A couple of days ago I explored the potential consequences of relying too heavily on your rituals. Today, we explore over-ritualizing. Over-ritualizing is a related, yet slightly different problem. Over-ritualizing is the development of a long list of rituals that take up far too much time. One aspiring writing described her prewriting ritual as consisting of taking a walk, making tea, having a cigarette, and a litany of other activities that she needs to prepare her to write. Once she ultimately sits down to write, she barely has enough time to produce any work!
While over-ritualizers may also overly depend on ritual, as discussed below, some merely use these activities as a way of avoiding writing. This can be something of a defense mechanism to shield one from the fear of failing. The logic goes something like this: “If I only had more time, I would be able to write. But since I don’t have enough time, and I am not writing, I have not really failed as a writer. I merely do not have enough time!” For many, it is easier to engage in long and exhaustive rituals than to risk failure. Over-ritualizers may need to do a combination of behavioral and psychological tasks to get themselves writing.
First, time your rituals. Next consciously cut the duration of your rituals in half. Try this for a while and see if it helps. If you find yourself looking for other means of procrastinating, you will then have to identify the underlying beliefs that lead to this procrastination. For example, you may find yourself judging and criticizing your writing, and find it preferable to avoid writing than face your inner critic. Albert Ellis, the father of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, has written many good self help books that can help you identify and challenge self defeating cognitions/ internal messages that block your writing. Overcoming Procrastination and How to Control Your Anxiety Before it Controls are excellent books by Ellis. Both of my books on writing also have chapters to help you with these problems. If you can’t do it through self-help; seek the help and support you need!
Please do not think I am saying that rituals are not helpful to the writing process. They most certainly can be. However, not all rituals are always helpful to all writers. I merely wish to alert you to a couple of the potential pitfalls of rituals, and to help you view them as not inherently helpful or harmful, but part of our toolboxes that must be assessed. Writers must continuously evaluate their methods and practices; this is especially true when we are not being as productive as we wish, or are going through a particular dry time.