Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"Creative Habit": #2) Rituals for Preparation

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”  Stephen King, On Writing
When I first started my blog and called it “The Write Routine” it was because I wanted to do just that…create a routine in my life that allowed me to practice my art daily.  I was seeking to find a way to allow this creativity to be a part of my everyday life. 

Well, here I am 15 months later and I still do not have a daily routine, or ritual as Twyla Tharp calls it.
The problem is that my “real life” routine keeps changing.  My job duties have changed, my living arrangements changed, my social obligations change, etc.  Yet there is a very deep longing within myself to have a writing routine. 

It’s what I equivocate with “living the life of the writer.”  Sitting down in the same place every day, at the same time and creating.  It’s what makes me wish I could quit my job. 
But what I really need to do is learn how to make room for this ritual in my life AND have my real life, too.  And that is going to take some real soul-searching.

I know many writers get up before the sun to have “their time” before the rest of their world wakes up.  But for some reason, this has been a difficult thing for me.  I like my sleep.  AND, when I am training for a marathon, I have to use that time for running.  Grrrrrr.  But once the rest of the day begins, it slips away and I have not taken that time for my craft that I should have.
In Chapter 2 of “The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life”, Twyla Tharp lays out her “Rituals for Preparation”.  She believes the very thing that worries me: ritual is taking your art seriously.
“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”.

Now, it’s easy to think of Twyla as a machine that cannot be stopped.  But she does admit to sometimes wanting to skip her daily ritual of climbing out of bed a 5:30am every single morning to hail a cab and head to the gym for a 2 hour workout.  “But the quasi-religious power I attach to this ritual keeps me from rolling over and going back to sleep.”  She takes it seriously.
But simply rolling out of bed, although quite a feat on a cold morning is not enough.

Tharp outlines 4 Preparations for Beginning:
1.       Select the environment that works for you

A lot of habitually creative people have preparation rituals linked to the setting in which they choose to start their day.  By putting themselves into that environment, they begin their creative day.

Whether it’s at a desk with a cup of hot coffee, on a patio under an umbrella, in a studio with music blaring, it is important to find a space that alerts you that it is time to work.

“There is no one idea condition for creativity.  Make it easy on yourself.  Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn’t scare you, doesn’t shut you down.  When you enter into them, they impel you to get started.  Its Pavlovian: follow the routine, get a creative payoff.”

The key is to have a place where the magic occurs.  Sure, sometimes we may feel the need to venture out to a park or a museum, but we should always return.

Where do you do your work?

2.       Develop the start-up ritual that impels you forward every day.

Kathryn Erskine, YA author of Quaking and Mockingbird, spoke at the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC last January and encouraged us to stay focused, to make time for ourselves and our craft. 

She spoke of a candle that she lights at the beginning of her writing session.  For her, this candle was a reminder of her creative spirit.  When it was lit, it was a symbol to start work.  At the end of her writing session she would blow it out.  What a beautiful ritual.

Maybe for you its brewing that cup of tea and then placing on it on the desk.  Maybe its turning on the radio and firing up the computer.  Or simply hitting a certain word count a day.  There is no right or wrong answer, but do you have a ritual that marks your creative time?  Tharp states that it is these rituals that keep us focused on our goals.  When you enter into them, they impel you to get started.  Its Pavlovian: follow the routine, get a creative payoff.”

3.       Face down your fears.

“No one starts a creative endeavor without a certain amount of fear; the key is to learn how to keep free-floating fears from paralyzing you before you’ve begun.”

Picture Book author Deb Lund recently blogged for PiBoIdMo and called these fears “Miss Midge”.  Miss Midge is the nasty voice that says miserable things to her.  Lund suggests to “name that beast inside you and move on.”

But how to do that?  Tharp recommends writing down your fears and then creating a pep talk to battle each one.

Tharp's top 5 fears are quite common and you might be able to relate:

1)            People will laugh at me

2)            Someone has done it before.

3)            I have nothing to say.

4)            I will upset someone I love.

5)            Once executed, the idea will never be as good as it is in my mind.

So she addresses each fear directly. 

One of my biggest fears is “My writing isn’t good.”  To combat this I remember past critiques where people really liked my work.  I remind myself of the growth I have been able to see in my work over the past year and the improvement that is evident. 

Take your top 5 “Miss Midge” naggings and battle them. Write them down.  Remind yourself.  Do this now, don’t wait til she speaks.  Get your fuel to stop her now.

4.       Put your distractions in their proper place.

In addition to your fears, distractions can be just as destructive. 
What is it that keeps you from working?

For me, it used to be the tv.  I would get sucked into some stupid mindless show and waste time.  However, a few years ago I took Stephen King’s advice to “blow up my tv”.  I have never been more free.

But now the distraction is social media.  My blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc.  Its wonderful to be part of such a vibrant community of writers online, but often I find myself talking about writing more than I actually write.  Therein lies a big problem.

And what does Twyla say about this?  I am sure you can guess it.  You need to rid yourself of the distractions.
“Subtracting your dependence on some of the things you take for granted increases your independence.  Its liberating, forcing you to rely on your own ability rather than your customary crutches.”

What are your distractions?  Challenge yourself to do without them for a day, or two or a week. 
I don’t know about you…but I realize that I have A LOT of preparation to do.  But remember, this is a journey.  Where we are today will not be where we are tomorrow.  It’s about growth and learning. 
Do not get overwhelmed with the information listed here, but maybe choose one step that you want to utilize or improve upon in your own practice.  Be kind and gentle to yourself.   Its called practice for a reason.

Stay tuned this week as we continue our preparation with activities on Wed and Fri.


  1. Good thoughts, Marcie...my weakness is confirmed. Social Media!!

  2. Wonderful reminders, Marcie. Especially like the reminder that you have come so far this past year. And you have! And thanks for the reminder about the candle - I still have that candle & now have a reason to put it to good use.

  3. Thank you, Marcie! I have this book, too. I really appreciate these wonderful reminders...now off to write!

  4. Marcie....you hit me right where it hurts!!!
    "But now the distraction is social media. My blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Its wonderful to be part of such a vibrant community of writers online, but often I find myself talking about writing more than I actually write. Therein lies a big problem."

  5. Marcie, I relate to so many things you said:
    ~ I wish I could cut my "real" job in half so I could devote the other half fo the time to writing!
    ~ I love my morning sleep, so getting up early to write is not for me!
    ~ I'm too distracted by TV and social media - for sure!
    ~ I often write more about writing and to writers than I do writing itself!

    Now to figure out where and when my writing routine will happen - not so easy!