Request - Creating the Environment to Write... Part 1

Some good questions came through my email last week about writing environments.

Because I am someone who is interested in these questions and may ramble on about them, I may break it down into two or three posts....

Here are the questions I'll be responding to--

Over the years, what tricks or rituals have you tried to set the tone or mood in your mind to start writing?  What has worked and what hasn't?

Do you need quiet? Does music help? If so what kind? Away from clutter? Lose yourself in a coffee house?  You get the picture.  

I'm looking for the kinds of environments or tricks that you've found work best to write.  Oh... and pen and paper vs computer. 


Over the years, what tricks or rituals have you tried to set the tone or mood in your mind to start writing?  What has worked and what hasn't?

For a while, I would light a candle or incense on desk before writing to *inspire* me.  The problem with this is I have cats and it ended up being a bit of a hazard as they walked by. I didn't want anyone's tail aflame, so I stopped doing that.  (It really did become more of a distraction than a help.)

I would also allow myself 20 minutes to play around on email or check blogs and websites before writing.   To me this was similar to a dog circling before it settled down and I too was circling before the big-deal of writing.  This worked well until 20 minutes became 40 minutes and then sometimes 90 minutes of wasted time before beginning.  I abandoned this technique for that reason.

Now I have an easier ritual for writing.  

I write down on my daily to-do list what project I want to work on and a time limit.  

Non-fiction project:  45 minutes
Write a poem:  15 minutes

The funny thing here is that I *always* spend more time on the project than I write down, but giving myself a time limit makes me begin because I can see it as a small step I can complete.  Anyone can write for 15 minutes, you just have to sit down and write (as I've said, If you can speak, you can write.)  

Sometimes I will schedule an exact time: 9:30 am - revise poems.   
When that time comes around I make sure I start.

Much of writing is tricking yourself to begin.  If it means, a cup of coffee (something I always have when I begin) and putting a flower on your desk will make you start, then do it.  

I find that something that works and then I do it until it doesn't work and try something new.  Mostly, it's about showing up.  And staying off of email or websites that can get me lost in something unproductive.  

Email is a classic time waster.  I have a love/hate relationship with it.  I love receiving emails, but I despise the feeling of "chore" they give me.  As someone who doesn't like clutter, seeing a full email box kind of overwhelms me.  So I allow myself email time write when I first wake up and have my cereal just to get it over with.  (And I find if I check email on my iPhone I can delete faster and answer faster because responses tend to be shorter because an iPhone has a tiny keypad that isn't fun to type on.)

So for me, just beginning is all I need at this point in my life.  Writing down what I'm going to do and for how long and showing up.

But if there's a ritual that helps you write, do it!  I might start one in the fall when I return daily to my writing shed.  I'll let you know if I do.

But mostly, I just show up.



  1. Hi Kelli,

    Thank you for this. I started reading this entry this morning and said to myself -- what am I doing? I made my coffee and went straight to my House of Sky writing space. I find I'm often afraid of writing badly --which of course does happen often -- and that stops me from entering my gorgeous space. I love the balance of going out to the garden and cutting roses for my desk. And if I get stuck on a poem (which often happens) I can just step into the garden and do some trimming...

    It's hard for me to set a schedule and so I like that you begin fresh each day. I am inspired to try this.
    Thank you!

  2. "Mostly, it's about showing up."


  3. I try to remember moments or feelings or impressions, which happen during the day (or night).

    I can write most anywhere, and always carry a small note-book & pen to start jotting the outline --- But my personal preference is to bring-up WordPad on the computer and set the font to something beautiful like Bookman Antiqua, at 16-20 point size, and then go from there...

    It's a powerful writing tool, which allows me to go back and forth, adding, deleting, changing words quickly (or slowly)...

    Starting from total scratch is really tough --- But as long as I have the seed of an idea, based on a real experience or feeling, it goes from there...

    Cheers from Yokosuka, Japan.

    J.P. Niemeyer


  4. Susan & Marty -- ;-) You guys do a great job of "showing up!"

    J.P. - I love your idea of choosing a certain font at a larger size and going from there.

    I have a friend who keeps a journal on her laptop and she uses a very unique font. If I receive an email and I see that font, I know she's cut and pasted it from her daily writing. She says it allows her to go into that deeper place that Helvetica will not. That's interesting to me.

    Thanks for your note across the water!


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