Concentration magic: the power of writing rituals

June 24, 2017 3:01 pm Published by

Now that I’ve stepped away from a daily 9-5 in order to go writerly-freelance, I’ve been thinking more and more about the connections between creative writing and academic writing. The more I immerse myself in both, the more I think the two worlds, which tend to only overlap infrequently, can learn from each other.

Case in point?

In an earlier post with my creative hat on, I proposed that the ‘best time to write’ is as individual as your own unique self. Once you’ve found what works for you—whether it’s before the early bird has shaken the sleep from its feathers, or when the midnight oil is burning low, or on that one golden afternoon every week you have free of other commitments—you need to figure out ways to make every minute count.

Then, last month, I was pondering this very issue as I facilitated an intensive writing workshop for PhD students. I reflected that one of the most powerful tools I’ve used over the years to help me get the most out of my precious ‘best writing hours’ has been to use rituals.

Rituals? You may ask. Does that involve a cauldron and some eye of newt? Because I really do think salamanders are cute and I’d rather not—

Not that kind of ritual.

What I was talking about is this:

Successful writers of all genres (creative, academic, journalistic) must spend significant amounts of time in a state of complete focus. Call it ‘flow’. Call it ‘getting in the zone’. Whatever you call it, you’ve got to go there. And you’ve got to be able to stay there long enough to make meaningful progress.

So how do you find your ‘zone’—that magical place of intense concentration where you unpick knotty problems; make breakthroughs; and produce, edit and polish significant amounts of written work? And how do you return there, again and again, without it being a battle or a roll of the dice?

Other than a hot cup of something caffeinated, for me creating the perfect writing zone is all about eliminating the things that tempt me to procrastinate, blocking out the things that distract me, and pacing myself. I’ve expanded on all those themes in more detail, including tools and resources that I’ve found most useful over the years, both in my academic writing and my creative practice. You can read more about it over yonder where I don my ‘other’ writing hat.

In the meantime, you should probably hold onto that cauldron. You never know when you might need some extra concentration magic, eh?


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