Creative Rituals… Eccentric or Essential?

10637335-cup-of-coffee-and-candle-in-the-form-of-heart-on-a-black-backgroundWhen it comes to creativity, an artist’s focus is critical to his/her ability to produce good work. When I’m “on,” when I’m enmeshed in the creative process ideas, formation and execution exist symbiotically. It’s easy to become totally absorbed in the creative flow when this happens, and hours can go by before I even realize the time. Occasionally, though, I also have bouts of frustration as I try to access my inner muse and she wants to be anywhere but here. Those of us who are fortunate enough to practice our craft for a living face a particular challenge…  to create, which is a delicate process, on demand in a world whose conditions often seem to conspire against that process. How can we find and don our creative skins each day? For many artists, including me, one way is with a ritual.

According to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, his friend and fellow writer, Friedrich Schiller, kept a supply of rotten apples in his writing desk because he claimed he couldn’t write without that particular scent wafting to his nose. (Apparently, it reminded him of his youth, wandering through the orchards in autumn at a time when wonder and innocence inspired his curiosity and expression.)

Renowned choreographer, Twyla Tharp, says that she starts every working day by waking at 5:30, putting on workout clothes, and hailing a cab to the gym.

Victor Hugo often had his servant hide all of his clothes and wrote naked so that he could not wander from his task.

Novelist Orphan Pamuk used to say goodbye to his wife like someone going to work. He’d leave the house, walk around a few blocks and come back like a person arriving at an office.  

To a non-creative person, rituals may seem nothing more than illogical eccentricity or superstition. But the truth is, creating a structure or routine is extremely helpful in making the mental transition from individual to creator and staying on task. Clearly, based on the above, effective rituals vary from person to person. I, for example, typically start any creative session by turning on music that fits the required mood, making myself a cup of coffee in my favorite mug and, often, lighting a candle. Each of these acts holds a special meaning for me, and through repeated exposure to this ritual over the years,  it has gained a kind of “magical charge” for me because I associate it with my creative state. It’s become a part of my creative process. As I move through each step I feel, very much, like an actor shedding my individual self, putting on my costume piece by piece, and assuming my character’s demeanor. It simply helps me to access the part of me that accesses creativity.

Creativity can’t be turned on and off like a faucet. It needs to be nurtured and, sometimes, coaxed. Far from a waste of time, if you’re a creative professional, observing a ritual can be one of the greatest contributing factors to your work.

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