Before You Write

I’ve mentioned before that I have a kind of ritual I go through before I sit down to write, a way to get my thoughts running in the right patterns. It’s mostly physical, going to get a glass of water or, on rare occasions, something else to drink. A few stretches, cracking my knuckles. 

Every writer should have something like that to help them get into the swing of things. Why, you ask? I’m glad you did! 

The biggest reason is that your body and mind are part of the same system. By going through a set of motions before you write you get your mind used to thinking about writing before you sit down. It’s a way of priming the pump, of getting yourself in the mood to do what you love. These little rituals are more than good luck charms or something to make you comfortable, in the best case they’re an integral part of your thought process. Choose what you do accordingly. 

For example, try not to read anything significant for about half an hour before you start writing. If you do you’re more likely to wind up thinking about what you just read than about what you want to write. By the same token, while some people (I’m looking at you Kevin Thorne) like to do a string of writing exercises before they actually write what they want to write. While that may be helpful in getting the brain moving it’s also likely to introduce a lot of extraneous bunny trails that will keep you away from what you really want to write. If you don’t have anything pressing on you that may be fine, but if there’s anything you’re really looking forward to putting on paper it’s probably better to just start with that, rather than potentially sidetracking yourself. 

Moving around in some way is probably a good idea. It gets the blood moving to your brain, which helps it work more effectively. Also, you’re about to be stationary for a while, which can be hard on you. Moving a bit offsets that and helps you keep your focus longer. This means your writing is that much better. 

It’s probably not a bad idea to get a small snack to munch on while you’re writing either. Thinking burns energy and having something to replenish energy with will keep you chugging away. Of course, choosing a good, healthy snack and not overdoing it is important, but this isn’t a dietary advice column – I’m sure you can find a dozen better places for advice on what’s best to munch with a simple Google search. I usually go with some kind of nuts and a glass of water, but that’s just personal preference. 

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking of writing as something you just sit down and do. And sometimes it is. But all the people who are the very best at anything will tell you that it takes practice, constant searching for new ways to improve, for them to reach the point where their work seems effortless. Looking for every possible advantage as you strive for that level is important. Don’t be afraid to develop habits that will make sliding into that effortless state easier. You may not always have the option of using them but, if nothing else, they’ll have helped you reach a level where it may not matter as much, and you will probably do it faster than otherwise. 

So next time you sit down to write, pay attention to what you do before hand. Then ask yourself, how much of this is under my control? Does it help me write, or not? And then, decide what you’re going to do about it and let us know how it turns out. 

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