Friday, April 26, 2013

10 Not-So-Great Steps of A Writing Ritual

by Mindy McGinnis

A lot of people ask me how I write, or even how does one start writing. Unfortunately the answer to that last question is incredibly simple and horribly difficult at the same time.

You just sit your ass down and do it.

Beyond that, I know a lot of writers have different rituals that they go through before they dive in for the day. Some like to have music playing. Some must have a cup of tea or a particular kind of snack before they begin. Others light the same kind of scented candle, or write in the same room at the same time of every day.

But the pain in the butt thing about writing is that no one trick works for everyone. It's not like your baseball swing where someone can say to you, "Look, you've got your feet set wrong," or, "Your not turning your hips." Writing doesn't work that way. Every one of us has to find our own set of rules or rituals that can turn us into successful authors.

Too often I hear aspiring authors asking those with agents or deals how they do it. And that particular person's trick probably isn't going to work for you... because it's theirs. For example. I'm going to share with you my tips and tricks for writing success, and you'll probably see right off the bat that my ritual is not for you. Or probably really anybody besides myself.

1) Nap often. Once you get sleepy there's no point trying to write anymore. I don't care if it's 1 PM or 1 AM. You need your sleep. Take a break.

2) When you reach a critical scene, make a random phone call or check your email because you're absolutely certain that you can't deliver this time.

3) Write in your bed, right before bed. Ignore the clock. It's 3 AM and you have to work tomorrow - screw it. You had a nap earlier.

4) Don't name your characters right up until the moment you have to type their names for the first time. Then just sit back and say, "Hi, what's your name?" They'll tell you.

5) Let your cat sleep right on top of your chest while you're writing, so that you have to peer over his fuzzy ass to see the laptop screen. It keeps you warm and builds harmony. Also, it will sharpen your typing skills.

6) Pretend other people don't exist for long periods of time. They actually don't, because you're in fantasy land now. You can text them later. This won't build friendships or strengthen family ties, but it will make your ms longer.

7) Resist getting up to pee right up until the moment when you damn well better. Some people don't like the distraction of a full bladder. I call it inspiration.

8) Make sure you drink a lot of water before you lie down to write, so that you won't make the excuse of having to get up later because you're thirsty. Sure, it leads to the bladder problem mentioned in number 7, but the bathroom is closer than the kitchen. Think time management.

9) Randomly check your Twitter feed every now and then. If you hit a dead spot, or aren't sure how to bridge to the next scene, pop in on your Twitter buds. If you follow a lot of fellow writers, chances are someone else is having the same problem, or else has become convinced that they suck. Return to your ms knowing that you're not alone in this. We all suck sometimes. It's OK.

10) Read back over the last 3 or 4 pages that you wrote the night before to place yourself, but don't edit as you go. This is your first draft, your "word vomit," as I call it. Get all that out of your stomach -- apply your brain to it later.

That's it, friends. That's how I write. It's a collection of anti-social, UTI-inspiring, sleepy logic, but somehow... it seems to work for me!

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent, available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins September 24, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the ThirteenersFrom the Write AngleThe Class of 2k13The Lucky 13s & The League of Extraordinary Writers. You can also find her on TwitterTumblr & Facebook.


  1. #4 made me laugh. I did NaNoWriMo for the first time this past November, and even though I started plotting about a month before hand, half of my characters still didn't have names by November first. So because of that whole "just keep typing, you can fix it later" NaNo thing, instead of stopping to find them a name, I just typed a descriptive tag in brackets and kept going. My manuscript is peppered with things like [Dead Guy] and [Dead Guy's wife]. I'm now taking time to get to know my characters better and find actual names for them, so the next time I attack the manuscript, I won't have this problem. :)

    1. I used to research names before choosing one. Sometimes I still do but for the past few mss I really have just asked them

  2. This is fun and enlightening. I thought I was the only one who did some of this. Thanks for the smiles, Mindy!

  3. Thanks, Mindy--love this. I'm keeping my rituals SECRET!!! The world must never know---This is Anne Barnhill!

  4. Love this, Mindy! And so with you about the full bladder!

  5. Thanks everyone for stopping by and commenting!