The Thing Standing Between Procrastination and Daily Progress Is Ritual
I’ve never been much of a “ritual” person when it comes to writing. If I need to, I can write anywhere, anytime, about anything. After all, if I were too precious about the conditions around writing, I wouldn’t have made much money from doing it.
But in our new pandemic life, when in theory it should be much easier to find time to write the things that are purely creative and without obligation or deadline, I found that it was not. Sure, I could do the things that were required for my job, or for contracts and paychecks I had committed to. But writing my monthly newsletter or working on my book proposal — the stuff I ostensibly really wanted to say—still felt like a chore to find time for.
Months ago a friend told me about something that had been working for her: London Writers’ Salon. Every weekday, several hundred people log onto Zoom at 8am for one hour of writing. The routine, which is run by two or three cheery facilitators, is admirably efficient. The first five minutes are a check-in, where everyone has the option to drop in the Zoom chat what they’re working on, and someone reads a quote for inspiration. Then 50 minutes of writing with everyone on mute. Then a five minute check-out where you can report back in the chat on how it went. There are no obligations, everyone stays on mute other than the facilitators, and you don’t have to keep your camera on. (In other words, it manages to not be annoying.) The hour has been so popular it’s expanded to multiple time zones each day.
I’ve been writing professionally for more than ten years, and yet I am still floored at how effective it’s been for me. Materially, there is absolutely no difference between me sitting down at my desk at 8am to write for an hour on my own, and me doing exactly the same thing with 200–400 other people on Zoom. But I’ve realized that there is an energetic difference. The hard start time, the motivation to not log on late so I don’t miss the quote (I’m a sucker for writing advice), the warm feeling of solidarity when you see all the other writers hold up their coffee mugs before we begin. These things have become a ritual for me — and that’s why it works.
Because I am a fan of keeping things low stakes, I commit to three days per week of logging onto the writers’ hour. If I do more, great, but usually I don’t. I’ve learned that in order to really make sure I log on by 8:01, I have to commit to doing just four things before I start: I have to make coffee, make my bed, wash my face and teeth, and get dressed. That’s it. Any more and I’ll get distracted and maybe not log on. Any less and I’ll be too delayed in starting my real workday afterwards.
When it comes to creative projects you’re trying to get off the ground, there is something to be said for sheer momentum. Three hours a week on a book proposal may not sound like a lot, but it keeps me engaged with the topic, thinking about what I want to say, making connections elsewhere in my life. It makes it more likely that sentences, ideas, and sometimes entire paragraphs will pop into my head when I’m on a walk, in the shower, or doing the dishes.
So even if I’m only writing it three days a week, I’m actually working on it all the time.