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Create a Morning Writing Ritual

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If you're like most writers, you procrastinate. You have a hard time getting started writing, unless you're seized by a burst of inspiration. Instead, you might do some "research" online, fiddle with your to-do list, or work on a number of other tasks instead of doing the writing you need to do.

If you're having trouble getting your writing done, try creating a morning writing ritual. You can get a lot more done each day, as an early boost of productivity will spur further productivity throughout the day.

Why create a morning routine? A few reasons:

  1. It gets your most important task out of the way. This assumes, of course, that your writing is your most important task, or at least one of them. But if it is, you don't want to put off that task till later -- do it first, and then you can check that off your list!
  2. Stuff can get crazy later in the day. If you put your writing off until the afternoon or evening, other stuff will come up throughout the day that will interfere with your plans. And a lot of times, that stuff is urgent, pushing back your writing until the next day -- when the process is repeated. Do it early, before the rest of the world gets in your way.
  3. It's peaceful. Mornings, for me, is the quietest time of the day. The kids aren't up, there's no hustle and bustle, the phone's not ringing, the television's not on. It's just me and the cat. The sun is rising, and the day is new and beautiful. It's the perfect time for great writing. Even if your morning writing ritual starts when you get in the office, it's still the quietest time of the day for many offices. And quiet is good for writing.
  4. You can relax later. Once you've got your writing done, you can goof off without guilt! Guilt-free goofing off is priceless.
  5. Routines ensure that things get done. Without order is chaos. And while many of us writers enjoy chaos, it's not always the most productive way of doing things. If you have a specific routine, with a specific order of doing things, and it becomes a habit, you know that what needs to get done will get done. It's simple and effective.

So how do you create a morning writing ritual? Well, that's different for each person, but here's what works for me:

  1. Prepare the night before. When you first wake up, you're not always thinking right. Prepare for your morning writing ritual when your thinking is clear, in the evening, and your morning will start off so much better. How can you prepare? Get your writing tool out and ready to go -- whether that's your word processor (Google Docs for me) with your document open and ready to go, or your favorite writing pad and pen, have it out and set up. Next, clear away all distractions (this is a later step, but it's good to get it ready now). Prepare the stuff for your coffee or tea, or whatever you like to have in the morning, so that it's ready to go when you wake up. Anything else you can think of that you'll need, get it ready. Also: know what you're going to write, and have your pre-writing prep done as well.

  2. Set a time to start. I like to wake up at 4:30 a.m. every morning, and get writing at 5:00 a.m. after getting my coffee ready, using the bathroom, eating some toast. But your wake-up time may be different. Whatever time you choose, set a fixed time to get started with your writing. Now when that time comes, brook no delay or excuses. Start on your writing right away. No excuses!
  3. Get your coffee first. Before you start writing, it's good to have an enjoyable morning beverage or snack, such as coffee or tea or toast or a bagel or a smoothie. Whatever you enjoy, have it right before you start writing. This will make the entire ritual an enjoyable one, and one that you look forward to each morning. Give yourself a reason to jump out of bed!
  4. Don't check email or RSS feeds. This is the biggest mistake many writers make. They check their email, or read their Google Reader or Bloglines. Even if you tell yourself it's just for 10 minutes, you will get inevitably sucked into that hole of distraction and time-wasting from which no writer returns. Do not do this. Trust me. It has ruined many a productive day for me. Tell yourself that you cannot check email or feeds (or whatever your distraction of choice is) until you finish your writing (or at least 1 hour of writing). Seriously. Don't do it.
  5. Clear away all distractions. Related to the above, but clutter on your desk and your computer should be cleared off to remove any visual distractions. Turn off email notifications and the phone and anything else that might pull away your attention. I like to clear off my desk and I've removed everything from the walls that might distract me. Focus is key!
  6. Just write. OK, you've got your coffee, you cleared away your distractions, and your writing time has come. It's time to crank out the copy. If it helps, set a timer for 30 or 45 or 60 minutes, and try to write as much as possible during that time. You can do 30-10 intervals -- 30 minutes of writing and 10 of break time (check email or walk around), followed by another 30-10 interval. Repeat as necessary. They key is to maintain focus -- every time you feel pulled away from writing, stop, and pull yourself back. Just crank.
  7. Celebrate when you're done! Finished writing your piece or the chunk you wanted to write for today? Hooray! Now give yourself a reward. This should be a part of your ritual. The reward is the pleasurable ending, the completion of the sandwich, with the writing being the meat (or hummus or tofurkey, if you're a vegetarian like I am). Sandwich your writing ritual in pleasure, and you'll be more likely to do it every day.
  8. Practice. This ritual will not become a habit right away. It will take focus and energy to do it at first, but after a fortnight or so, it should become an established routine and things should start to go smoothly. Ahhh! Productive and enjoyable writing!
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