Write More, Effortlessly with an Opening Ritual

Do you struggle to write consistently? Do you put a session on your calendar, but then find other “urgent” things come up? Or that you sit down to write, but instead find yourself, two hours later, responding to emails, reading articles online, or knee-deep in another task that you started because you thought it would be better to just get it out of the way first?


What an Opening Ritual is and Why You Need One

In my post on how to publish more and make the process more pleasurable by setting up a goal-oriented writing tracking system, I hinted at the fact that this tracking system has now become an essential step in my actual writing process. Filling out the spreadsheet bookends my session, making what Duhigg calls a habit loop. Here’s what it looks like:

  • Opening ritual of filling out the first columns of my spreadsheet (what day/time it is, what project I am working on, and what my goal is for that session). Duhigg calls this the “cue”.
  • Routine: the actual writing. Because I have trained myself to sit down, open the spreadsheet, type the information, and then go directly into the writing, this process is automatic. I won’t say it’s easy, but it’s routine.
  • Closing ritual of filling out the final columns of my spreadsheet (time ended, words [if applicable], and when I will do and what I will accomplish in my next session). Duhigg calls this the “reward”. (See my post on how to develop a closing ritual for help with this element).

See his excellent, free post that gives you all you need to know about How writing habits work (or how any habit works).

Some Opening Rituals to Help you Write More Consistently

To write academic projects more consistently, you need to make it a habit. Duhigg notes that there are 5 principal types of cues that initiate any routine. They can be a location, a time, an emotional stateother people, or immediately preceding activity. My “cue” is mostly the last, though location and time also play roles. If you are trying to establish a new academic writing ritual or cue, you should get outside of your current routine or context. So, try the following:

  1. commit to a number of extremely short (as small as one sentence, as long as 25 minutes) academic writing sessions for the next week (the goal is to develop a routine, not to produce lots of writing per se).
  2. Decide on a sustainable cue. Some ideas:
    1. location: My academic writing ritual used to be driving to a coffee shop, ordering coffee, sitting down next to my friend, and just starting. Over time, my brain associated “coffee shop” with “write.” Go somewhere you don’t normally write, but where you can write regularly in the long-term.
    2. other people: Most people need external accountability. Try the cue of texting a friend at a given time, setting a Google Hangout, or up the stakes by making someone else dependent on you–carpool to a writing location (they can’t get there without you!).
    3. immediately preceding activity: try my spreadsheet idea. The only rule? Once you type the goal, immediately start writing. Other ideas: walk somewherebrew a beverage and sit downdo 5 jumping jackslisten to your favorite song, etc. This type of cue works well for those who don’t necessarily need external accountability.
    4. time: set a dedicated, distinct sounding timer for your desired writing session. When it goes off, drop whatever you are doing, and write one sentence. Then resume what you were doing. Over time, build up your session length. Your brain will begin to associate that time with writing. You can also use apps to block the internet during certain periods.
  3. Test-run the cue for one week.
  4. Reflect: does the cue seem to work? Are you producing more academic writing? More importantly, how do you feel (psychologically) when thinking about your writing sessions?
  5. Calibrate: Does one type of academic writing ritual seem to work better for you?

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