than I’m all for that for you. In your life, that is the secret to writing. Ritual helps more writers than it deters, I dare say.

For me, however, I have a bit of a problem. I don’t have any name for this problem, so the best i can do is describe it thus; I have a bit of ritual addiction. I mean no disrespect to anyone who suffers legitimate addiction, but I have to co-op that word to get my point across. If I allow myself to remain tied to a routine, I run the risk of having to repeat that routine every time I undergo a certain activity. When that happens, the ritual becomes the focus instead of the task itself. I will not say I am OCD, because that is a true condition, and with huge amounts of concentration and effort, I can alter most such rituals I get stuck in. But before I do so, it can feel a bit like OCD is described. That’s often how I am when I go to bed…if I don’t do thus and so, I’ll notice it, and find it more difficult to fall asleep. (Not something I’ve ever been good at anyway.) I’m working on it.

That’s why, with some exceptions here and there, I haven’t allowed myself to create and unrelenting writing routine. I fear that eventually I could only write well if all the little touchstones and idiosyncrasies were met before I started. Like I mentioned earlier, writing is hard, and the last thing I need is to tie a millstone around my neck while I’m trying to do it.

Maybe this happens to you. Maybe you felt compelled to establish a routine in proverbial stone in order to be a true writer, or to get anything done. There are certainly more voices in favor of a locked-in writing routine than those who don’t insist on it. I won’t say I’m a voice crying out in the wilderness about it, but I think I am a minority. But if you think you might be in this minority with me, than I hereby give you permission to ease up on your writing process, or routine, or ritual or whatever. If you are feeling more like you’re at gun point by following your routine than you feel inspired to write, routine is not for you. I may not know what exactly you have to do in order to bring about more writing in your life, but I can tell you that blind ritual isn’t it.

I’ve tried it here and there. It had mixed results. Writing at the same time each day, or putting on a certain piece of clothing. It works for a while, then becomes more about the idea than the work, and I annoy myself and the writing suffers a bit. Which is the exact opposite of what a writing process should accomplish. So if that’s you, forget the ritual already.

You have to get the work done of course. Nothing will write itself. But it’s okay if some day you wake up wanting to write first thing, and other days you don’t feel like writing anything until after your breakfast, or after a walk. No, you can’t always wait until you “feel like” writing, but discipline comes in many forms. I myself set my own writing deadlines for things I’m not writing for other people. I have a list of writing accomplishments for each day I cross off as I complete them. Sometimes I journal or free-write. I give myself permission to only write a paragraph any given day. Each of these things shows that I’m still committed to writing, but that the writing take precedent over the process/ritual.

So, it doesn’t have to be every day at the same time, unless that helps you. But my general advise is to write often, set deadlines, respect them, and go easy on yourself if you slip and slide around for a few days. Water is the life sustaining substance for most lifeforms on the earth, yet it can destroy buildings and drown us if encountered the wrong way. Writing routines are like that. Let them refresh you instead, or carry you along on a wave, (with some work and concentration.) Embrace trends and broad guidelines instead of rigid ritual, and if you’re like me, you’ll eventually get to where you need to be.

Do you have a writing process, or routine, or ritual? How important is following it in order to write?

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