Counterpoint: Why We Should Question (If Not Abolish) the Writing Ritual
Apr 16, 2019
By Colorado Review Editorial Assistant Jordan Osborne
Since I decided to attempt being a writer, I’ve been told that I need to have a ritual for writing—set aside time and space, develop some habits to get me in the right frame of mind. Honestly, I could go on and on, rattling off tips from other writers and websites about how to write most efficiently. I’ll spare you further rambling; no doubt, you’re familiar with all their sagely advice.
And when I say “most efficiently,” I do not mean making the most use out of words and grammar—an important element to all written works. Instead, I am referring to pumping out a sufficient volume of writing so that writers may feel as though they’ve accomplished something, and thereby, the act of writing is not a “waste of time.” This idea that writing needs to be profitable, needs to yield significantly lengthy results in order to compete in a burgeoning market, seems contradictory. Isn’t writing a form of art? Isn’t the point of making art the making and not the yield? Aren’t good words better than many words?
Whenever I’ve attempted to come up with and then adhere to a writing ritual, it has been an absolute failure. I used to wonder if it was because I’m not a “real writer,” if my tendency to wander away from the task I set for myself in all its parameters indicated that I wasn’t cut out for writing after all. More than this, everything that I wrote while under the contract of the ritual turned out to be something that I hated. And I do mean hated—with passion bordering on aggression. Every poem felt so blocky and loud and indulgently didactic that they made me nauseous. But it wasn’t me—at least, not entirely. The ritual, rather than providing a space for my creative processes to flourish, instead created the pressure to make the ritual work. If I wasn’t writing within the ritual’s confines, then I was wasting the time I set aside for writing.
I decided to try something different, to ask something entirely new of myself: What would happen if I treated writing as a form of self-care, something that I did to show myself that doing what I loved had value outside of being productive? Rather than setting aside a block of time in which I must create or perish, I would come to the work when, and only when, I felt the urge to do so. The result was a loving relationship with my poems, a nurturing that fostered growth and exploration. A relationship that I might not have found otherwise emerged between poet-me and human-me.
I’ll leave you with the same questions: What would happen if you abandoned your writing ritual? What would happen if instead you chose to write, knowing that the only way to love yourself is to write?