• Your Pre-Writing Rituals

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 26 comments

    Discussion questions: Do you have any rituals, whether mental or physical, to get yourself into the writing headspace? Or to keep yourself there, once begun? If so, how do they help? Let us know in the comments.


    A few weeks ago we talked about drinking alcohol while writing, and a few people commented or emailed to say they’ll pour a glass of wine (or brew a cup of coffee) before sitting down to write. It got me wondering whether you all have other pre-writing rituals, or even things you do to keep yourself in the zone once you’ve started writing.

    I have a writer friend who works out before any writing session. She says the exercise–repetitive cardio, jogging or using an elliptical–calms and clears her mind. And once her mind is clear, she’ll begin thinking about her characters and what they should get up to next.

    “By the time I’m done running,” she told me, “I just want to get home because I’m excited to write.”

    Makes sense to me, mind/body/spirit and all that. You don’t have to go to the gym and do a whole thing. Even taking a walk around the block can be enough to get you in the right headspace.

    I know another writer who insists on changing clothes before writing. If he wants to write in the morning and is wearing pajamas, he’ll put on clothes. If he wants to write after work, he’ll change into pajamas. If he wants to write in the middle of the day, he’ll change from clothes to clothes. (Though not at work…) The point, he says, is to shed the previous version of who he’s been that day and become a new version, the author version.

    Which reminds me of my friend Drew, who never, ever writes unless he’s wearing a specific maroon hoodie. (I’ve smelled it. It’s bad.)

    Here are some other pre-writing rituals I’ve heard of over the years:

    Hanging upside-down: Lying on your back on a bed or a sofa with your head hanging off the edge. The theory is, it gets you seeing things differently than you normally do. Not a bad attribute when you’re writing.

    Meditation: Similar to exercise. Clears your mind, calms you down.

    Answering emails or doing other busywork: Distraction is something that keeps many of us from writing. It can be difficult to focus if all you can think about are the sixty-eight emails clogging your inbox. Also, email specifically can serve as a good warm-up, since you’re using the same tools (literally and figuratively) you’ll be using once you begin writing.

    Mentally envisioning the entire scene/chapter, etc.: Some writers will go step by step through the scene or chapter they plan to write, imagining every single moment as if watching a movie. That way, if anything seems off, they can fix it in pre-production, so to speak, rather than have it trip them up while they write.

    Reading: Seems obvious. A lot of writers read to get themselves in the mood.

    Anything but reading: While other writers believe reading can sap some of the creative energy.


    I don’t have any regular pre- (or during) writing rituals. Sometimes I make coffee, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m in pajamas, sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I’ll clear emails and other nagging tasks, sometimes I won’t.

    Do I want a pre-writing ritual? I guess I don’t feel a lack. But if there’s some activity out there that might help me get into a better writing headspace, I’d definitely go all-in on it.

    How about you? Is there anything you do before a writing session to get yourself in the mood? If so, why?

    And is there anything you do during a writing session to keep yourself in the mood?

    Let’s share all of our secrets below!


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2019 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”



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    Barbara Mealer

    It isn’t a ritual, but I’ll generally clear my email boxes prior to starting to write. I know if I don’t, I’ll not get to it later and then I’ll have hundreds of things to delete. I’m gradually weeding out the continuous sales things from other authors and places like Best Buy. Like now, it’s 6 AM and I’m cleaning out my mail box out of habit. I’m ready for work and if I do this now, I’ll have a lot less to do this evening when I do sit down to work on my writing or website.

    stephen Glick

    Barbara depending on the time I jump on I will also dedicate my first half hour or so to e-mails. the remainder of my time , which is three to four hours to write gobs of caffeine
    helps loads. Prost, Stephen. .

    adrienne leslie

    cleaning mailboxes great advice


    Like you, I have no definite ritual, but I do need to reach a certain mental state to be able to write effectively. That state is a “calming down” that is my key to pass through the writing door. Often, I do the lesser, writing-related, chores that switch on my literary-creation mode. Those chores vary–writing emails, drafting a book review, drafting a blog post, etc. They generate a sympathetic energy that greatly eases my transition into a heavier project, like writing the novel. Once into the big project, my writing mood usually develops into a fervor, and I accomplish something… Read more »


    Yes, visualizing a good writing session in a 10 minute mediation before I start. The visualization should include the desire that what I write will ultimately help people in some way, if only in entertainment. Looking for a calm mind to help me reach the zone, also generate some positive karma. Couldn’t hurt.



    david lemke

    Sometimes for editing, I would play a YouTube focusing meditation and tried YouTube creativity meditations for writing. They both seem to work as long as I play them very low.

    david lemke

    Unfortunately, procrastination; checking emails, Quora views, a few quick games of chess or solitaire before I can convince myself to be productive.
    The sometimes that I can get right to it are wonderful. If I could cut out the delaying tactics, I could write like King and get 10 pages done a day instead of 4 to 8 a week.
    On the plus side; if I’m stalled, I either go back to my perifieral files and work on character development, motivations, interviews and such and look at my plot lines. After that, the story will flow again.

    david lemke

    Well, that certainly makes me feel a little better, less frustrated about it.

    Barbara Mealer

    Sounds like you need to set a schedule and keep to it. That means at a set time you clean your mailbox for a certain amount of time then at a set time you write for a say an hour. You then take a 10 min. break and return to writing for another hour. You can set it up with alarms on your cell phone. It’s what I did until I got into a routine where I only allow an hour for my email before writing. The schedule forced me into productivity becuasenwhne tha alarm went off, I had to… Read more »

    adrienne leslie

    I wake up at 4ish every morning with only one thing on my creative mind–breakfast. To keep healthy, I prepare 1 egg + 1 white sauteed with fresh spinach and mushrooms, to keep happy, I scarf down a bowl of sweetened Cheerios soaked in almond milk followed by a mug of very black coffee. I read the opinion pages of the NY Post(very depressing) and complete Fred Piscop’s daily crossword (always fun). Only then do I allow myself to pull up the google doc chapter I left the day before. Most mornings I groan aloud; things like, “When am I… Read more »

    adrienne leslie

    Exactly! when the news makes me and angry and the puzzle makes me thoughtful–I’m in the sweet spot for writing. that’s the 1st time I’ve thought of my mornings that way. Thanks, David

    Brian McFadden

    Now that it is just Shanna(my wife) and I, oh I can’t forget the neediest of all our children…Radar (our chihuahua). I’ve changed my writing atmosphere from a busy Starbucks or a sort of busy Boston Public Library to a peaceful, before everyone in the apartment building wakes up, 4:30 am or 5 am. I have produced cleaner and much more precise drafts. Of course, I thank the Big Guy Upstairs every morning after I do my wake-up routine, that is a MUST.


    I’m more like you, David. Just write whenever I can. It’s no ritual but often l’m Inspired by a sentence or two in a book on writing on some aspect that’s difficult for me. I used to be up around 6 a.m , got a cup of coffee and fave crackers, and, yes .. clear emails . Often the writing’ I’d do, was answering an email. Time ran away and before I knew it, my husband was out of bed and looking for breakfast. Now I’m doing more writing on my cellphone before giving up.

    Vivian Cumins

    I get up around 4 in the morning before anyone else and have a cup of coffee in my robe, sitting at the bar in my kitchen. I get more done in 1 hour after I wake up than any other time. Then I get ready for work and start my day

    Vivian Cumins

    It is both, actually. I work 10-12 hour days so writing at night, although I do try, is pretty uneventful. I feel too tired and foggy to be creative. But I am fresh in the morning. Once folks get up, then the TV is on, people want to talk to me, etc…so, doing in the morning – ALONE, is the very best way for me to put out quality paragraphs. :)

    Anonymous Guest

    I have no pre-writing ritual

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