Ever since reading The Power of Habit a few years ago, I’ve found it helpful to create rituals around the things in my life that cause me anxiety or that I tend to avoid. By “ritual,” I really just mean routine — a short series of actions that put me in the mindset to do a certain task.
These rituals don’t have to be complicated; it’s actually better if they’re short and simple. It helps to incorporate as many senses as possible, too — our brains connect smells and taste to actions as much (sometimes more) than they connect sight and sound, so I like to take advantage of that when creating a routine.
I work a few days from an office and a few days from home, so having a writing ritual helps me to get in the mindset to write regardless of where I happen to be each day. When I come into the office, the first thing I do is start making coffee since it takes a few minutes to brew. I walk into my office and immediately light a candle — I like incorporating scent into my routine, but I dislike candles that are perfumy, so I always burn one from Great Bear Wax because they smell really good and natural to me. (Right now I’m burning either Pumpkin or Autumn because I’m basic like that.)
As the candle starts its work, I turn on my computer, open the programs I need to work, and put a yellow legal pad and a pen next to my computer. The legal pad is there so I can write down to-do list items and ideas that I don’t want to forget. I know there are electronic ways to do this, but scribbling on actual paper works much better for me. One thing I definitely don’t do is open email — I like to get an hour or two of work in on at least one project before I start reacting to what other people are asking for from me.
Once everything is set up, my coffee is finished brewing (we brew Domestique at the office, and it’s what we usually brew at home, too). I also fill up a big bottle with filtered water; one secret I learned from working in a coffee shop for years is that both coffee and tea tend to be better at waking you up if you’re well hydrated.
When I’m ready to write, I open a Word Processing program — sometimes I use Microsoft Word and sometimes I use Google Drive, depending on which client I’m writing for, but I rarely write in my blog backend, both because I find it distracting and because I like to have another copy of my work. Finally, I put on some noise cancelling headphones and listen to something without words because I find it really distracting to hear lyrics when I’m trying to write.
My “ritual” isn’t complicated or bizarre or religious (although candles are involved), but it really works for me — and I’d guess that most successful writers have some version of a ritual that they follow as well. I don’t need the routine to write (I don’t burn a candle when I write in coffee shops, for example), but when I really need to focus or beat back procrastination, these simple steps become a really powerful tool.
Carrie Rollwagen is author of The Localist, a book about buying from locally owned stores. She’s Communications Director at Infomedia, a web development company in Birmingham, Alabama. Find her as @crollwagen on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and most other social media platforms.