Robert Bruce recently sent me a stark email with the subject line “Read Me” and a link to a short article about baseball great Ichiro Suzuki and the strange ritual that dictates how he prepares for each game.
At first it seemed weird and unrelated to what we teach at Copyblogger … then the connection came to me in a flash.
Before each game, Ichiro breaks in his 8 hand-crafted bats made of a very special wood imported from Hokkaido, Japan. The bats are always the same exact weight and length (33.46 inches, 31.75 ounces).
But the strangest part about Ichiro’s pre-game ritual is that he keeps them in a dehumidifier, a special case that he takes with him to every game that ensures the bats have a perfect “feel”.
He cares for his tools as if they were priceless antiques, and many of his teammates don’t.
But they’re starting to wonder if it doesn’t give him some kind of professional advantage.
How rituals bring meaning to your writing
The rituals of successful athletes aren’t unlike those of very productive writers.
Both use pre-game rituals and training techniques, some stranger than others, to help them get into a mental state that makes them perform at their peak.
If you read Copyblogger regularly, you know that we delve into the classic and modern techniques of successful writers to help online publishers find a solid technique for their own daily battle with the page.
- Much like athletes that hope to one day make it to the “big show”, good writers all start out studying the basics and slowly work their way up to the more complicated techniques.
- Writers have always been a superstitious bunch, relying on their own pre-game rituals and psych-up methods to allay the dreaded content slump (AKA “writer’s block”).
- Many successful writers seem to have a reverence and a respect for the game that borders on worship, not to a deity, but to the daily pursuit of seeking out the truth in spilling ink (virtual or otherwise) on the page.
Your routine doesn’t have to be orthodox, just regular
When Ichiro came to America to play Major League Baseball, many said he was too small and weak to weather a 162 game schedule. They thought he would crack under the pressure.
But what they didn’t know was that he had endured very unorthodox strength training rituals in Japan like tossing car tires and hitting a Wiffle ball with a heavy shovel.
He proved them wrong in his debut by becoming the first player since Jackie Robinson in 1949 to lead the league in both batting average and stolen bases. He was the second player in history to win both the ALMVP and Rookie of the Year Awards.
Preparing your desk for productivity
Legendary copywriter John Carlton calls that time before you actually sit down to write a word, “prepping the desk.”
Whether it’s gathering your research, poring over the facts, or “incubating” your ideas before you get in the batter’s box, having some kind of ritual or discipline can be extremely helpful to get you into the proper mindset to be a highly productive writer.
When Ichiro sweats out his bats, he’s prepping his desk.
And some very successful writers have also had some pretty strange rituals to set them up for success.
8 strange habits of very successful writers
- Try writing horizontally.
George Orwell, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Winston Churchill, and Marcel Proust were all famous for churning out pages while lying in bed. Novelist Truman Capote also wrote everything in longhand in the horizontal position. Don’t forget, proper rest is crucial to creativity, so if you’re already there, why not grab the laptop and give it a try?
- Take a walk or bike ride without a destination in mind.
Charles Dickens and Henry Miller both used to wander around Europe trying to get lost, a technique that psychologists say can foster creativity.
- Put on some tunes (preferably without words).
Copywriter and prolific email marketer Ben Settle swears by the soothing sounds of music, not just any music but “inspirational movie soundtracks” on repeat.
- Write at a time of day that suits your productivity.
Honoré de Balzac would get up at midnight and drink black coffee well into the next day. Flannery O’Connor only wrote for two hours a day.
- Loosen up.
Pulitzer Prize winning author John Cheever wrote mostly in his underwear. My friend and prolific travel journalist Adam Skolnick used to write only in a sarong.
- Save your back.
Ernest Hemingway and Albert Camus both found the exhilaration and pain-saving exercise of writing while standing, a technique that is finding resurgence among health-conscious writers, including our own Brian Clark.
- Invoke the help of some divine inspiration.
Prolific inspirational writer and author of The War of Art, Steven Pressfield uses an ancient ritual of reciting Homer’s invocation of the Muse before he types a word. He’s in good company, as they were invoked by Shakespeare, Milton, and Chaucer too.
- If all else fails, have a drink … or two.
Immortal copywriter David Ogilvy would drink a “…half bottle of rum and play a Handel oratorio on the gramophone.” He also claimed to be a lousy copywriter but a great editor. He would edit his writing 4 or 5 times before showing it to anyone.
What’s your ritual?
Remember, no ritual should ever take the place of actually getting words on the page . But they can help you shift your mindset just enough to see things in a fresh way.
In the immortal words of novelist and screenwriter Raymond Chandler:
Technique alone is never enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder.
What’s your ritual?
Since you asked, I brew some fresh organic coffee, put on music without words (I can write to anything by Stars of the Lid), grab a working pen, a stack of 3×5 note cards, and start a fresh page on a legal pad.
It’s not weird … unless you consider that I do it all in a sealed, hyperbaric chamber.