2020’s winter holidays were hectic, starting with the death of a loved one and ending with unexpected (but very welcome) guests. I struggled to write anything. Then, as 2021 proclaimed a new year, writing picked up. This was not magical: in no small part, it was due to changes I made in my life. I established a daily ritual to stay focused and regenerate creativity in my work.
The results? The first quarter of the year has been far more productive than prior quarters since I began seriously focusing on writing in late 2019. My status has been so consistently “#amwriting” these days, I even wrote a poem about #amwriting. (It’s a romance.) I’m sharing key aspects of my ritual in hopes they may be useful for others looking to integrate creative practice into their lives.
The Sacred Intention of Ritual
I say ritual, not routine, because there is a key difference between the two. Routine is something that requires little thought, like the way I grab a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. Ritual is more sacred and intentional: like the way I meditate each morning. Here are the five core elements of my daily ritual.
1. Set your intention for the day.
Start the day with a brief meditation. Use this time to create a positive mindset and set your intention for the day. I usually do this before I ever get out of bed in the morning. A reflective daily prayer is another way of thinking about this element.
2. Set boundaries on social media.
Don’t look at any social media or emails until you are in “taking care of business” mode. This might mean after you’re dressed, after a morning workout, or maybe after kids have headed to school. (I don’t check in until after I grab my cup of coffee.) A great rule of thumb: don’t look at social media or emails until after you have set your intention for the day.
3. Schedule (and honor) breaks.
Make time in your day for breaks, and take them. For those who do sedentary work, taking breaks to move around is crucial to your health. If you move around a lot in your work, you might take some time being still, to ground yourself. You’ll find you have more energy and stamina for your work.
As a writer, I spend a lot of time sitting at a desk. Getting up from my seat is often the most difficult aspect of my ritual to honor. If I’m in the flow, I don’t want to lose momentum. If I have not completed a task, I feel I don’t deserve a break. But my body thanks me if I take a break and complains when I don’t. I have to remind myself that a break is not a reward: it is how to manage energy and health.
It’s also helpful to take a break after you engage in intense mental, physical, or emotional work. For example, when I am working on particularly difficult or complex subject matter, I find myself emotionally or intellectually drained. Taking a break to engage in some less intense activity helps me recharge.
4. Schedule (and honor) time to explore.
When was the last time you gave yourself the gift of time to simply explore? I’m not talking about a few minutes on a break, but an extended time to explore your craft or some aspect that fits into your craft: purposeful free time. The purpose is to stimulate both your creativity and critical thinking. For me, this includes exploring art, music, the outdoors; reading poetry, exploring poetry techniques, participating in poetry readings, and the like. I also find doing chores around the house can spark my creativity: I occasionally come up with ideas that lead to poems in the throes of household chores.
You probably won’t have time every day for extended, intentional exploration. But always be on the lookout for opportunities. Schedule at least one activity into your week that will boost your focus, energy, creativity or skills. For example, I schedule at least one writing workshop, poetry book, outdoor outing, or similar activity into every week. At least twice a month, I participate in peer reviews and poetry readings. I explore new poetry forms or new topics of interest. These activities not only feed my soul and mind but elevate my work.
5. Acknowledge and plan each day.
End the day with a quick review and set goals for the next day. The first bit is about gratitude and compassion. The second bit is about setting yourself up for success tomorrow.
During your review, be thankful for what you’ve accomplished, and be compassionate with yourself if you experienced setbacks. After all, gratitude is the secret to happiness and compassion is self-care. I sometimes struggle in this area, but I’ve worked hard to focus on these. I know I feel better about my work when I acknowledge results and I feel better about myself and produce more and better work when I don’t beat myself up.
As for that planning bit, going to bed with clarity about tomorrow is one of the best ways I know to slide into a sane morning.
Repeat. Always repeat.
A ritual requires repetition. Repetition is what wires you for success. If you’re like me, and discipline is not your strong suit, you can lean on another strength that will help you get there. For me, belief and achievement come into play. When I feel a sense of purpose about something, I’m highly focused. I also find feedback systems help me stay the course and give me a sense of accomplishment. For example, I use a meditation app that logs my meditation time: I know how many consecutive days (even how many minutes) I’ve meditated. I have a sense of obligation to keep my streak going.
Two more points. Guard against your ritual becoming routine. If you are sliding away from intention, change something up for a few days just to reset. Also, It’s important to assess your ritual every so often, to ensure it’s still helping you accomplish what you need to achieve your goals. Adjust as needed.