Safety Through Ritual

I am a creature of habit. This post is going to sound entitled and whiny, but I’m going to describe core parts of my personality, and (hopefully) how I overcame them.

Between the years of 2011 and 2015, I had a set schedule. Arrive at work at 8:00 am. Write from 11:30 to 1:00, leave work at 5:30pm. We had a conference room scheduler at my office, so I would always grab one of the rooms with a perfect, picturesque view of a green hillside. It was like the Windows XP background up in there.

The routine was easy: First, I walked the quarter mile to my secret meeting room. I heated up my lunch while my computer booted. Then I streamed music into my sanctuary and shut out everything except me and the window. And, man, that made me so happy.

But I was promoted and moved to an Army base.

I need a schedule.

Once I moved, there was nowhere private to write. I was constantly accessible during work hours, which made my writing exceptionally vulnerable to distraction. Lunch meetings became the norm, forcing my writing to odd hours well outside of my comfort zone. People came up and talked to me all the time, usually about non-work items, such as what sort of camera I might recommend, how I start a website or some personal side project.

Suddenly, it wasn’t enough that I enjoyed writing. I had to need it.

And I did. Writing is a staple of my personality, and it keeps me whole. When it’s disrupted, I feel like a stranger in my own body. The me who doesn’t write is petty and vindictive, obsessed with corporate politics and victory instead of the things that matter to him.

Not all time is created equal.

I started writing at night, when I was physically and emotionally drained from whatever the day brought. I wrote in restaurants, where I was afraid to leave the table because my laptop was there, and I had to wear headphones. I was also disproportionately terrified that someone would spill something on my all important portal to writing. I very quickly discovered that I had a “peak time,” and that was during the day from precisely 11:30 am to 1:00 pm, with an energy drink, a spicy dish and a light sweet.

I had difficulty keeping up with my plots, even when I wrote daily. Where did I leave that character again? There was a hook for this part–what was it? Character voice grew inconsistent.

I spent about a year as a stranger.

Now I have a new job.

That’s a good thing, obviously. I’m valued, and I get to travel all the time. I love my work, and it’s deeply rewarding. My company treats me with the sort of respect I’ve always craved, and I’m finding new friends left and right.

This is the whiny, entitled part: but globetrotting is disruptive, too! Hotels and all different, airplanes contain snoopy people who read over your shoulder. Every airport table has a thin coating of soda and sesame chicken sauce. I think most people would agree that my job is totally amazing and there isn’t anything to complain about.

And my complaint isn’t with my job. It’s with my personality. I know there’s something wrong with me that makes me need routine. But therein lies the answer.

I’ve decided to try ritual instead of routine.

Now, I grab one of my Rhodia pads every time I go to write. I uncap my favorite pen, say what I think the scene will be, what the characters’ motivations are and how I can reinforce the theme.

Then, I close all social media, ditch the iWatch, open up Scrivener, start up my music player (not Spotify, too many commercials), and the words begin to flow.

I still get something spicy when I can, and I love energy drinks (or whiskey, when I’m not on the clock). Candy is good, too. So is bacon jerky, for some reason. I may need to look at cutting some of those out for health reasons in the future.

So far, so good.

So what’s your ritual?

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