As I sit here listening to the tapping of the keyboard like rain on a metal roof, I’m participating in one of many, many rituals in my daily life. We all have them. Get up, get a shower, eat breakfast, take your keys from the place they always hang, run out the door, go to work, punch the clock, attend your station, perform your duties – each step part of a ritual enacted and perfected by after day after day.
You may have noticed that I was unusually silent last week.
I wasn’t mad at you, I didn’t take off on an exciting whirlwind tour, what happened was quite mundane and profound. You see, my rituals were thrown off by an unexpected power outage that created a chaos spiral. On New Year’s Eve, we had a freak ice storm that pulled the branches of a very lovely pine tree down onto my power and internet cables, violently ripping them out of my house.
The effect was immediate. Not only to my house, but to my psyche. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to power through an ice storm, but the last one was something like 14 years ago, when I was considerably younger and far less reliant on comfortable sameness. Comfortable sameness. That phrase seems so… middle aged. I never expected that I would embrace the march of time.
But in that chaotic pause, I was not too gently reminded how much rituals matter in my daily life, and I was determined that I would make a blog post about the whole thing.
Rituals in Writing, Rituals in Life
Writing, like so many other things in life, requires going into a specific sort of head space to properly accomplish. Some writers need absolute silence, others, noise. A few like myself need controlled dissonance to properly distract the demons that make it hard to focus.
We all have rituals that help lubricate the day. There’s no sinnin’ in it. There are valuable time management skills buried in daily rituals. After all, if you don’t have to think about how to make the coffee or burn the pancakes, like you do every day, it speeds up the process.
I know a lot of writers who struggle with time management (myself included), but I’ve also learned a few tricks for overcoming my own misguided behavior over the years. Rituals made such a difference for me.
If you don’t already have rituals to help automate some of the more basic parts of your day, it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot. I promise you don’t have to admit that you’re getting older and less spontaneous. Just look at it as freeing up processing power for more important tasks, like searching the Internet for increasingly bizarre memes.
Establishing Useful Rituals (No Chanting Required)
One of the most important rituals for me is something I like to call “breaking the seal on the writing day.” I don’t do this every day, because I don’t write every day, but I do it most days. When I get a fresh new day, I have to start totally from scratch. I can’t carry over the momentum from days before – I can’t even do that if I’m interrupted for an hour or so, if we’re being honest. So, breaking the seal is kind of a big deal for me. It’s become a bit of a ritual for my work life.
In that blog I linked, I talk about seal breaking specifically, but here, we’re just going to talk about rituals kind of in general. How to start a ritual, how to use a ritual. Here we go:
Start with the problem. What’s the issue you’ve got that requires a little better approach? It should be a problem you face most days, otherwise it’s not really a regular ritual. For example, you may always forget to take your cholesterol meds before bed. This is a simple one a lot of people struggle with. It should be a simple thing, rituals that are too complex are easy to forget.
Designate a ritual space. I know this sounds all kinds of mystery cult, but the truth is that having a space for your ritual, whatever it is, makes it easier to build associations and help you remember to ACTUALLY DO IT. So, for example, put your cholesterol meds in a place where you are near bedtime, in a designated spot, so you don’t have to go digging around looking for them. Be middle aged. It’s ok.
Set a reminder. If you’re terrible at starting rituals, do what I do. Set a reminder for a specific time. Your phone, your watch, your home assistant, they can all help you remember. If nothing else, you’ll wonder what that incessant noise is long enough that it may occur to you what you’re supposed to be doing. This works as well for work tasks as life tasks.
Perform the actual ritual. It’s all fine and good to plan to do a thing, but you actually have to follow-through. This is probably the hardest part, really. But do the thing. Do it again. Do it over and over at the right time until it’s just part of your life.
Rituals are great, they truly are, but they can get a bit dodgy when unexpected chaos erupts. So, while I really believe in the power of rituals, I also try to not become overly reliant on them. After all, it really sucks trying to remember how to do a thing outside of your usual ritual environment.
Now, back to your regularly daily scheduled rituals…. *chants in Gregorian*