Fear and Ritual

If ever I had a ritual, it would be sitting down in front of a blank sheet, thinking really hard for five minutes, and then deciding that I haven’t done enough research or world-building to possibly be able to start writing yet. My ritual is letting this fear fuel further procrastination. And I would say this is a ritual, not just because I have to write this post about a writing ritual of my own, but because this fear is essential to the core of me. This has to do with knowing vs. not knowing, and just how much knowing is required to write knowledgeably about a topic. I tend to answer that question on the side of needing to know every damn thing. Which, when I’m not trying to write, I realize is one of the most preposterous things I’ve ever thought.

I know that I won’t know everything about the thing I’m writing until I learn that information through the act of writing. Writing is, for me, the best form of active learning (followed closely by drawing), so why am I so hesitant to apply this practice outside of everyday note-taking? For something like a research essay, a simple enough way to combat this fear would be to start every session with fact-checking my thesis and outline. This would be a good practice for both my anxiety and building my references. For everything else, I strongly feel like I might need to rewire my brain.

My studio professor this semester is a big fan of “getting out the ugly” in our drawings, so that we can push through to something more thoughtful, beautiful, and nuanced. Without the initial push, I’m going to be doing my body and health a disservice by franticly floundering for words the night before, because procrastination will make me its bitch. It really will. So I think a good ritual would be to “shitty first draft” everything I’m having trouble with. New mantra: “Get out the ugly jist of it; refine later.”

wires brain thoughts head
If only it were this simple.

What I Learned in English 125: My Writing Process

In anything I do, I generally follow two main tendencies: being my harshest critic and avoiding unnecessary pressure.

My writing ritual reflects these objectives, only additionally requiring a quiet space and a large block of time.

Prior to college, I would start the writing process early, about a week before the due date. I would write a “stream of consciousness” type of a piece to get all of my thoughts out on paper. Next, I would take a couple of days to distance myself from the text. This made the editing process easier as I was less attached to the piece.

After following the sequence of printing…editing on paper… printing… editing on paper…etc. I usually ended up with my final piece.

I remember my English 125 teacher, Carol Tell, often critiquing, “Why did you bring this [very good point] up so late? The answer to her question would inevitably, and politely, be, “Well, I didn’t think of it earlier.” This transaction of comments surfaced throughout my first two papers of the semester.

She encouraged me bring these insights up earlier, even in the introduction, and to focus on them more in-depth throughout the piece. She was right, even through the constant editing, my final papers reflected the stream of consciousness pattern that I would write in.

I needed to brainstorm and outline before writing. These aspects are just as important as writing the piece.

Today, it is very important for me to know what I am going to write about before beginning to type. This ensures that I have more keenly examined as many aspects of the topic as possible and have selected the best, and most supportive, sources to add to my insights.

How has this impacted my writing process? Well, as you can imagine, I begin even earlier. I locate not one, but two, large time blocks: one for brainstorming and outlining, the other for writing. While I do not always write out a distinct set of points or topic sentences during my long brainstorming and outlining sessions, I walk away with two main ideas. First, I am actually excited to write the paper in a way that I was never prior to this process. The wheels are turning and I feel as if I am bursting with ideas. Second, I actually know where I am going with the piece, making the writing easier and more to the point. This adds more meaning to my papers and makes them have greater insights.

Challenge Blog One: Rituals

I never considered myself to be a woman of ritual. On time, particular, and possibly OCD? Maybe. But the act of arranging materials just right on the table or grabbing the perfect snack before I actually start a paper are moments that have usually felt more routine. However, rituals are routines that have become special and essential. Sometimes they can be positive, but in today’s case I will talk about my ritual of writing at home and how it has been problematic.

Last semester, I wrote just about every paper at my dining room table. I love being home. I enjoy my roommates’ chit-chat and the smell of everyone’s cooking. It’s warm and inviting. Since we all enjoy doing homework at the table together, it has also always felt like a great work environment. However, I was pretty disappointed with one paper I wrote last semester for American Culture in The Sixties. The whole process took place in my bedroom and at that dining room table. I interviewed my grandfather sitting in bed and did late night research downstairs. The overall product was messy and the analysis was sadly quite thin. Not all of my writing assignments ended up that way, but this particular project could have been better had I considered moving outside of my comfort zone.

My new goal is to combat my home-body attitude. It was clearly a challenge for me and I want to make sure I end my last semester of college with some great writing. With that being said, I will make treks to cool coffee shops and comfortable study areas when I need to start a new paper. This will hopefully get creative juices flowing, give me a new setting with different sounds and smells, and maybe it will be a fun ritual that I didn’t know I needed.

 

Challenge Journal: Rituals; or, Flick still sucks at titles.

Apologies in advance for being hopelessly unoriginal, but I genuinely feel like my one of my biggest (if not definitely my biggest) challenge as a writer is starting my piece. But this problem is pretty specific to more creative writing. I find academic papers easier to write – there’s a structure and very explicit goals and instructions that are laid out to be followed. Great. Boring, but easy enough to do as you’re told. Then we look at the fun writing. The personal narratives, the gateway and capstone writing, the creative pieces. The ones where you have all sorts of freedom to do whatever the hell you want. No rules!!!! So, where the hell do you start?

In class today, we discussed rituals. I’d be lying if I said I had a writing ritual. The closest thing I have to a ritual is something that I actually briefly wrote about in a Gateway “How I Write” assignment. The piece detailed how I fill my head with self-doubt and proceed to throw myself on my bedroom floor and roll around for a while until I peel myself up and decide to at least attempt to write something. Even now, I stand by my rolling-on-the-floor time. While it’s important to have confidence in yourself, I like to acknowledge the self-doubt that I have. It’s always going to be there, so maybe rolling on the floor is my way of confronting those fears, which then allows me to move on and exist apart from them. Or maybe I’m just reading waaay too deep into a childish practice. Wouldn’t rule out either possibility.

How do you start writing? I assume most people are more disciplined than I am and perhaps have better/more effective rituals. What gets you going? Is it dependant on your rituals or can you just dive head first into a piece? Tell me ur secrets.

How to begin: rituals for writing success

Over the years I’ve tried many rituals to kick off productive and profound writing sessions. Some of them have been effective, others not so much. All of my writing rituals have been incredibly mundane, but I don’t think such things need to be exciting. They’re simply meant to put me into a mindset that is conducive for focused production of text.

 

I solidified the best and current version of my set of rituals in the Fall semester of 2016. My “final exam” for an upper-level political science class covering the political history of modern (1945-present) day Germany required a total of 20 pages of essays to be completed in approximately five days. As you can imagine, I needed a way to kick myself in the ass and get going.

 

Firstly, I cannot write anywhere other than at my own desk, typing on my own personalized keyboard. There are LEDs underneath the keys set to a brilliant purple color, and the light travels in waves across the keys, bouncing from side to side at a steady pace. Purple is my favorite color, and the wave pattern gives me something pleasant on which to focus. The keys themselves are set on mechanical switches, rather than rubber domes, which gives them that late 1990s clickety-clack, IBM type sound.

 

Secondly, it is important for me to be totally comfortable. In the warmer months, this means wearing basketball shorts and an undershirt. In the cold months, sweatpants and hoodies. I can’t work in jeans; I don’t know why.

 

Thirdly, a beverage is important. Coffee, an energy drink, water, you name it. I need something to sip on.

 

With these tools, I’m usually able to produce some sort of useful writing. However, as I’ve written these steps out, I notice that while I practice many preparatory rituals, I have no finish line, no congratulatory obligations. Perhaps I would feel more motivated to reach the end of whatever segment I’m working on if I knew there was a mini-reward waiting for me. Should it be a favorite snack? An episode of whatever I’m currently binging on Netflix? A smoke break? I’ll be trying out some of these ideas over the next few days; I’m almost always working on something. Maybe I’ll post a followup about how each ritual felt. Let me know if you have any suggestions, please.