I don’t have a writing ritual. Do you?

As a bit of a productivity junkie myself, I read a lot about how other people go about their work. Murakami is famous for waking at 4am every day, and writing for hours on end. “I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind,” he once said. When you Google for writing and rituals, you’ll see Murakami show up very often. His is the most practical, perhaps even rigid.

Laila Lalami has family duties in the morning, so she writes after her school drop-off. “The music brings me pleasure, of course, but over the years I’ve also noticed that it’s become a kind of audio cue—even when I’m not in the mood to work, it gets me started,” she says. This struck me as interesting especially because I don’t listen to music much. I don’t mean that I don’t listen while writing, I mean I don’t listen at all. Maybe, I should try. Maybe start with some k-pop.

Joan Didion is a bit more romantic. “I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I’ve done that day. I can’t do it late in the afternoon because I’m too close to it. Also, the drink helps. It removes me from the pages. So I spend this hour taking things out and putting other things in. Then I start the next day by redoing all of what I did the day before, following these evening notes,” she says. Gives you a sense that she’s an obsessive tinkerer, no?

Manto is believed to have loved fountain pens — what a joy must it have been to write your novel by hand. 

A quick Google search will give you the rituals and habits of tens of writers. Apparently, it’s common for desperate writers — like me — to hope that if they knew how their favourites did it, they’ll be able to replicate the magic too too. Except, I haven’t been able to wake up early consistently, run for 10km or even just listen to music undisturbed. 

So, here’s what my writing non-rituals typically consist of:

  • Knowing at least the previous night what I’d be writing the next day. Having some kind of idea for the essay helps no stare sulkily at the empty page.

  • Scheduling time on my calendar to do the writing. Mornings before 10, nights after 9, and weekends are the best time for me to write. No one feels entitled to my time, so no emails, WhatsApp messages etc.

  • Opening an app and begin typing a rough outline / argument. Without this, I’ll be researching endlessly. Having this helps me finish my Googling in reasonable time.

Just in the last year, I’ve had a few months of early morning writing, a few of late night writing and the odd day like today where I’m writing this blog post at 2:26pm. I sometimes need to use Focus App to put myself off the distracting parts of the Internet. I also sometimes force myself to write for 30 mins at a stretch without distraction.

Overall, it seems to have worked so far. Do you follow a ritual? More importantly, how does the ritual help?