Challenge Journal: Rituals (I really need some)

Three weeks ago, I sat in the beautiful, cavernous Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Here is where I would write my last game story for The Michigan Daily — one of over 200 in the past four years. And it sucked. I was writing an acerbic column about the football abomination that the Michigan football team displayed in the Peach Bowl, and the words weren’t coming to me. Had I learned nothing in college from this newspaper? I labored through cyclical writer’s blocks, thesaurus reading, and getting a comprehensible idea down on the page. When it was done, my editor said he loved it. But I still thought it sucked.

I can truly say that I don’t have trouble starting the writing process. Sure, I can experience the typical struggles every writer goes through, but at the end of the day I’m a punctual, detailed writer. I had never needed a routine: no specific location, drink of choice, or anything to get me moving. It just happens, and that thought process has given me a lot of comfort to get things done.

Despite the relative ease for me to put words down, my column writing experience from a few weeks ago is my norm. Even though the writing occurs, the process can be strenuous with little validation. And when I finish my work, I hardly feel overcome with joy or satisfaction. I call it being results-oriented, but even then I only submit work that feels good enough to me. This unfortunate realization sparked by this class has created a need for personal change. With a few added rituals, I hope to inspire confidence in my ability to rituals and become more process-oriented with my work. Hopefully then writing becomes a wholly delightful experience. Some rituals that I didn’t think I needed, but hope to implement include:

First, leave my house. I often get consumed by the convenience of my home: a bed, a bathroom, a TV, snacks, and friends are right there, so it’s where I work. But all of these factors ultimately distract from focusing on the writing process. With more frequent, smaller windows to type sentences, writing becomes more laborious. With a clearer, quieter mind, which can be found in a more remote work space, I can write within a stream of consciousness and examine my writing more completely.

Second, celebrate after a finished assignment. Nothing too fancy, but something to look forward to beyond closing computer tabs and my laptop like seeing a movie or buying a nice meal.

Yes, they are baby steps. But I think it’s a good start and I am open to any suggestions that others have to reward themselves for their writing.

5 thoughts to “Challenge Journal: Rituals (I really need some)”

  1. Hey Ethan, I really like your idea of rewarding yourself after submitting a piece of writing. I think sometimes we forget how much of an accomplishment our writing represents, and so I’m glad to hear that you’ve outlined a ritual to reward yourself for that. I also appreciate your line about being “results-oriented”–this is something I struggle with frequently as it relates to writing, as the writing process never truly ends. With that in-mind, I’m wondering if there’s a way for your first ritual idea about changing spaces to help you to address this area you’ve recognized you’d like to improve.

  2. I like the fact that you spoke about an experience that you had as an actual writer for a newspaper. It actually makes me feel better about the struggles I go through because if someone who gets published in an official paper has issues with writing, then it must just be a normal occurrence in the writing process. I am different than you in my writing process in that I do not like to write when I am home because I can’t focus. Even if I needed the comfort of home, I would have to leave because for some reason even being near my bed makes me just want to go to sleep or go on my phone and get lost in social media. For me, I have to be a reasonable distance from my bedroom so that I am not tempted to go back.

  3. Ethan, I totally understand the frustration in being “results-oriented.” I’m the same way!

    It is for this reason that I rarely write on my own. It’s hard for me to put forth all of my efforts onto a piece that won’t receive a grade, publication, etc. It truly can take away from the fun of writing. Are you able to pinpoint what, exactly, you’re craving when you’re done with a piece? Perhaps this can help determine what you can do to celebrate your writing.

    As for establishing a ritual, I am a huge supporter of that. I find that I can write my best only when I’m sipping on my favorite drink at Espresso Royale. It’s as if the warmth of the drink and the sounds of the coffee shop are signaling my brain to write.

    I once had a teacher tell me that there is science behind this feeling. For example, anyone that eats while they study should do the same during the exam. The brain is prompted by common triggers, especially when they are a part of a structured regime. I’m not sure this is entirely true, but I like to think that it might help! Try finding a place where you feel creative and productive. Perhaps try writing while listening to one of your favorite playlists. You’ll eventually find a routine that works!

  4. Well, Ethan, it is safe to say I am a bit envious that you do not have trouble starting the writing process. You definitely have a knack for words, your short blog post flowed well and I could envision the process you use to write your columns for the Michigan Daily. However, I do think making the process more of an enjoyable experience would definitely benefit both you and your writing. I am curious how being in a new location would give you more validation as a writer? I agree that rewarding yourself you make the process more enjoyable but I wonder if you might also benefit from something beforehand to make you feel more confident with what you are writing. Perhaps reflecting on all the accomplishments you have already made with your writing, 200 columns is quite the number. It also sounds like your editor really applauds your work! These are not things to overlook, if I were you I would be extremely proud of my writing. I think it might benefit you to say some positive things to yourself before you sit down to write, not out loud necessarily but maybe just in your thoughts. That is up to you of course, but something as simple as “I am an accomplished writer, I have something unique to say,” could help you feel more confident before you start writing.

  5. “Good stuff, just a few small things.” (@everyone in Sports.)

    I was thinking about the idea of writing rituals after our reading assignment this week, and I realized that I probably could benefit from some as well. Getting out of the house and rewarding yourself for achievements — no matter how big or small — seem like a really good way to get yourself in the groove of a new ritual moving forward.

    Do you think there’s any type of “ritual” involved with the action of writing itself that could also help you? Like is there a certain section you like to write first; introductions, conclusions, something that you feel like you have to get down on paper to get started? Pinpointing where you feel it’s most important to start might also help you recognize where you’re placing emphasis in your writing!

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