9 Pre-Writing Rituals to Boost Your Writing Quality and Output

Paul Maxwell, Ph.D.

Paul Maxwell, Ph.D., writes about theology, mental health, marketing, and fitness. Paul has been writing on PaulMaxwell.co for over a decade.

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There is a direct correlation between your writing preparation and your writing output. If you just flip open your MacBook like your average coffee-house barista surfing Facebook Marketplace, expecting to produce gold, you’re going to come up with jack. You might be able to eek out one or two blogs here and there.

“There is a direct correlation between the quality of your writing preparation and the quality of your writing output. ”

But long-term writing output, measured in tens of thousands of words over the course of a month, directly depends upon the consistency with which you implement your pre-writing ritual. If you don’t even have a pre-writing ritual to inaugurate the sacred timeblock designated for your writing, then your entire writing strategy is hanging on a wing and a prayer.

Whatever that means. But it’s not good. And your writing ritual should hang on no wings or prayers. Just the 5-inch thick cast iron anchor hook of consistent ritual.

Here are the 9 rituals that I use to set myself up for maximum writing quality and output every single time I sit down to write.

1. Aggressively Patrol Against “The Resistance”

Stephen Pressfield writes in his book The War of Art about “The Resistance.” The Resistance is the mythical force that pushes against us before any creative endeavor. It pushes against us when we want to do the dishes. When we want to do the laundry. When we want to get up off the couch and go for a run. “The Resistance” is that pressure pushing against you every time you try to do something better.

“What does your personal “Resistance” say to you? How does it push against you? What lies does it tell you so that you don’t have to write? ”

Find a way to patrol against it. What does your personal “Resistance” say to you? How does it push against you? What lies does it tell you so that you don’t have to write?

2. Capitalize on Your Optimal Performance Hours

Write when you’re most productive and motivated. Complete obligatory grunt work when you’re least focused, able, and mentally apt. Knowing when you optimally perform is a critical component of leveraging your own neurological and physiological rhythms to maximize your work output and minimize the needless expenditure of energy and focus potential on low-ROI projects.

3. Imbibe a Neurostimulant

Neurostimulants are important. And, they are everywhere. Air is a neurostimulant—it gives your brain oxygen. Food is a neurostimulant—carbohydrates induce an insulin response that makes you feel tired. It’s important to know what neurostimulants help your writing, how to use them (and how not to use them) as writing productivity tools, and whether you should be using them to increase your writing output.

Caffeine.

Caffeine is the most popular neurostimulant among writers. But it is often misused and misunderstood.

Coffee can kick away tired feelings, but too much can induce a sense of numbness, and timed poorly, caffeine can disrupt our sleep cycles than enable us to mentally digest, reset, and recuperate from our writing sprints.

Use caffeine before 12pm to ward of fatigue. Use it as sparingly as possible. And use it as an occasion to produce a specific deliverable under a deadline. Don’t drink it when you want to write for fun. Fun writing brings its own energy. Caffeine for real projects that require real work.

Energy drinks.

I have written more words with energy drinks than without them. However, they are a short-term play.

Eventually, your body will crash. Your nervous system will rebel. Your emotions will become erratic. Your thinking will become foggy.

Energy drinks are an emergency work solution that can help you keep your writing schedule, but they should not be a staple of any writer’s creative rhythm. Better: use a powder supplement that give you neurostimulants commonly contained in energy drinks (without the crash of 200mg+ of caffeine)—such as guarana, taurine, ginseng, and a Vitamin B complex.

Nicotine.

Nicotine is one of the most underutilized neurostimulants among writers. You don’t have to smoke a pack of Camel Lights or light up at the local cigar lounge to get the benefit of nicotine.

Nicotine offers a simultaneously calm and focusing effect that writers can benefit from greatly.

However, it’s extremely easy to use too much and begin to feel unrecoverably nauseous. You can use nicotine vapor, patches, or drops to ingest this neurostimulant to break through brain fog and calm the anxious nerves of caffeine overconsumption.

THC.

Like alcohol, THC will slow you down. It can open your mind to some truths—sometimes terrifying, and sometimes beautiful—upon which you can draw for creative work. However, if you are in a mentally bad place—depressed, anxious, lonely—stay away from THC.

THC will only exacerbate those feelings. It doesn’t work like alcohol, which as a depressant, can physiologically relax our nervous system. Often times, people feel more paranoid, nervous, and hypervigilant on THC than otherwise.

If your values allow you to do so, and it is legal, it’s important to know that THC is a tool that enhances your emotional volume, which is a large part of creative work.

Alcohol.

If your personal values supply you the liberty to indulge in alcohol as a means of creative inspiration, then by all means, do so—but be careful to use it strategically.

Alcohol requires two preconditions to make it creatively valuable: community and a lack of urgency. As a social lubricant, alcohol enables you to think in ways you otherwise may not have, and it enables better conversation with your conversation partners, which could spark writing or business ideas. Likewise, if you have an urgent deadline, you want to stimulate your nervous system, not depress it.

Alcohol has a short-term depressive effect that mitigates against writing productivity. If you do use alcohol in your writing process, use it socially to generate ideas, and use caffeine, water, or nicotine to help you to execute those ideas.

Water.

Hydration makes your brain, body, and metabolism run smoothly. If you have brain fog, go for a 15 minute walk with a 24 ounce bottle of spring water. You will feel more focused afterward.

Pre-workout.

A pre-workout supplement is a last resort for writers. Powders such as C4 Preworkout and N. O. Xplode supply a heavy caffeine dose (4+ cups of coffee), along with a skin-tingling sensation caused by a chemical called Beta Alanine. However, this could potentially keep you awake, crawling with attention for the next 16 hours. Only use this if you have an urgent writing deadline that requires a ton of work.

Adderall.

This is a legitimate medical solution to writing obstacles, such as brain fog and focus, which ought to be prescribed by a doctor. I caution against using this for anyone with an addictive personality who has not yet tested whether other figures—such as poor diet, lack of exercise, and other chemical addictions—might have caused their brain fog.

Fasting.

When all else fails, use nothing. Simply sit down and write until it’s done. Don’t give into hunger pangs. Don’t give into light-headedness. Don’t give into distraction. See if you can shift your gear into 100% GRIT and power through the project. Sometimes, the mindset of “I’m going to destroy this wall in front of me” is the thing we’re trying to achieve with supplements. And, in reality, it was inside of our minds all along.

4. Construct a Strict Timeblock

If you tell yourself: “I’m going to write until I’m done,” that could take forever. Done with what? Your book? A blog? A chapter? Length is completely arbitrary. Set a timeblock (30 minutes, for example), and commit to finishing that project within that particular timeblock. Then, length is dictated by time. 

If your writing ends up being an unacceptably low quality, then you need to downsize your project or increase your allotted time. But if you end up micro-editing your project to death in the allotted time, and you’re not producing enough, then you want to balance project difficulty and timeblock length in a way that lights a fire under you, but doesn’t overwhelm you.

5. Pick Nonverbal Writing Music

There are many kinds of neurologically stimulating music that can catalyze an optimal workflow mental state. Personally, I listen to early-2000s trance music. Some listen to classical. Others listen to metal.

I listen to trance, because it melodically stimulates binaural beats, an audiological soundtrack that stimulates maximum brainflow and minimum distraction. You can even buy binaural beats sound machines to turn on while you write. I personally use JBL Underarmour headphones and listen to Anjunadeep mixes on YouTube to maximize mental stimulation and minimize mental distraction.

More than that, these trance tracks are often the exact length of my personal timeblocks (a little longer than I suggest for most people): 60 minutes. I can write a good 1,000 word article in 30 minutes if I have to. I can write a great 1,000 word article in 60 minutes. The beginning and ending of the album set great brackets that introduce, climax, and close my article-production routine.

Find something that does the same for you—music that fits your timeblock strategy, makes you feel focused, can drown out the world, and can help you to feel relaxed and comfortable enough to focus on writing.

6. Designate Exactly What Deliverables You Want to Produce

Make sure that at the end of every writing section, you have a product. This product should be pre-determined. When you stand up from your chair, your goal should be done. Calculating project size in light of available time is a skill you will learn in your first few days of using this system.

Not only do you become more productive when you insist on some specific, closed ticket deliverable after every work session—but this closing of a task ticket every single time you work psychologically conditions you to work more, because you feel rewarded, valued, and competent every time you finish.

The more you do this, the better you get. But the worst thing you could do is start on some “unfinished blog” and leave with an “unfinished blog.” You are psychologically conditioning yourself to hate writing. Stop that pattern. You are killing your soul.

7. Write Your Title and 20-Word Summary First

You can change your title and summary later. But hone yourself exactly what is the scope of your topic and the direction of your claim. This will help you to put guardrails on your content so that your writing process doesn’t cannibalize the coherence of your piece.

By setting constraints for yourself, you set brackets of trust for your reader so that they know you are taking care of them. The more you limit yourself in your piece, and the more categorical you are, and the more point-by-point you include, and the more coherence of flow you achieve—the more care your reader will feel you are taking for them, and the more likely they will be to read the next thing you write.

This all begins with limiting yourself with a title and a 20-word summary.

8. Set a Definitive Word Limit

I’m notoriously bad at this. Because I can write so much so fast, I’m always tempted to write 4x as much as everyone else. But this is a bad habit. If I can write 4,000 high-quality words in two hours, I’d rather write four 1,000-word pieces than one 4,000-word piece. But my pieces continually balloon up until they are so big, they are practically unreadable.

Set a word limit for yourself. Most blogs desire your writing fall beneath 1,000 words. If the topic is new and the quality is high, you might be able to get away with 1,500 words. But editing your work down—cutting it in half, ideally—is a fantastic exercise in beating the fluff out of your own writing.

People don’t like writing fluffed with words that make the writer feel smart. It’s like sawdust in their spaghetti. Make it clean. Make it short. Make it pristine. Make their entire experience of reading your blog as seamless, delicious, and satisfying as possible. Remember—writing is all about the reader’s experience, not the writer’s experience.

9. Try to Finish Your Deliverable in 30 Minutes (Timed, In Intervals of 10 Minutes)

This won’t work for everyone. Some people need flow.

But this weaves a sense of urgency into your writing disposition that subconsciously expedites your creative process. This expedition creates a firmer streamline between your consciousness and your word count, enabling a more direct transfer between your subliminal ideas and your words-on-the-page.

Conclusion

Put this strategy in place so that it becomes second nature. If you have to tweak it to make it work for your personally, do it. Insert your own neurostimulant. Make the timeblock your own length.

However, here is my challenge to you: try following this exact pre-writing routine for 30 days, and see what it does for your writing. If it makes you a worse writer (and it won’t), then ditch it. If it makes you better, you will be thankful for the rest of your life that you did it. And, if it make you hungry for something more optimized for your unique needs, rhythms, and routines, then create it.

But start here. Do it for 30 days. You owe your audience as much. You owe yourself as much.

Download the eBook below to learn how to plug these strategies into a larger writing strategy that will grow your audience and make you a better writer.

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