Anyone who writes has a ritual and a process, or is in the middle of finding a ritual and process that works for them. Your writing process is how you go about writing, such as whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, where you start writing a story, how you make decisions regarding the methods of your writing. The ritual is everything that surrounds your writing process and the things you need and conditions that must be met before you can allow yourself to write. Your ritual includes atmosphere, location, tools, and maybe more.
So here is some insight into how these things work for me.
My ritual isn’t extensive. I don’t say any prayers or do any dances. I don’t even necessarily have to be in any certain location, but here’s what I do need: mental distance from my surroundings. I have to be off in my own world, completely unanchored and free-floating. This is best accomplished by listening to music, especially with headphones that cover my entire ear and/or block out background noise. The music that I use has to move me emotionally, and I prefer it to have a decently upbeat tempo. Upbeat Melancholy is my preferred music in general. I’m not sure if that’s a real genre to anyone else, but it is to me.
In order to maintain my focus, I will either use a small playlist or, as I’ve been doing most recently, listen to one song on repeat. I added “Natural” by Imagine Dragons to my Google Play Music library the first week of NaNo, and when I wrote the first draft of this post five days later the play count became 254, as of this sentence. That’s how many plays this song had on my account from Wednesday to Sunday. And I’m still not tired of it. Let’s hope it stays that way.
So beyond just music, I have a few conditions that need to be met before I am my most comfortable. I prefer to use a mechanical keyboard. I like the click-clack; it feels productive just by being A Thing. I prefer my desk chair be raised to its maximum height to minimize pains in my wrists/forearms (though this does maximize ankle swelling if I remain in my chair for extended periods of time). I MUST have some form of handwritten notes in front of me. I might not even reference them. It’s just an important comfort to my brain to have them there, which usually just means plucking my notebook out of my purse and keeping it nearby on my desk just in case, along with a functioning pen that feels nice and smooth to write with.
I try to minimize the number of tabs I have open on my computer. I wouldn’t use my computer browser at all except that I use Google Docs to write in, and I probably will until either Google or I dies. If you’re not using Google Docs to write, I strongly encourage you to do so for the sake of not having to worry about backing up your story or even saving it (though I do occasionally download the file just in case). Anyway, I keep only the important tabs open (including my music), and I mute chatty Discord servers.
Before I actually start to write, I make sure to have a drink at my desk, just so I don’t have the excuse to get up and abandon my work later for a drink. It’s usually soda, or maybe water. Sometimes it’s a mocha frappe from McDonald’s. I don’t really drink coffee (except at work or in things like frappes where the coffee seems to be more of an afterthought than a main ingredient), or tea. I also usually get eating out of the way before I write, but that is not a necessity unless I’m starving.
The FINAL thing I do is set up a bot on Discord to run word wars. I realize there’s a bit of jargon in that sentence, so here’s some short definitions: Discord is a chat app where you can set up servers for different topics and servers can be divided into channels for further differentiation. There are a variety of bots that can be employed for various functions, but the one I like to use is called Winnie Bot, and it was developed for people participating in NaNoWriMo (50k word writing challenge every November), but it can be used at any time. It runs “word wars” where you set a timer and write as much as you can without making corrections during that time. Where this becomes particularly helpful in my writing process/ritual, is its ability to do “chain wars” where it will run the word war timers back-to-back for you (with breaks in between), and then will notify you when they are ending and beginning. Not only does this take the onus of watching the clock off of me while I’m trying to focus on writing, but it also keeps me engaged with my writing by counting down and forcing me to get back to writing. It’s really easy to “take a quick break” for a few hours without this feature.
So quick recap, my writing ritual is:
Once everything is set up with my ritual, I can get to the part that is the process. When it comes to getting some writing done, I will pick up where I left off, probably read a paragraph or two to get back into it, and then set up the word wars and be on my way. This sounds simple and easy, but in practice, it’s not really how it always works.
If I know what I’m intending to write next, I will have no problem jumping back in. And I type quickly, so I can get a good chunk done in my little 10-15 minute intervals (my rate during word wars is approx 200 words per 5 minutes of writing). However, if I am uncertain what’s coming next, I might stall for days, usually because of some degree of fear that I can’t go on because I don’t know what’s going to happen. So this requires some plotting.
When it comes to the plotter vs. pantser debate, I am quite firmly in the plantser camp. I have learned that it’s impossible for me to function without some type of outline, but also that outlining is too tedious for something that’s likely going to change anyway. More than that, I enjoy the sparks of GENIUS that sometimes happen because I’ve started a scene and allowed my creativity to do with it what it wants, even if that wasn’t the plan. Usually, I just need a good place to start and to know where I’m heading or what I need to make happen next that’s important to the plot.
When plotting, my most detailed outline is not particularly detailed. I try to structure my novel according to a prescribed beatsheet, usually applying some form of the Save the Cat! methodology. I will make version after version of this, sometimes making completely new ones as I finish portions of my novel. I tend to rewrite the beginning of my novel over and over, but not over small things. I only undergo full rewrites if something major HAS to change (for instance, my current WIP Destroying Eden, required a rewrite because I realized that my protagonist was more of a device than a character, so I had to go back and shape her story more…which changed almost the whole thing, but it was all for the best).
So to boil that down, my writing method is: 1. Outline –> 2. Write –> 3. Adjust Outline –> 4. Repeat 2 &3 forever.
I haven’t finished an entire draft of a novel yet, but when it comes to the chapters I post directly to my blog, the one I’m sorta pantsing, my full process involves a first draft of the chapter, coming back another day to go straight through and revise as I go, start at the top of the chapter and revise again, allow collaborators to read it, adjust anything based on feedback (assuming I agree), and then publish to blog. I’m hoping the process with my novel is that simple after I’ve finally finished a full draft.
Research does not really have a formal position in my process, though as a person who writes historical fantasy, research is a very important part. I think there is a lot I can get away without researching too deeply into because I have the fantasy part of things, but I do like to ground my fantasy in reality. I would say that most of my research takes place during my planning process though. I wouldn’t be able to just trust that an idea I have is historically accurate and then look it up later unless it was a small detail that wouldn’t change anything if I did find out it was anachronistic or wrong. Basically, I do research as I go. Sometimes I get caught in a rabbit hole, but typically it’s either relevant to what I need to know or inspirational in regard to connecting details or coming up with new systems of magic or characters or what-have-you.
So there you have it. This is what it looks like behind the scenes at Shailo’s house. If you don’t count all of the social media and YouTube distractions that popup frequently in the middle of everything I just described.
“Natural” count at the end of drafting this post: 268