Welcome to “Ask the Coach.” As a writing coach, I answer questions from writers about making the work of writing happen, tackling craft, business, and personal questions along the way. (Have a question you’d like answered? Check out the details at the end of the article about how to submit one.)
Today I’m addressing a question about being superstitious about writing:
“Do you ever feel superstitious about your writing time? Like you have to write in the same place, at the same time, after eating the same thing, to recapture the same success of a particular writing day that went well? Or do you find yourself giving up on a day’s writing because you weren’t able to do those things?”
This is an intriguing set of questions because whether or not a writer considers themselves superstitious about their writing practice, it speaks to underlying strategies and challenges around having a consistent writing practice, which is something I recommend for most writers. Let’s discuss.
Superstition vs. Routine
First, let’s talk about the superstitious aspect of the question. While I work not to be superstitious about my writing practice, there is real value in having a repeating pattern or writing routine.
Here’s why: if you write every day or nearly every day, at the same time of day, in the same room, using the same tools, you’ll be much more like to sustain repeating that pattern in the long term, which adds up to more consistent, productive writing. Disruptions to the pattern can disrupt the writing practice and progress.
On the other hand, it’s easy to see how a repeating pattern can lend itself to a sense of superstition, along the lines of, it only works if I write this one way.
Finding Flow vs. Showing Up
But what does “work” mean? What is success in a writing day? Some writers feel the only true measure of success with writing is getting into the flow of writing, feeling happy about their day’s work, achieving a certain (usually high level) page count, or putting in a certain (usually high) number of hours.
And those can all be wonderful.
But not all writing days are shining golden examples of these measures of success, but that does not mean that writing did not work.
Some writing days are hard. Some days the success is in showing up and doing your part, even when flow stays outside reach. I prefer to think of a successful writing day more in terms of the effort, work, and showing up. This is because each time we do so, we’re beating the opposing force of resistance in our writing lives. It’s not easy to write, so doing the work counts. Each time we show up to work, we’re succeeding.
The best part about showing up consistently is that you will have days when you also get into the flow. You might even find the more consistently you’re working and showing up, the more likely you are to get into a state of flow. But either way, show up.
Giving Up vs. Regrouping
It’s easy to feel like missing a planned writing session is a good reason to give up on the day and start over tomorrow. While I am a fan of having a do-over and a fresh start, there’s a danger it can become self-perpetuating. When we give up one day because conditions are not optimal, what happens the next day if the same thing is off, we’re not in the right mood, or didn’t have the right foot in the house? Will we give up again? And again?
(Anyone else feeling echoes of those New Year’s Resolutions that go sideways on day two or three of a new year? Me neither.)
Rather than throwing in the towel on a planned writing day, it’s generally better to do a little “make up” writing time later in the day to keep the continuity going, and work on getting back to the regular pattern the next day, rather than taking an unplanned day off. Even just 15 minutes of writing at the end of the day is a worthy investment because it helps restore self-respect, integrity, and dispels the low-level guilt and anxiety around not writing on a given day.
Sometimes there truly are days that are unexpectedly impossible for writing, for example, if there’s some kind of emergency. (Hint: a bad mood is not a writing emergency.)
Planned days off from writing are a different matter. When you plan to take time off, enjoy it, guilt-free.
Routine vs. Experiments
As a parting thought, conduct experiments with your writing to help keep yourself from getting superstitious in the first place.
For example, you might periodically orchestrate a change of scenery while you’re writing, like writing outside at a café. Learning to tolerate different ambient noise, temperatures, conditions, etc. can prove to you again that you can, in fact, write pretty much anywhere. You might even experiment with writing in different locations at home, too.
Create a routine or container for your writing practice, but don’t be afraid to experiment and refine. Being a creature of habit is useful for writers, but we don’t have to be locked in.
That’s a Wrap
While it is generally useful for writers to have a regular, consistent writing schedule to help us generate and complete work productively without getting burned out, it can occasionally lead to us feeling like there’s only one way we can write. If this is happening for you, I encourage you to shake things up a little bit and experiment with new writing conditions, to build your confidence in your ability to write in varying situations. Our inner critics and superstitious minds calm down with a little evidence to dispute their flawed logic.
If you’ve fallen off writing because you didn’t have your optimal conditions met one or more days in a row, go back to the beginning by aiming for just a few minutes of writing each day, building back up to more over time. Any hiccups are information — not failures! — you can use to refine as you move forward.
Through a combination of experimentation and refinement, it may well be you’ll find a new, even more delightful writing rhythm and routine for yourself.
Thank you for submitting your question.
Submit your question to be answered anonymously via my online form here or send an email directly to email@example.com. Look for answers to selected questions in my monthly “Ask the Coach” column on the third Thursday of the month. And reach out to me on Twitter to share your thoughts: @JennaAvery.