On Writing: You Must Perform the Ritual.


Welcome to your Writing Life! Here is a surefire practice that will make you into a Real Writer in a series of unnumbered, easy steps.

The Writer’s Morning:

5:00  Prepare the coffee, the same way each day. Do not make a cortado on Tuesday and an americano on Wednesday, for that will disrupt The Ritual.

5:07  Show up to The Page. Get up, turn off NPR, and show up to The Page again. But wait: You really wanted to hear that piece about eating fried grasshoppers in Nigeria. This information might be important to your research! You turn the radio back on and listen.

5:19  Prepare the second coffee. Check e-mail, just to see if the agent has read the chapter you sent. She hasn’t. But it’s too late: You have already made eye contact with a note from your radio editor asking about the promo scripts which you promised to finish this morning. You compose and send them. Congratulations! You can check off one to-do item for today!

6:30  You are feeling excellent and energetic today! It is time for your Ritual Walk! Perform it. You must deviate from yesterday’s route, because it is your job during this walk to Notice Things. Walking the same route two days in a row will violate The Ritual.

6:35  This being Thursday, which is Trash Pickup Day in your zip code, you notice the aroma of fermenting week-old organic material in the alleys. (You must walk the alleys today because yesterday, you did not.) As the stench eats into the linings of your nostrils, remember that a massive refrigerator purge is long past due. The thing has started to lurk. Reflect on this anxiously.

7:15  Remember suddenly that you are supposed to be Noticing Your Surroundings with Childlike Wonder, not envisioning the month-old smoked salmon in your fridge and how your alley will smell by Sunday if you miss getting it out before the garbage truck shows up.

7:16  Remind yourself sternly that the fridge clean-out can wait, but your Writing Life cannot. Vow to clean later.

7:30  Arrive home. Show up to the page. Write the date and time on the first line of your journal. Realize that it is time for your smoothie.

7:32  Open the refrigerator and reach toward the strawberries. Do not make eye contact with the liquefied squash or the befuzzed smoked salmon. Once you make eye contact, you cannot unsee these items.

7:33  You have to move the squash bag in order to reach the strawberries. The bag deflates, as brown squash juice finds a hole and leaks into the veg drawer. The refrigerator is a Can of Worms, and you have just opened it.

7:34  Empty the veg drawer into the trash. Now it’s on. Remove everything from the cheese drawer and wrap it in a towel for now. Discard any green items.

7:37  Take out all 17 tupperware containers and scrape the leftovers into the trash. Discover the saved baggie of veg scraps. This reminds you, it’s time to make stock! This will help to accomplish the Great Veg Purge, which is now inevitable.

7:40 Prepare the stock: Chop up any applicable languishing veg, dump the scraps baggie, place all into a big pot of water, and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer.

8:00  Remember the frozen chicken bones you have saved for stock. Open the freezer. Realize, too late, that you have made eye contact. Sigh, then add the bones to the stock.

9:30  Now that you have finished cleaning out the freezer, washing the tupperware, hosing down the squash-y veg drawer and the cheese drawer full of wilted parsley stems, and putting the salvageable cheese back into its clean drawer, it is time for your smoothie.

9:32  Realize that the blueberries are growing beards. The strawberries are as yet bald, however.

9:33  As you throw away the blueberries, the warming trash emits a foul belch. Haul the trash out, leaving a drip-trail of squash juice.

9:44  Mop.

10:11  Prepare the smoothie. The Ritual is mildly offended by the absence of blueberries, but there is nothing for it. Drink smoothie; wash glass and blender.

10:23  Show up to The Page. Record the current weather conditions and the new time of day.

10:25  Glance at email once more to see if the agent has written back with comments. She has not, but your radio editor would love for you to record voice tracks for the promos today. His request is very polite and calm. This is a powerful motivator.

10:37  Go out to the backyard studio to record voice tracks. Wait for the neighbor’s dogs to stop barking.

10:41  Wait for the airplane to pass.

10:44 Wait for the other neighbor’s lawn care company to finish weed-eating.

10:59  Realize that the contractor has arrived at a third neighbor’s house to begin demolition of a garage.

11:02  Shower and change. You are going to have to drive a car this day after all.

11:20  Drive to the radio station to record voice tracks in a real studio.

1:20  Finish mixing radio promos and share them in Dropbox. Your editor sends back extremely polite, calm, and positive comments. Congratulations! You have failed to disappoint one person today!

1:24  Show up to The Page. Realize that you would really enjoy a sandwich right now. Even a half-sandwich will do.

1:26  The only things left in the refrigerator are one endpiece of wheat bread and a little box of Boursin spreadable cheese. Assemble these into a sandwich.

1:39  It is time to strain and freeze the stock! Empty the boiled veg into the trash and take it out again.

1:46  Mop.

1:59  Throw your morning’s clothes into the washing machine. They are soaked with squash juice and veg stock, and the smell is infiltrating the Sacred Writing Space, where your laundry hamper also resides.

2:07  Show up to The Page. Your cell rings, an unknown number. You shouldn’t answer it. Do not answer it! Except that one time, when you did, it was the New York Times asking you to contribute reporting to a Developing Story.

2:08  Answer the call. It turns out that because you have stayed in one of the caller’s resorts in the past, you qualify for an incredible vacation deal.

2:09  Hang up, then go outside and hang your wet clothes on the line to dry. You love the smell of sun-dried fabric! Accomplish this task very slowly and methodically. Reflect on the importance of a clean fridge and sun-dried clothes as a vital part of the Sacred Writing Environment.

2:23  If you have not achieved any Writing by this time of day, you must Perform the Ritual: It is now time to sacrifice a goat. That’s what the guy (who was it again?) actually meant by “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” He meant a goat vein.

3:07 Procure a goat and slay it. This should be easy, now that the Goat Yoga Moment has come and gone. Do this the same way you did it yesterday, and the day before. Exactly the same way. You must not deviate from The Ritual.

3:29  Rinse the blood off your arms up to the elbows and show up at The Page. If you have Performed the Ritual, I guarantee you that the magic will happen, at least one day in 50. It’s about showing up: Anything you show up for, day after day, will result in magic at a ratio of approximately 1 : 50, or perhaps slightly worse. If you try to create a new craft cocktail each day for 50 days, one of them will be worth drinking. If you bake 50 soufflés, one of them will fail to collapse.

That is what you’re after: a piece of writing that, after many tries, fails to collapse, or at the very least, goes down easy. I wish you all the best in your Writing Life!

3:30  Yoga class.

4:45  Create a new craft cocktail.

5:30  Bake a soufflé.

7:00 Compose a blogpost on The Writing Life. Remember, Building Your Platform is a vital part of The Ritual.



7 thoughts on “On Writing: You Must Perform the Ritual.

  1. Nailed it, as usual! Mastering the art of maintaining a writing routine feels like getting a PhD in Zen Buddhism.

  2. Pingback: Lazy Sunday #43 & Vlog Time #103 – Quick Hello! | Paula Acton

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