Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Writers Have the Cleanest Light Bulbs

or Stella’s Not the Only One that Needs a Groove
by Deb McLeod


Last November, I wrote about the importance of a writing groove to a successful NaNoWriMo. It’s February now and getting in the groove is harder than it was then without all that NaNo support, camaraderie and encouragement.

So I’d like to ask you to take a few minutes to look at your writing ritual. What helps you get to the chair? What helps you stay in the chair? How can you improve upon what you already do?

My clients can tell you the importance I place on ritual and writing. I encourage everyone to create established patterns that will get you to the chair and signal to your body, your internal editor, and that creator inside that it is time to write. If you can identify and improve your writing rituals, you’ll have a much easier time of it.

Before I had any kind of ritual, my biggest issues were:

Some people can write to music. I am not one of them. When I write or need to concentrate I am best served by dead-silence. But silence isn’t easy to find. Even cloistered in my office, I can hear the white-hum of my computer, the ticks and whir of the heater going on and the old-fashioned alarm clock from the next room.

So I went on a hunt for earplugs. I tried all different kinds. Then I found Mac’s earplugs. Sweet silent bliss! The ones I like are soft enough to wear for long periods of time but thick enough to drown out all noise. I use them all the time. When I put them in and the noise stops, it’s a physical signal to my body that I’m ready to concentrate. Being able to carry silence with me allows me to write anywhere I want.

Of the computer kind… Once upon a time I would turn on my computer and check email first. In those days I had a limited amount of time to write before I had to get ready to go off to my job, or pick up my daughter or do whatever was on the list. More times than not I found myself answering emails with long and beautifully written tomes. I’d follow links onto the web; I’d whittle away my writing time until everything was taken care of, then I’d try to write.

That clearly wasn’t working. So I set a boundary.

No other computer work, no phone calls, no doctor’s appointments, no appointments of any kind until 11:00 am. I made myself unavailable to the outside world from the moment I sat down until 11:00.

That ritual worked until I began my own business. Now my distractions aren’t just social, they’re client emails, they’re website updates, class prep, client pages to read and blog deadlines. I found myself using my writing time to get ahead of the demands of my coaching practice.

So I had to set a different sort of boundary. Now I get out of my office so I’m not tempted. I work at a coffee shop. I get there anywhere from 5:00 – 7:00 a.m. so I can get my favorite spot. I put my earplugs in. Somebody else makes the coffee and I write until 11:00 every day except Fridays, when I teach in the morning.

Of the light bulb kind… I’m lucky here. I’m not bothered by laundry that needs to be done, dishes in the sink or pies that should be baked. I’m one of those oblivious housekeepers. I can step over three piles on the way to the door and not notice a thing. 

But I do notice the energy shift when things are clean and organized. So I do put my time in cleaning. I just wait until after everything else is done. 

I know not everyone is like that. I have some clients that put a deadline on their day so they shift from housework to writing. They rush through chores and commit to getting to the desk. That way they can do so without guilt or that tug of work left undone.


Not long ago I figured out that my procrastination had a lot to do with the lack of a plan. I have been a dedicated pantser; an organic writer who sat down to a clean page every day. While it was exciting to know I was courting surprises, it also took a gargantuan will to jump and trust that I was going to produce something story-worthy every single day. The way I wrote necessitated a log of rewriting as I figured out my story or chapter only while I was writing it.

Then I discovered planning.

I still have organic moments within the plan and I still let myself follow a riff to see where it will go. But now I start with a structure and sometimes even an idea of what I want to work on before I sit down. Having a plan has made all the difference. It’s easier to approach the work and it’s easier to stay on task. I’ve found a happy medium between plotter and pantser that works for me.

I do well producing pages as long as I stick to my routine. So how's your groove?

  • What issues keep you from getting into the chair?
  • Are there boundaries you could put up to help you produce more work?
  • What are the tricks that work for you?

About the Writer: Deb McLeod, is a writer, creative writing coach and founder of The Writing Ranch. She has both an MFA and a BA in creative writing. She has been teaching and coaching for over ten years. Deb has published short fiction in anthologies and journals. She has written articles and creative nonfiction. Deb has been a professional blogger, tech writer, graphic artist and Internet marketing specialist.