Writing á la Pavlov

In previous weeks I’ve shared why I went AWOL for months, the need to rest, reflect and realign, how to re-figure your writing output, and how to avoid burnout in the first place.

What if you’re ready to write again?

You may not have hours every day to write, or you may have tight deadlines. So you need to make the most of your time. And that means getting started quickly. 

Write on Cue

A jump-starting activity is something that makes your brain realize immediately that “now it’s time to write!” If Pavlov’s dogs could be trained to salivate at the ringing of a bell, I thought surely I could learn to write on command.

Rituals and Routines

I’ve always loved reading about other writers’ rituals, the things they do to “prime the pump” for writing. I never felt much need–nor wanted to use the writing time–to do much of that myself. I tried a few times, but the writing exercises would take me 30-60 minutes and Julia Cameron’s morning pages took me an hour. (I consider myself a pretty fast writer, but most of the things that “only take 10-15 minutes” take me considerably longer–including these blog posts.)

What I needed, I realized, was a short cue along the lines of the ringing bell for Pavlov’s dog. I needed something to trigger an automatic writing response–and it needed to be something I could do at home, on the road, or when staying with my grandkids.

Time-Tested Help

If your writing time is short–and you need to get started quickly–here are some rituals and routines that other writers have used:

  • Light a special lamp or candle
  • Put on a particular kind of music that works for you (Lyrics? Instrumental?)
  • Prayer, meditation and/or affirmations for writers
  • Hot tea or hot chocolate
  • Eat a banana or apple or something healthy
  • A short walk–ten minutes or so
  • Stack dishwasher, pick up house (Some writers do this for their jumpstart, but it doesn’t appeal to me!)

Again, I needed short things to do. The danger is always that the ritual takes over your whole writing time. If you have all day to write, that’s a different ball game. You can take a whole hour to get started, if you want to.

Make a List

It’s a good idea to have a number of rituals to choose from too. “Create as many practices as you can, because sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t,” says Vinita Hampton Wright in The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life. “Their effectiveness will vary. When one thing doesn’t help so much, go to something else…adapting practices according to the season of the year.”

This makes sense to me. While in the winter, a good cup of hot chocolate is perfect, during hot Texas summers, it’s about the last thing you want. I think a written list posted near my writing space would be a good idea too. I might have a whole list of rituals to choose from, but so often when I try to think of one, they all escape me.

If you want to read more about the power of these little habits, see a book by Mason Curry called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. In the book 161 artists, writers, and other creative types give insights into the specific rituals they use to get the creative juices flowing on command.

And doesn’t that sound appealing?

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4 Responses to Writing á la Pavlov

  1. Karin Larson says:

    Thank you for the suggestion, Kristi. I just ordered Curry’s book and look forward to reading it.

    Good luck with your writing!

    • kwpadmin says:

      Thank you, Karin! And good luck with yours too! Let me know if you find any gems in that book that you can share. :-)

  2. Lana Koehler says:

    I have to have absolute quiet–or chaos! Nothing in-between. No music, scented candle, or special lighting. Lots of talking or no talking. I get into the zone like a baseball pitcher develops a tunnel to the batter.

    It’s interesting how much we have rituals in our writing without thinking about it. Thanks for reminding me to be deliberate, Kristi.

    • kwpadmin says:

      How interesting that you prefer either no noise or lots of noise! I’m a no-noise person. I can FORCE myself to write in waiting rooms, but it’s exhausting blotting out chaos. But yes, we all have conditions that enable us to write easily–and situations that DISable us! Trying someone else’s rituals to see what works is always fun.

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