Editor’s column: ‘Pre-writing rituals’

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By Shaina Stockton

When I was in elementary school, I hated writing assignments. I guess that is pretty strange, considering my chosen career path, but when I was assigned an essay, a research paper or even a paragraph, my brain would lock up tighter than the vault that holds Colonel Sanders’ KFC recipe.
When I was at my desk, I would freeze, and sometimes I would sit there for hours trying to come up with something.
Then one day, after school was finished (I was home-schooled, by the way) my mom catches me on my computer writing — you guessed it — a story.
Why the sudden absence of writer’s block? I believe it was two things: first, I was using the computer instead of a notebook, which I’ve always been more comfortable with; and second, I was in the comfort of my own bedroom.
From a young age, my brain has required me to have a certain level of control over my surroundings before I can get anything done. I’m not sure if it’s a matter of territory, or just one of those quirky rituals that many writers have. All I know is that, on most days, if I can’t write in a “prepared” space, my anxiety drowns out my creativity.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who deals with this. When I was in college, I had a friend who had to wait until after 10 p.m. and retreat to a quiet place to get her studying done. Another friend took walks around the perimeter of the university before she started writing.
Even if your thought-box isn’t as high maintenance as some, I would be willing to bet that introducing some sort of ritual into your studying/work time would increase your productivity. Not only is organizing or completing a small task rewarding in its own right, it can help set your brain on the right track. If you do the same thing enough times, you can eventually train your brain to recognize your rituals and transition into work mode.
Obviously, every cleaning ritual is different, so I’ll use some of what I do just as an example. Feel free to try these out and see if they work for you:
• Before you start working, prepare your writing space. For me, this means picking out a quiet, well-lit place – usually my bedroom or dining room — and clearing off a space for my laptop, notes and whatever else I’ll be needing. Depending on the task at hand, I may plug in my ear buds and click onto Spotify or Youtube for background music – the music actually helps me get into a creative place if I’m working on a design element, such as photo editing or layouts. (Also, fun nerd fact: video game soundtracks are awesome to play in the backdrop, since most of them don’t have vocals and have the added effect of building you up for A-grade concentration)
• Make a list of everything you need to finish for the day. The satisfaction of whittling down a list can do wonders in getting a person motivated, especially if they are feeling particularly overwhelmed. When you’re done with a task, throw down that check mark. It feels SO good.
• Blocked? Try tackling a smaller task first. If I have a huge feature story to hammer out before a deadline, I tend to submit smaller press releases and whatever else is needed first, so that I can devote my full attention to the bigger project. Also, the satisfaction of submitting something helps to motivate me and get me away from the anxiety most people have when they face the start of a huge workload.
• If that doesn’t work, try completing a different task altogether. If I simply can’t write at that very moment, I’ll take a mental break by editing photos, making phone calls and setting up appointments, jotting down future meetings in my notebook, filling out my time card… anything to keep my brain going, while I give the task that requires my brain to actually come up with something original to breathe for a minute.
• If you really don’t have time to deal with writer’s block, do what I’ve done many times in a pinch: just start writing. Don’t worry about the form, the grammar or anything else but getting words onto the page. When you reach a mental block, keep writing whatever comes to mind (I hate this assignment. Why does my teacher/boss hate me? I like the color blue. Someone give Grumpy Cat a cookie?)
When you finish you will want to go back and edit for the aforementioned grammar (and take out the gibberish… unless you want whoever is getting the report to think you’re crazy).
In the end, do whatever it takes for you to get the job done… and then reward that crazy brain of yours with a Netflix binge… you’ve both earned it.
That being said, I would like to dedicate this column to my spotless kitchen and re-organized accessories drawer. I couldn’t have done it without you.

As always, if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for this column, email me at editor@independencedeclaration.com. Until next time, happy writing!