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Rituals & The Writing Process (a guest post from Jenna McGuiggan)

liz lamoreux


photo by Jenna

My dear friend Jenna is hosting an online writing course this fall called Alchemy: The Art & Craft of Writing. I am honored to be one of the guests joining her in The Word Cellar for this course, and I will be sharing a bit about how we can use the senses as a writing tool to help make our writing richer and full of texture. 

And here is the part where I tell you a secret: I am also taking the course because I want to feel like a student again and find myself knee-deep in the world of words with others who want to be knee deep beside me. I look forward to pushing myself to continue to enrich the way I put the stories whispering within me onto the page

Because I really hope you will think about joining Jenna and me and the other fantastic guests and the participants who have I already signed up, I invited Jenna to share a bit about the course and some of her writing tips:


Jenna says: One of my readers asked me for advice on how to navigate the transition from the world of writing to the world off the page. 

The Word Cellar reader asked:

“Once you let the writing take over and you're flowing, how do you know when to stop or rather how do you separate that life you are creating on paper from the life you are creating around you? I find it hard to write for a few hours and emerge from that space with the ability to stay connected with the people, places and things around me. The feeling scares me and as a result I haven't written much in the last few months. I just start to feel like I'm going crazy and I don't want to.”

What an intriguing and powerful question.

I tend to have the opposite problem: The people, places, and things around me often pull me out of my writing. I'm too easily distracted away from the page. That said, I do experience times when the writing draws me in and I'm immersed in the story.

These moments of flow feel magical to me, but I understand how an intense writing experience could be disorienting and even frightening as you come out of that focused state.

I've developed a technique that I use when I need to quiet my mind and work through distractions. It's a little ritual, really. I make sure I have something to drink next to me (usually water, tea, or coffee) so I don't have an excuse to get up for a beverage. I light my favorite candle (Lavender Leaves by Henri Bendel) and commit to writing for an hour. I even make the commitment out loud to myself: "I will write for an hour while this candle burns." Sometimes I set a gentle-sounding alarm (on my cell phone) as a way to keep myself from checking the time obsessively during that hour.

This simple ritual helps me to enter into my writing. Sometimes I struggle for most of that hour, wrestling with words and trying to stay focused. But I don't let myself check Facebook or email or go do the laundry. I keep writing. Sometimes I find the flow before the hour ends, and sometimes I don't. Either way, I've put in an hour of writing, and that feels good. When the hour ends, I can choose whether to keep going or to rest and then do another round.

I wonder if you could create a ritual or technique to help you transition out of an intense writing experience. Maybe you could light a candle when you start writing, and perhaps set a timer to go off ten or fifteen minutes before the time you need to stop writing and re-enter the world around you. By giving yourself that cushion of time, you allow yourself to recalibrate and refocus. During those minutes, you could do some yoga poses or stretches, listen to some favorite music, do a little dance around the room -- something to ground you in the physical "now" away from the page. After this little interlude, you could blow out the candle to symbolize the transition to whatever you need to do next, knowing that the candle and the story are available to you when you can return to them.

This is just one suggestion. Everyone has a different writing process. I'd love to hear other ideas and techniques in the comments. How do you stay focused on your writing? How do you leave the story-world for the physical world around you? Please share.


I invite you to join me this October in The Word Cellar for more discussions like this. I've created an online writing course for creative souls who are interested in learning more about writing. Alchemy: The Art & Craft of Writing is a doorway into a magical world in which practical tips and craft lessons ignite your inspiration and help you bloom as a writer. I'll share some of my most effective tips and techniques for turning everyday words into beautiful pieces of writing. There will be craft lessons, writing exercises, and invitations to inspiration. We'll also have a private online community where we can share our work and share the experience of living the writing life. Will you join us?

Note: Today, September 30, is the last day to take part in Jenna's generous Alchemy sale. She is offering the price at a discounted rate, so if you want to sign up, consider doing so today.

(This post originally appeared here as part of In The Word Cellar, a writing column that runs on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month.)