Last week we talked about the illusion of creative freedom. We, as writers and artists love our creative freedom, but when it comes right down to it, we need some kind of structure in our lives in order to let our creativity blossom.
We all have little rituals that keep us going throughout the day. These rituals are what define our creative boundaries. They give us a starting point from which to leap and do amazing things. You may not think you have any structure going on, but you do. If you take a good look around you, you’ll see it. And you’re not alone.
What is Ritual?
Wikipedia says “a ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. The term usually excludes actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers.”
Unlike a habit, which is started unconsciously, a ritual is a specific set of actions consciously created for a specific purpose. Rituals have been around as long as storytelling has, which is kind of cool to think about and see how they both go hand in hand.
All kinds of people use rituals for all kinds of reasons. Athletes use creative visualization to envision the perfect outcome to competition. Actors might gather together to perform their own ritual before going on stage to rid themselves of opening night jitters and focus on the show.
Writers have them, too.
When we hear the word “ritual” it may conjure up images of mystics calling the spirits within a magical circle of candlelight, or a shaman dancing around a brightly flaming bonfire. It may make you think of a tarot reader sitting across the table from you reading your fortune from brightly illustrated cards.
The thing about ritual isn’t that the “magic” lies in the cards or elaborate displays, those things are only focal points for the mind. Images on the cards can trigger deeper impressions from our mind. Putting on a costume or mask can help us to step outside ourselves and become someone else.
It’s all about focus and sending a signal to your creative self that says you are ready to create.
The Building Blocks of Distraction
We use our computers for many different things. Maybe too many. Our computers are our work stations and our entertainment centers. The spaces they occupy are the places that connect us to the world and at the same time our islands of solitude. Our environments trigger many different responses in our brains the moment we sit down at the keyboard. The feelings you get sitting down at a computer in a public office will be very different from the feelings you get from a home office.
Working at home, you may spend a lot of time at your computer. For one day, try to be conscious of what you feel when you sit down to write or work. Are you as focused as you’d like to be? What distracts you? Do you suddenly feel blocked and find you’re doing more surfing looking for inspiration than anything else?
If you’re noticing that a lot of these distractions are unconscious actions, you’ve got yourself some habits to get rid of. It’s time to consciously create a ritual for yourself to get focused.
If we look at the working rituals of some of the greatest authors of our time, we find each of these individuals had or have very structured days. Nothing is left to chance and all of it was done rain or shine, whether they felt like it or not.
CS Lewis would keep to a very strict regiment with his entire day mapped out to the smallest detail. Stephen King uses the same chair, at the same desk, at the same time of day for a specified amount of time to give his mind a clear signal it’s time to work. Alexander Dumas would start each day munching on an apple in the shadow of L’arc De Triomphe to connect with his Muse. And Hemingway would only write as the sun rose each morning and no other time.
Your writing time and the place you do it must be sacred to you. This is where your magic happens and the only way you will enable that trigger to work in your mind is to get rid of the distractions.
Here are a few of those attention leeches you can eliminate from your workspace to get you started:
- Instant Messaging. You don’t have to be available 24/7. Turn off the IM or put up a Do Not Disturb.
- Email. You don’t have to answer these the second they come in. Let the email sit. As long as you get back to someone within 24 hours, that’s respectable.
- Food and/or smoking. You ever wonder why people have such a hard time with over-eating or quitting smoking? Because they’ve built up all these little habits that are associated with other things. Yes, I speak from experience. I used to smoke when I wrote at the computer. When I quit smoking several months ago I found it almost painful to sit at the computer and try to write anything. I couldn’t think! It was horrible! And the worst part? I couldn’t figure out why. Then one day it hit me and once I made that connection, the block was gone.
- Your Computer. Yesss…your own computer can work against you. If you play video games, surf for entertainment, or do any number of seemingly harmless activities in front of your monitor, you could be setting up a trigger that’s going to get you every time.
Have A Plan — And Stick To It
Monday is Design Day for clients. Tuesday is Blog Writing Day. Wednesday is Ezine Production and more graphics. Thursday is Work On The Business Day. And Friday is Fiction Focus, which includes anything having to do with marketing Loyalties or writing book two, Uncivil Wars.
This is my weekly ritual. The moment I deviate from this schedule is when the problems start and the creativity takes a dive. As much as I’d like to think I don’t need the structure, I find I absolutely need it or I start to flounder. As an artist, I want to rail against any kind of boundaries that appear to tie me down. But that whole freedom thing is an old rule us artists are fed as soon as we’re old enough to hold a crayon in our hands. Where is it written that artists should not have boundaries?
Nowhere but in our own minds.
If you really want to get that novel written and fly uninhibited on the wings of creativity, start by creating the rituals to free your mind. Once you set up this kind of abstract structure you’ll experience a freedom you’ve never felt before. The blocks will disappear and the inspiration will flow. You’ll be able to tackle the little day to day things, no matter what they are and set yourself on the path to success.
Photo: Hemingway’s library; Carl Miller