Ritual vs Habit

“I am a brain, Watson, the rest of me is a mere appendix”

Those are, as you may have guessed, the words of Sherlock Holmes. To provide some context, in the story The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone, Watson and Holmes’s landlady are increasingly concerned about Holmes because he refuses to eat until he solves the case. “What one’s digestion gains in the way of blood supply is so much lost to the brain.”

I am not advocating an eating disorder in pursuit of your creative craft, but there is truth to what Holmes says. This is the second Monday in my “Monday is creative day” regime and so far it’s working splendidly (I know it’s only been a week, but optimism is essential). Think about your day, think about when it really starts. For me personally I feel like the day picks up speed as soon as I have breakfast and does not slow down until late at night. This may not be true for everyone, but I would suggest to you that you pinpoint when your day starts and try to get some writing done before then.

In the case of postponing breakfast, one might think that this is “dangling the carrot,” and for some it might be, but I find that this is a simple way to exercise your willpower and make your writing time your own.

What we’re aiming for is a writing ritual, not necessarily a writing habit. Rituals are a lot easier to start and maintain than habits, which is why they’re employed in some form by every religion on earth. Let’s take a look at the word habit:

Habit noun
3b: The involuntary tendency or aptitude to perform certain actions which is acquired by their frequent repetition.

This would be a very nice thing to have, I would like to get to the point where I write so consistently that it is second nature. I would like this to stop just short of hypergraphia, which would be interesting but also terrifying. On the other hand…

Ritual noun
Any customary observance or practice; the prescribed procedure for conduct.

This seems well within our reach. We use rituals to develop behaviours which can turn into habits. We can’t aim directly for the habit or we will fail. Only bad habits are easy to acquire.

So when we choose, for example, to abstain from food until we have written, we lend the writing act a significance it might not otherwise have. We also sanctify (literally: to set apart) that period of time, recognizing it, consciously and subconsciously, as important.

I encourage you this week to set apart some time for writing. As always, write whenever you can, on the back of a napkin, in the margins of your newspaper, but also find your own ritual to build walls around your writing time. Perhaps in building your ritual you will acquire the writing habit, but either way, you’ll get more writing done.

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