I used to be a pretty chilled writer.
I would literally write wherever, whether it was curled up on the couch whilst precariously balancing my laptop on my knee, sat in bed with the duvet pulled up to my chest, or at a table in the library at university. I’d have other students bustling by me or chatting at the next table, or at home I’d have my flatmate watching Big Brother or Love Island in the background (and noisy reality shows don’t make for great concentration!).
I got some writing done, but I definitely wasn’t getting the maximum amount of work out of myself that I could have done because I was generally too distracted, and too relaxed about it all.
These days however, I seem to have naturally got into a habit with my writing, and I seem to be getting so much more done. I never actively set out to overhaul my writing practices, but thanks to noticing little things that increased my output I began to develop a bit of a ritual, and now I do this almost every time I write:
I sit at the kitchen table.
Whilst I used to just sit wherever, since moving back in with my parents a while ago, I’ve taken to sitting at the kitchen table to write. I gradually transitioned from sitting on my bed or the sofa to sitting at the little desk I have in my room, but that was generally so cluttered it was distracting and felt kind of cramped.
So these days I sit downstairs at the kitchen table, which thanks to my mother’s considerably higher levels of tidiness, is generally kept clear. I literally have my laptop and my notebook of notes beside me and nothing else, and it does absolute wonders for my productivity levels!
Yes there’s the odd distraction of people walking through the dining room, but for the most part once I’ve closed the door between it and the living room, I’m distraction free (unless my little nephew is in, and then I’m bombarded by questions. He’s adorable though, so I’ll allow it!).
I make a few notes before I start writing.
Whether I’m writing a blog post or article, or the latest chapter of my novel, I always scribble a few notes in a notebook before I start writing. Generally I just briefly outline what I’m going to be writing in that writing session, as it gives me that extra bit of structure and stops me getting to the point where I have to pause my writing to think what comes next.
Personally, if I pause for too long I lose my flow, and often that’ll signal the end of my writing session. So I try and set myself up to keep my momentum for as long as possible by planning ahead!
I set a timer.
These days I also set a timer before I start any writing session, as I find I’m the most productive writing in relatively short stints. I downloaded an app called Tomato One which allows you to create custom time blocks, as well as breaks, which I use to keep myself focused.
Generally I’ll write for twenty-five minutes, and then have a five minute break before continuing (I think it’s called the Pomodoro technique or something?). The number of time blocks I get in depends on the amount of time I have free that day, but I find that setting a time goal for each writing session works better for me than a word count goal.
I listen to classical music.
Until recently, I had never in my life voluntarily listened to classical music. My mum loves it, and always has it playing in the kitchen, but I’ve never really appreciated it. I’m definitely more of a rock/metal/whiny emo music kind of girl myself, and always found classical music boring.
But during Camp NaNoWriMo last year, I took a few people’s advice and decided to start listening to music as I wrote to block out any background noise and distractions, as well as to capture the mood of my novel. I didn’t want anything with words that would distract me (and tempt me to sing along!), and I needed something to fit in with the epic fantasy novel that I was writing.
So I started listening to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack as I wrote, and to my delight I would surface from some kind of writing trance ages later having written hundreds and hundreds of words. I found myself getting lost in the music and the words, as it created a much more immersive atmosphere than just sitting there in silence.
Discovering this was revolutionary for me, and it’s now an essential part of my writing routine. I now even write non-fiction listening to random playlists of classical music on Deezer (I’m listening to one called ‘Classical Music At Work’ as I write this!), as I find it helps me focus, and get into a rhythm with my writing.
I have a drink to hand (and sometimes snacks!).
Another reason for my previous lack of productivity was constantly getting up and down to fetch drinks (I’m literally one of the thirstiest people ever!). So these days I always make sure to have that much needed glass of water or can of Diet Coke to hand, and maybe some snacks too if it isn’t near a meal time. That way I can immerse myself in my writing without my body distracting me by screaming ‘hey! You’re thirsty/hungry!’.
Unfortunately there’s not much I can do about needing the bathroom…
So that’s my own personal writing ritual that I’ve developed through trial and error, and knowledge of my own habits. There’s a certain familiarity and comfort now to sitting down at the kitchen table and putting on that music…it’s as if my brain and hands now know that they are about to write, like Pavlov’s dogs slavering at the sound of the bell. My ritual gets me in the zone, and narrows down my focus to my hands on the keys and the words on the screen, and my increased productivity is testament to me having finally found what works for me.
However, other writer’s rituals will I’m sure be completely different, and the things that help me write could simply be a distraction or nuisance for other writers (I know many writers need to write in silence and can’t abide music playing, and would be distracted by a timer).
So I’d love to know if other writers have rituals, and if they feel like it increases their productivity. How do you get your best writing done?