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Monday, July 20, 2009

Ritual vs Habit

"I am a brain, Watson, the rest of me is a mere appendix"

Those are, as you may have guessed, the words of Sherlock Holmes. To provide some context, in the story The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone, Watson and Holmes's landlady are increasingly concerned about Holmes because he refuses to eat until he solves the case. "What one's digestion gains in the way of blood supply is so much lost to the brain."

I am not advocating an eating disorder in pursuit of your creative craft, but there is truth to what Holmes says. This is the second Monday in my "Monday is creative day" regime and so far it's working splendidly (I know it's only been a week, but optimism is essential). Think about your day, think about when it really starts. For me personally I feel like the day picks up speed as soon as I have breakfast and does not slow down until late at night. This may not be true for everyone, but I would suggest to you that you pinpoint when your day starts and try to get some writing done before then.

In the case of postponing breakfast, one might think that this is "dangling the carrot," and for some it might be, but I find that this is a simple way to exercise your willpower and make your writing time your own.

What we're aiming for is a writing ritual, not necessarily a writing habit. Rituals are a lot easier to start and maintain than habits, which is why they're employed in some form by every religion on earth. Let's take a look at the word habit:

Habit noun
3b: The involuntary tendency or aptitude to perform certain actions which is acquired by their frequent repetition.

This would be a very nice thing to have, I would like to get to the point where I write so consistently that it is second nature. I would like this to stop just short of hypergraphia, which would be interesting but also terrifying. On the other hand...

Ritual noun
Any customary observance or practice; the prescribed procedure for conduct.

This seems well within our reach. We use rituals to develop behaviours which can turn into habits. We can't aim directly for the habit or we will fail. Only bad habits are easy to acquire.

So when we choose, for example, to abstain from food until we have written, we lend the writing act a significance it might not otherwise have. We also sanctify (literally: to set apart) that period of time, recognizing it, consciously and subconsciously, as important.

I encourage you this week to set apart some time for writing. As always, write whenever you can, on the back of a napkin, in the margins of your newspaper, but also find your own ritual to build walls around your writing time. Perhaps in building your ritual you will acquire the writing habit, but either way, you'll get more writing done.

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Anonymous Rachit Kinger said...

Can't agree more. I have always been fighting with myself for not writing more and feel bad that I'm not really cut out for this stuff...

Here is another way to get more 'quality' in one's writing. Put aside a time for literature rather than writing atleast 2-3 times a week. In this time you may read or write. Keep your laptop (or pen & paper) close by. and also a book that you know is really really good. More often than not you will see that some passages from the book inspire so much that they urge you to write... and believe me... more often than not you will really love what you've written then.

try it ... btw thanks for write or die..just discovered it and i'm going to be a regular

July 21, 2009 at 11:42 PM  
Anonymous Al Berg said...

Not eating might be a great incentive, but it can also backfire. I've heard several writers say that they think better after they've eaten something, and I can say from personal experience that often my brain has a hard time working on an empty stomach.
Getting in the habit of writing is a great idea though, and however you achieve it I wish you success.

July 26, 2009 at 9:24 AM  
Anonymous Ted said...

Ask yourself what you would be doing if the "miracle" happened, the one where all your needs--food, clothing, shelter, ?health insurance?--are met.
I'm not quite there, but I'm in grad school again after a loooong hiatus, and STILL everything except vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom (have to draw the line somewhere) seems to be more important than writing. Your "absolute first thing" idea seems to be what I need... or maybe the "I am not allowed to sleep until I've written." Thanks for the encouragement and for WoD.

September 19, 2009 at 11:09 AM  
Anonymous YRG said...

Looking forward to using Writer or Die for NaNo again this year. Thanks for such a great tool! Keep writing!

September 20, 2009 at 9:54 AM  
Anonymous Laura said...

Just wanted to say thank you for Write or Die! Just this morning a friend and I had a Word Count War with it, and I won 362-323! :-D Thanks again, Dr. Wicked.

~An Aspiring Authoress and a big fan of WoD

September 26, 2009 at 12:18 PM  
Anonymous jr said...


A friend posted your write or die gizmo on FB. I tried it. Very groovy. Thanks.


October 5, 2009 at 4:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr Wicked, you are my hero. Thank you.

November 10, 2009 at 12:09 AM  
Blogger Aquene said...

This is a really good idea with great logic backing it up. Bravo! XD

November 13, 2009 at 7:28 PM  
Blogger Elona Hartjes said...

Thanks for the encouragement to develop a ritual re writing. I am going to try to get up a hour earlier and write. (Since starting my MEd., I've been neglecting my blog.) I'm a morning person so this should work. Also love the idea of write or die. Might try it with my students.

December 6, 2009 at 11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anxious to try it. I use to so identify with the act of writing that I would say "if I didn't write I would die". Not so or at least not until now....

January 21, 2010 at 7:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My routine goes breakfast, coffee, shower, so the best way to slip in writing is to sit down with my cup of coffee and write for an hour--or at least until the coffee's gone.

March 26, 2010 at 10:10 PM  

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