Nothing is as intimidating as the blank page. Or the blank canvas. Or the cursor blinking in the top left-hand corner of your new email. When the page is blank, the mind goes blank. No ideas come.
This anxiety-inducing moment often triggers opening Facebook or sparks an irrepressible urge to reorganize the book shelf. Procrastination sets in. Easier, lesser tasks are completed instead of taking a crack at the creative challenge. Creativity demands that you walk down a new path, that you invite failure and uncertainty. How very uncomfortable. Let me clean the cat litter first.
How do you get over this hurdle? My advice: establish a creative ritual.
I’m not advocating that you let go of the wheel and hit the autopilot, that’s a routine, as outlined (and busted) in my previous post. Rituals are small gestures which can serve as mental triggers to get you into a creative mindset. They are a tool to setting up a creative habit.
“A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.” Mason Currey
A ritual is a fantastic way to ease yourself into the creative zone. It guides you into your activity by offering you a familiar, comforting task from which you can stray once you feel relaxed. For many it’s making a cup of coffee before settling in at the desk, or sharpening all the pencils, or making a to-do list.
It doesn’t really matter what it is, there is no secret formula. But if you’re looking to try a new ritual, look for something unique and pleasurable. A short, brisk morning walk can be a great way to prep for a creative project, but if you spend all day on foot rushing about, this walk won’t trigger a specific ritual mindset. Also, if the morning walk is combined with picking up dry cleaning and making deliveries it won’t be a pleasurable experience but a chore. Make the ritual something to look forward to so you’ll get a small, positive rush each time you do it.
“Decide what you want or ought to do with the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.” W. H. Auden
Establish a rhythm
Once you decided on your ritual, repeat, repeat, repeat! Each time you execute your ritual you train your brain to expect a creative activity. Essentially, you build up a creative muscle-memory. “Ah, I’m doing a cross-word, it’s about to get creative!” Rituals ease you into the ‘zone,’ that creative flow that allows you to immerse yourself in an activity and sharpens your focus. In the zone, Facebook doesn’t even exist anymore.
Build up a creative muscle-memory.
Many great artists had quirky rituals which provided their emotional safety-net during the creative process. Beethoven wouldn’t start his day without a cup of coffee made from exactly 66 coffee beans, Charles Dickens went for walks at exactly 2pm every afternoon to clear his head, David Lynch practices transcendental meditation.
What they all have in common is that the artists are unwavering in their ritual practice, establishing a non-negotiable habit which becomes a trigger for creativity.
“Doing the same simple act the same way each morning habitualizes it—makes it repeatable, easy to do. It reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently.” Twyla Tharp
What works for me are two different rituals, one to get me working in the morning, and one to ease me into my art-making practice. My get-your-work-started ritual is a list-making exercise. I organize my daily tasks and set my end-of-week goals. This exercise clears my mind and allows me to prioritize my activities. When I get started with an art project, however, I like to first doodle in my sketchbook. It’s a way for me to ease into my project and to loosen up. I love the feel of the paper and the satisfying scratch of the pencil. After about 15 minutes I’m on my way to start painting.
What is your daily ritual? How do you ease yourself into your creative mindset?
At Sproutive, Kim and I help our clients to access their creative side and we have a few fun ideas on how to get you into the ‘zone.’ Get in touch with me if you’d like to find out more.