Write More Effortlessly with a Closing Ritual

In two previous posts, I proposed strategies faculty can use to set themselves up to write more regularly and with less anxiety. In the first, I distilled what I learned from reviewing the various writing tracking systems I have used, and shared what worked best for me. In the second, I shared how my tracking system functions as an “opening ritual,” and explored why having a “cue” for your writing might help make it a more sustainable and even enjoyable habit.

But there’s one more piece to the puzzle: a closing ritual.

Why do a Closing Ritual

Scholarly research projects are nebulous beasts that unfold over months and years, so it’s hard to see how the infinitesimal bits of progress add up over time. Consequently, what we perceive as “rewards”–positive feedback about our writing–are few and far between.

But we can change that with a closing ritual.

In The Power of Habit, Duhigg explains that habits–“routines” we run without much, if any, conscious thought–are set off by “cues,” but are sustained because we want the “reward” that follows the routine. Your unique closing ritual, then, can serve as a “reward” you get at the end of each writing session, helping you turn the act of writing into a sustainable habit.

If you want to make writing more pleasurable, more regular, and less anxiety-provoking, consider adopting some of the strategies below.

My Closing Ritual and What Makes it Work for Me

My closing ritual consists of returning to my tracking spreadsheet, and recording my end time, how many words I wrote (if applicable), identifying when my next writing session will take place, and determining a concrete, realizable goal I will accomplish in that next session.

From the outside, it might not seem like a fun “reward” (OOH! Typing in a spreadsheet! Fun!), but it is actually quite pleasurable and helps me maintain my writing habit for a few reasons:

  • I get the sense of accomplishment that I’ve made even the tiniest bit of progress on my writing project.
  • Setting an actionable goal means that I do not have to waste valuable time and mental bandwidth trying to remember where I was in the project, and what I was going to do next. Instead, I just sit down and type in my goal from the previous day. Bolker calls this “parking on the downhill.”
  • Reminding myself that I do have a scheduled time for my next session allows me to more easily “let go” of the project until that next time. I rarely experience experience guilt or anxiety that I should be writing, because I know that’s not true. (See Cal Newport’s nightly routine, which serves a similar function for him).
  • Finally, reminding myself of when my next session will take place makes these ┬ásessions more formal commitments.

Other Suggestions to Try

I highly recommend at the very least you take 2 minutes at the end of each session to schedule your next session and set a goal for it. But, if you need more of a “reward,” try the following:

  • If social interactions are rewarding to you, promise yourself that once your session is over, you can call or text a friend. (It doesn’t have to be about your writing.)
  • You can promise yourself a small treat at the end of a successfully completed session, such as pens, a notebook, a nice smelling candle, an ingredient you’ve been wanting to experiment with, or a fancy coffee. Or, “bank” a set amount of money toward a larger treat. Better yet, “bank” money toward a tool, service, or supplies that will make your writing process more efficient.
  • Your “treat” need not cost anything: you can promise yourself a set number of minutes toward an activity you enjoy or that feels indulgent.
  • Tip for obligers: consider making your “reward” a gift to other people. You can “bank” money toward a donation to your favorite charity, or toward small denomination gift cards you distribute “just because” to friends and family. In this way, doing something you want to do for yourself is also a way of doing something for someone else. [Have no idea what I mean by “obligers”? See this post.]

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