by Rachel Smith
15 November 2018
Edith Wharton, Mark Twain and George Orwell’s writing ritual was to scribble while in bed. Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill and Virginia Woolf were early adopters of the ‘standing desk’ many writers favour today. Me? I prep my desk, de-cluttering and tidying, setting up my notes and laptop just so and having a hot cuppa by my side (or if it’s all too messy and overwhelming, I head to the library). It’s an interesting question though – the little habits and rituals we all establish as creatives in order to be more productive. Here, some of our RL members and followers share their writing rituals.
Journalist and content creator Lynne Testoni‘s habit is to always try and end the day having made a start on her next piece. “So if I finish a big story I immediately start another one even though mostly I don’t do much more than scope it out at first. I hate starting the day with a blank page!”
I can totally relate to creative storyteller and writer Rashida Tayabali‘s ritual, which is closest to my own. “I work best in a library with headphones on,” she says. “I always feel inspired to work surrounded by books!”
Freelance writer and PR consultant Emma Lovell doesn’t believe she has a ritual as such, but likes her desk to be set up just so before she gets down to work. “Clutter free. Diffuser. Salt lamp. Plant by me for oxygen. Notepad. One framed photo. Calendar. And that is all. I’ve found after only a few weeks that I’m kinda getting into habits of turning the lamp and diffuser on. Opening my note pad. Getting myself a hot water and lemon. Actually having breakfast. Having this space that is MINE for creativity and work is helping and I’m enjoying it. Also if I NEED to write something, I have to have a playlist on. I’ve got a set few now including “music for concentration” and the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. It does instantly put me into a state of ‘work zone’.”
Writer, author and digital content producer Nigel Bartlett says his ‘ritual’ starts with a fair bit of guilty checking: of emails, social media, banking and so on. “But I stopped feeling guilty after I heard YA author and freelance writer Allison Tait describe these behaviours (and others) as being like a dog walking around in its bed until finally it settles. We all have things we need to do before we get comfortable, just like dogs. In terms of writing, I can write pretty much anywhere, unless someone is trying to talk to me. People can be talking around me, and that’s fine, but if they talk to me, I have to answer. I can write with the radio on, and in fact I usually do, except when I’m writing fiction, when I prefer not to have it on. (The author Peter Temple used to write with the horse racing on in the background.) When writing fiction, I have to put the phone somewhere else and use an internet-blocking program. I use Freedom.”
Claire Chow, creative consultant and RL’s connections manager has her morning writing ritual down pat. “I Spotify a chilled-out playlist, have my coffee at the ready, and brainstorm old-school with a pen and paper. Then, I start tapping away on my keyboard. I don’t edit too much while I’m writing so I can get all my ideas down and then I go over it and ‘Claire-ify’!”
Sydney-based copywriter and editor Michelle Bateman will start writing first thing in the morning, even before checking emails. Now that’s discipline! “Getting straight into writing keeps me really focused and I get more and better quality writing done in the first 2-3 hours than I do for the rest of the day,” she explains.
Writer Alison Bone agrees, commenting on our FB page, “I get up in the morning, have coffee and a piece of toast and get straight on my laptop. If I don’t get started when I am fresh and alert I tend to struggle with getting things done.”
Student Sarah Payne offered a unique ritual of hers on our FB page. “Whenever I have writer’s block, I change the colour of my nail polish. Works every time! (Although I think it’s less about the colour and more about taking a break for a while.)”
For freelance journo and sub Leigh Livingstone, sitting at a desk or bench or table is the only way she can be productive. “As tempting as it is to work with laptop in my lap on the couch or outside on the daybed or wherever is comfy, my brain just won’t kick into gear unless it feels like ‘work mode’. Similarly, when I moved to freelance life I was so excited about being able to ‘work in my pjs’! But I quickly found that I wouldn’t be motivated unless I got changed. Even if it’s just into another set of trackies, a change has to happen for me to ‘start my day’. I sometimes do the pjs but only as a treat and only if I don’t have anything too pressing on.”
Writer Samantha Ireland confesses she writes anywhere she can, whenever she can. “Often it’s in the car while waiting for my son to finish sport or playing in the park with friends, or waiting for my mother while she’s at medical appointments. When working at home I prefer a little background noise so the TV is usually on. I find music too distracting because I stop and sing along. As long as I have coffee I can write while my son screams while playing video games online with his mates, or while my dogs bark at yet another imaginary intruder in the backyard. I would love to claim I have a ritual or routine, but I’m about as haphazard as they come!”
Dave Fagg, a freelance writer, educator and youth worker, it’s all about gravitating towards other people in order to write – not necessarily engaging with them, though. “I prefer a moderately filled cafe. I like the feeling of sociality without connection.”
For Melbourne-based journalist Seb Starcevic, it’s solitude all the way. “Not really a ritual, but I absolutely *cannot* write unless I’m at home in solitude. I always have this feeling people are looking over my shoulder if I’m trying to write in public. I’ll sometimes write with music or a podcast, but usually listening to words interrupts my attempts to write them, ha!”
Freelance writer and editor Helen Tobler is a big believer in getting into work mode. “There is absolutely no way I could do a phone interview wearing pyjamas! I have to wear presentable clothes to feel professional. I also have to work at home. And I find for final polished drafts I have to sit at a table or desk to be in work mode, as Leigh Livingstone said! Mornings are the most productive times for me, and with little kids, evenings are a write-off.”
“While I love the idea of being an odd writer type who taps away at odd hours, I burnt myself out pretty badly a couple of years ago so nights are a write-off,” says Ellen Hill, brand journalist and PR consultant. “I like to work from home in PJs in silence or, if I’m writing editorial or a travel piece, Viking, Celtic or classical music, and it’s good to have prime vantage position over the neighbourhood and the bush views. Endless cups of tea and plain boiling water. It’s hard to sit still, which drives my husband/business partner nuts. I’m a bit of a yard roamer and we talk about our clients in the confidential sanctuary of our home office – a lot – to find the right ‘voice’.”
What’s your writing ritual? Share in the comments!