I grew up as a competitive cheerleader. (I know what you’re thinking. Do they even know how to write? Fight the stereotype and stick with me.) For almost 15 years, I traveled around the country to compete in large arenas in front of hundreds of screaming and painted fans. Our routines lasted for 2 minutes and 30 seconds, and we performed the same routine for an entire year. By the end of high school, as my team advanced to the highest levels, we practiced up to 4 or 5 nights a week for 2-3 hours each night with specialized coaches and trainers.
Before we walked on the mat to compete, each teammate developed their own rituals that they did before each performance. You might listen to the same song in your headphones, wandering off from the team to bounce up and down, amp yourself up. You might eat the exact same meal each morning of competition, or eat nothing at all. (Believe me, I saw plenty of cheerleaders puking when nerves got the best of them.) Whatever you had to do to “get in the zone.” And once you figured out which rituals gave you energy and confidence to leave it all on the mat, (NO REGRETS!, we always yelled together in a team huddle), you stuck with your competition day rituals and never deviated. One hiccup that day and you could bobble in the stunt, costing your team the World Champion title.
Welcome to the writing life.
Show up to practice. You schedule time to practice writing, to learn from the experts by reading books and writing in journals that people may never see. Practices always lack that adrenaline rush you feel on competition day, or in the publication phase when you share your writing with the world. But you still need to show up and get in the zone and go through the motions, soaking in words and sentence structures to help with muscle memory. Great writers always say, Read! Read! Read! Absorb the quality writing like the experts do. Go through the motions with all your energy. Leave your heart on the page–even in practice when no one is watching.
Establish your rituals. You find the songs that help you enter a world. As I work on an essay about the 1960s, I find the songs of that decade that transport me to that world. Maybe you want to eat the same meal, or drink coffee from the same mug. Put your phone out of sight. Sit in the same spot. Go through the motions the same way each time you start to write, and your body will remember the motions and enter into the writing zone. Figure out what gives you energy and confidence to leave it all on the page with NO REGRETS! Just like competing, you have to block out the world. Don’t think about the crowds of people watching or any of the bright lights or the judges keeping score. Because the minute you do, you will bobble.
Readers ask me this question: What do writers do all day?
We practice the same routines over and over again. We train with specialized experts. We walk our bodies through the rituals. We get in the zone. We block out the judges. We forget about the fans. We stay focused.
We do whatever it takes to amp ourselves up with the energy and confidence to enter another world, to leave our hearts on the page.