In a world full of questionable writing advice, fewer suggestions are more harmful than the idea that you should have rituals to get you in the mood to write. There is no one way to be a successful writer. You should be suspicious of anyone who tells you that you have to do things a certain way to be successful. Maybe a writing ritual works for you. If so, keep it up. But, consider what happens when your ritual fails.
I’ve built a successful writing business over the past six years breaking a lot of writing rules.
All the Writing Success Rules I’m Breaking
I can’t lead you to the promised land of getting paid to write whatever you want
Like you, my life is complicated. My wife is in nursing school at one of the most competitive programs in the country. It’s her dream. I support our family of six people and one dog 100% from my writing. I also make meals, clean, do laundry, grocery shop, chauffeur kids, help with homework, help solve problems with friends, get kids to bed, and thousands of other things. My kids range in ages from 7–14. They are all active. No two days are the same. My writing time is limited to between two to three hours a day most days.
If I only wrote when I was at my desk with my old book-scented candles, while Enya played in the background, we’d be broke.
I’m writing this post from my bathtub. I know the idea of a big, fat, bald, bearded guy in a bathtub may border on obscene, but I have a schedule to keep.
I’m writing on my tablet. I type a lot slower and make a lot more mistakes, but I’ve learned that I can always edit later. What’s most important is getting the words down any way I can.
I’ve learned that I need to be able to write anywhere. I do my best writing at my desk. When my kids are home, I put on my headphones and listen to music to block them out. But, I also write on my laptop at cafes or the library. I write on my phone and tablet while waiting for dance practices, while I’m putting kids to bed, or in line at the store.
Today I’m in the tub because I hurt my back during my morning walk. But, I can’t afford not to get my writing done. My family is counting on me.
If you rely on a writing ritual to put you in the writing mood, you are setting yourself up for trouble. Your brain has a high degree of plasticity. That means you and I can train our brains with new thoughts and habits, even if we’re already middle-aged — like me. A complex ritual trains your brain that you can only write under certain conditions.
But, life is too random for you to always have the right conditions. Eventually, you will need a new ritual. You will have to retrain your brain. Why not train your brain to be able to write from anywhere?
I’m a squirrel in an obese man’s body. My mind is always going a hundred different directions. Just writing that last sentence reminded me of a squirrel I saw at the park today darting around trees running from fallen pinecone to pinecone, unable to make a decision about which one to grab.
If I can learn to write without a ritual, you can too.
Making a living from your writing comes down to writing as much high-quality work as possible over a set period.
If you write books, the more good books you write, the more money you can make. If you want to make money as a freelancer, the more projects you complete, the more money you make.
Rituals interfere with your ability to write more. At best they’re a crutch, at worst they’re an obstacle.
Train yourself to write in a variety of different settings and with different tools. It will make you a better, and more prolific writer. You will always have your preferred writing environments. But, with practice, you can gain the ability, and confidence to write almost anywhere.
If you’re nervous about giving up a writing ritual, try spending more time on your pre-writing work. Take more detailed research notes, write more detailed outlines, and write an introductory sentence for each section of your work. Then, do the actual writing someplace different. Start small. If your habit is to write at a coffee shop, try writing in a park before you try writing at a heavy metal concert.
Every time you write someplace new, you’re training your brain. You’re expanding your ability to access the part of your brain that’s most engaged in the writing process.
If you’re feeling bold, try writing in the bathtub. It may feel awkward at first.