Katrina Stonoff

Creating a Ritual

Today one of my writer friends introduced me to Being Lazy and Slowing Down, a great blog/website about choosing mindfully how to spend your time rather than getting sucked onto the hamster wheel (my summary, not theirs: their description is much more poetic).

I was particularly drawn to the post “Why today (more than ever) you need writing rituals? 5 reasons.” 

Before we moved to Canada and my life imploded, I had a rock-solid writing ritual, and I believe that’s one of the reasons I was so productive. I would first check my email (back then I could clear my In Box in minutes). Next, I would write a “charming note”. Then I’d write a blog entry. When I finished those warm-ups (picture me doing stretches in my writerly pajamas before hitting the cross country course), I’d fix a cup of tea, turn on a Writing Music playlist, and light a candle. By the time I opened the document I wanted to work on, my brain was well settled into The Zone, that magic place where my conscious brain gets out of the way and lets the subconscious tell the story.

But in craziness of the past few years, I forgot about the rituals. When I write now, I try to browbeat myself into the HOKBIC (Hands On Keyboard, Butt In Chair) mode, and it’s not nearly as effective. At least not for me. 

I don’t think the old ritual would work for me now though. Email, for instance, has become a left brain activity of paying bills, filling out forms, and deleting spam. Creativity killers! It’s time to create a new ritual.

Charming Notes

Carolyn See recommended writing “Charming Notes” in her book, Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Others Dreamers.

It’s basically fan mail, but short and sincere. You ask for nothing, simply express what you like or admire about their work. Maybe thank them for it. But then … this piece is critical … you send it. 

There’s a real power in Charming Notes. Writing is such a solitary activity that we can feel isolated. Even if the recipient never responds, the notes remind you, before you even start working, that you are part of a richly textured community of interesting, creative people. You have a tribe — even if they are scattered across the globe.

But in truth, it turns out even famous authors are often people just like you who really value honest connection with like-minded thinkers. I made some real friends because of those notes.

I use to write Charming Notes religiously, but I’ve gotten away from them. I think it’s time to start again.

My Writing SpaceCup of Tea

Choose your own liquid, but for me, there’s nothing like tea gently steeping in a pretty cup (like this one: a gift from my writers group for my 50th birthday). It creates an ambiance. Even better if it has an invigorating scent. Vanilla Chai, for instance.  

And … bonus! It’ll help keep you hydrated. 

Writing Playlist

This will depend entirely on whatever motivates you. Some writers can’t work with vocals, others have to have lyrics. Some writers want a rousing heavy metal list while others want quiet ballads. Consider using New Age music or binaural beats. Maybe a recording of ocean waves or crickets. Experiment until you find the sound or lack of sound that triggers your subconscious. 

I had several different playlists. One general music playlist had a mix of everything: all genres, instrumental and vocal, upbeat and slow. If I found a song intruded into my brain while I was writing, I’d just delete it from the playlist and keep going. That’s the list I used the most.

A second playlist was all instrumental, for the days when I was struggling with a scene or with a description and found lyrics distracting. This list had a lot of guitar solos by Billy McLaughlin. Perfect for sparking creativity!

I also had playlists designed to spark emotion. Sad songs. Rage songs. Tender love songs. Giddy songs. Songs that built suspense, etc (organ music and movie music are great for suspense). I played these lists to build in myself the emotion I wanted to express in a specific scene.

Unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot of work to recreate my playlists because Apple (those bastards!) deleted all my playlists when I joined Apple Music (Fie! A hex on you!). I do have a couple of old iPods, but it would take hours of work to go through the songs one by one to rebuild the playlists. I might just start from scratch.

Scented Candle

This one has a funny origin. I was at an intensive Writers Retreat in Erlanger, Kentucky, the kind where you share meals and some activities but mostly sit in your room working alone while other writers do the same in the next room.

The writer across the hall had a candle, and I loved the ambiance. There’s something about fire.

So I walked to the nearest store and found a candle on a clearance rack. It was scented, which wasn’t what I had in mind, but I didn’t hate the scent. And it was in a quart-size mason jar, which I thought might mitigate the open flame risk somewhat and probably last the full ten days. And … did I say clearance? 

I had not intended to create a ritual, but by the end of the week I had trained my brain that if it caught a whiff of that scent, it meant it was time to work. Kind of like how they say never to do anything in bed other than sleep, so your brain associates lying in bed with sleeping. Well, my brain associated that scent with focused creative writing. Oddly, it still does.

I came home and bought an entire case of those candles. The candle was Lemon Icebox Cookies scent, made by Swan Creek Candle Company. Sadly, the scent appears to be discontinued, so I’ll probably have to retire once the case I bought is gone. I think I have two left. 

Just kidding! It might take some work, but I’m pretty sure I can train my brain to recognize another scent. And they have nice candles.

Guided Meditation

l learned to meditate when I lived in Edmonton, and it’s proven to be a powerful tool for quieting my ADHD brain. So I think a short, guided meditation would be a great addition to my ritual.

I plan to start with this one: 5-minute guided meditation before writing, written by Kimine Mayuzumi, one of the writers of Being Lazy and Slowing Down. This one came highly recommended by my friend.

Motivational Reading?

I think I’m getting close to my new ritual, but I’m not there yet. I might add five or ten minutes of reading from a book that inspires me. In addition to Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life, there’s The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes, The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Learner, Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write by Gayle Brandeis, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield’s, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott or pretty much anything by Natalie Goldberg.

There’s a risk with this though, that I’ll get sucked into the book and read instead of writing my own book. Maybe I need to rotate these books onto my nightstand periodically, to read before bed.


Freewriting (writing for a short, specific length of time without lifting your pen or fingers from the keyboard) can be a good way to get started. This works especially well if you’re exploring a story or a character but don’t yet know where it’s going or who they are. This method also comes with a distraction risk though. Sometimes the stream-of-consciousness exploration is so much more fun than the work planned, that you never start actually working.

That’s my issue with writing prompts. A lot of people love them, but I just end up with little scraps of quite brilliant writing that doesn’t fit into anything and literally never gets read. With one or two exceptions, they remain little scraps of paper tucked into a box or a book. (One of those exceptions, though, became one of my favorite novels, so if you have no idea what to write, this might be a good way for you to start.)

For me, a better choice is Timed Writing. I write in intervals that are at least thirty minutes and can be an hour. Like Freewriting, I write without stopping, but it’s more directed. I’m usually writing a scene, for instance, that I’ve already plotted on a scene card. 

I can get a similar benefit when I’m editing by simply setting a timer and telling myself I can’t stop until it goes off. Not for a drink, not to go to the bathroom, certainly not to check Facebook or Instagram!

Most of the time, though, I don’t need this. Once I set myself up and start, I rarely struggle with continuing. One reason why is that I rarely stop at the end of scene or chapter when I’m drafting. I stop in the middle of action, so that when I come back to the page, all I have to do is read the last few sentences, and I’m off and typing.

Other Ideas?

This is a good start. I think these steps would ease me gently into that place where the world disappears, and I’m living my story.

But I’d love to hear your ideas! What might you add to your writing ritual?

Categories: Writing

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3 months ago
Reply to  Katrina


Kayt Sunwood
Kayt Sunwood
3 months ago
Reply to  Katrina

Ah, ritual! Indeed, the way to survive and thrive in life, and writing! Your writing and being are wellsprings of inspiration, encouragement, and resources for action, facilitating living life fully and with gusto!
Thank you for the connections, links, and resources.
“Charming Notes” … Wonder if blog/FB comments count as Charming Notes? 

Kayt Sunwood
Kayt Sunwood
3 months ago
Reply to  Kayt Sunwood

I can comment to your comments, but not to the blog post itself, it seems.

3 months ago

Testing Comment form

3 months ago

great post!