Slow down to speed up writing: traditional art rituals inspire effective writing rituals

As a painter and writer, I’ve adopted some habitual, preparatory exercises that double as times for creative thinking:

the ritual forces you to delay acting on those thoughts just long enough to fully form them.

For instance, when painting with sumi ink, you have to first prepare the ink by dipping the end of a slab of dried ink in water, then gently grinding it in circular motions against a porous stone. As you rhythmically grind, you think about the painting to come, warming up both your hand and your mind. This is much slower than grabbing a ready-mixed bottle of ink, but the preparation itself is part of the overall art process. It also is a choice in favor of quality:  hand-ground ink allows for subtle manipulating of value–very necessary in such images that are made entirely with black ink and the white of the paper, no color.

Image of hand grinding sumi ink for painting
Here is an image of the traditional Sumi ink grinding process (The image is from Maine artist, Wendilee Health O’Brien ‘s blog.)

When writing, I now try to remember the value of this ritual delay. Here is my process

  1. I write longhand rough drafts first. This is slower than typing, but allows messy cross outs and the sensory joy of pressing  pen tracks into the paper.
  2. Then, the next drafts get written on the laptop. But, this digital rewriting is never just re-typing–it is always revision.

Although this process is slower, it hastens me towards better quality of thought and builds in a revision process before any typed word can be sent out into the world.