Challenge Journal: Brain Dump Ritual

My ultimate writing ritual, which I am employing right now, is that I write in minuscule font when creating my first draft. For me, the hardest thing about writing is getting started. How will I begin this life changing research paper about the role of amateur sports in our society? The first draft is the hardest. The challenge is not not having an idea or not knowing what to say, it’s about how to go about correctly articulating it. So for me, it is easier to write without thinking about what I’m writing and go back to it later for editing. By typing in a size six font, single spaced, with dimmed lighting on the screen it is nearly impossible for my bad vision to see what is on the page, and much easier to just keep going, rather than preoccupy myself with judgmental, evaluating thoughts. Naturally, this leads to very sloppy drafts with lots of repetition, spelling mistakes and grammar errors. However, once everything is out there laying on the page, vulnerable to revision, it is much easier to produce a good piece of work than be worrying from the getco how the writing will turn out.

Another perk of this ritual is that once you expand the font you instantly are almost at the page minimum. To me, page requirements are incredibly distracting. Therefore, if I am actively aware of how much I am writing and trying to stretch it to reach this arbitrary threshold, I am not doing my best writing. I am dissecting apostrophes and contractions, not backing up points. When writing to reach a minimum the writers’ focus shifts from developing the argument to elongating sentences. This realization ultimately caused this ritual, and since I’ve begun it has lasted me three years now. It first began when I was confused about what to write about for my Arab-Israeli Conflict final paper. I decided my first draft should take the form of a brain dump and that it would not be a perfect 12-page paper to begin with. This ritual has helped me when many long drafts seem unattainable and giant.

Challenge Journal: Writing and Rituals

My life is replete with rituals. Before I sing, I do lip trills. Before I dance, I stretch. Before I act, I warm up both my body and my voice. I wake up each morning and spend a few minutes focusing on my breathing; I do the same before I sleep.

As a musical theatre major, I am acutely aware of how my body and voice feels every day and what warm-ups I have to do in order to activate my muscles and release the physical tension I’m carrying. Even on days when I drag myself out of bed and perform these warm-ups on autopilot, every stretch, every note, and every scale has a purpose. These warm-ups are rituals, and they are almost more important than the work that follows them. These warm-ups make me feel as though I have mastery over my mind and body. These warm-ups take me to the emotional and physical place I need to be in to begin my work. The chair of my department always says, “All good actors have a process,” and I have spent the past year attempting to cultivate a process that works for me.

Contrastingly, I don’t think I’ve ever had a ritual when it comes to writing. To me, writing has always felt as though I were venturing into the unknown: I never know what’s going to come out of me, and I’m always a little apprehensive of what I’m creating. I suppose my writing “problem,” then, is that I don’t have a process. At the moment, writing feels like guesswork. I don’t devote nearly enough time to it, and the act of writing (or preparing to write) never feels sacred in the same way that my work in my major does.

I guess one of my goals for this final semester of school is to figure out a “ritual” that works for me when I write. My favorite place to work is this cute little cafe on East Liberty Street (they have the best matcha lattes); perhaps, then, one of my rituals for writing is going to be to get out of my cramped apartment and into an environment where I can be alone without feeling lonely. I think I also want to use whatever rituals I incorporate as a means of freeing myself up so that I filter my writing less. I feel as though I’m always writing with a final product in mind, and I want to start approaching my writing homework less as a means to an end and more just as a thing in and of itself. Of course, eventually, I’ll have to pare down my work so that it has a thesis, but I want to be able to start each assignment freely without fear of judgement or imperfections. I think I’m going to start using mind maps more as a way to do this!

I’m looking forward to turning writing into more of a process this semester. I’m hoping that I get to a similar place in my writing as I feel in my work as an artist. And I hope that implementing these rituals will help me to continue to cultivate my voice as a writer 🙂

Challenge Journal: Penchant for Procrastination

Despite the constant caveats from teachers and professors over the years, I’ve found—in my writing—that there are merits to procrastination. I’ve attempted to flesh out drafts weeks before the due date, and I’ve also found myself with nothing written a day before the deadline. Given this hefty sample size, the latter cases have actually produced stronger work. The best reason I can think of for this apparent contradiction is the laser focus lent to me by an impending deadline.

This habit has become a sort of ritual for me. A couple days before a deadline, I’ll spend a few hours considering the prompt, looking over the necessary materials, and marinating on ideas and how much of a pain in the ass tomorrow’s going to be. The next day, it’s straight to a quiet place with a coffee, water, and a pack of gum. With no choice but to come out the other end with a paper, I get to work. This urgency provides a stimulus for clear thought and thorough attention to detail. Even so, the shortcomings of procrastination remain: it diminishes my ability to rewrite, rethink, or revise a piece. This issue has proven my biggest obstacle to reaching my full potential in academic writing.

Going forward, I’m convinced that the only way to salvage these missed opportunities for revision is through self-imposed deadlines. If I can find a way to convince myself that my deadline is five days before the actual due date, then I might be able to channel the focus of working against the clock while giving myself a chance to look back over my work a few days later. The only problem with this technique would be enforcing this artificial deadline. If I know in the back of my mind that missing my self-imposed deadline doesn’t have any tangible consequences, I’ll be tempted to miss it. Missing a class deadline, on the other hand, means an F. If anyone has an idea for a way to enforce a fake deadline, I’m all ears… until then, I’ll probably keep putting it off.

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.

Is this a dead end?

Hi everyone,

Maybe you can all help me to see how my own interests can be better translated into a substantial argument that is appealing to the largest audience I could get to meet me halfway.

I’m considering (among other things) writing about sub-cultures/lifestyle branding. This is a broad way to phrase it, but what I mean is that the phenomena of multiple categories of seemingly trivial, preference-based life choices, such as decisions of food and clothing, have been lumped together to form sub-cultures in society. For example, the American brand, Tory Burch, includes a list of restaurant recommendations on the official website. When I looked at this while trying to “make the familiar strange,” it was intriguing to me. However, I am worried that this may just be an argument that people who enjoy one thing are likely to enjoy another.

I am particularly interested in the classic American (preppy, as many name it) style and lifestyle, but I’m not sure how to write about this with more novelty. Maybe I can incorporate talk of lifestyle branding? What would that look like?

How can I take this topic beyond the stage of observing what a lot of people have in common?

Thanks for your help!

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.