On Being A Ritual Slut

Considering Tharp’s words and looking back on my writing experience, I discovered that I’ve had a floozy relationship with rituals. My count continues to increase, but I can’t seem to stay married to just one.

After class discussion, I think the art of rituals depends on the environment you create and the mindset that affects.

Environment isn’t necessarily “created” but something you insert yourself into: a location that is conducive to constructing creative content. My first time with the college writing experience, I gave myself to Espresso Royale. A coffee shop offers the picture-perfect scene, but is logistically a nightmare: machines making noises, people making noises, and where the hell are the outlets? I moved on. Next, I made an attempt with the League. The more ignored version of the Union seemed to be love at first write with its old architecture and infrequent foot traffic. However, that flame was soon squashed by the intense effort it required to walk across campus. After several more flings, I notice I was trying to combine the environment and mindset factors as one; however, I needed a strikingly practical environment in order to achieve the creative mindset I was looking for. Thus, nowadays I prefer to study at Aikens Commons. Conveniently placed across the street from my house, plenty of outlets, and a “white noise” environment where everybody else is working. Once I got past all the distractions, I could work on the creation.

Although I found love with a certain environment, I still struggle to devote myself to a ritual that inspires me to be creative. I’ve thought a lot about what Thorpe mentioned about the taxi cab before the gym. As I mentioned, minor distractions are the bane of my creative experience. Cue my newfound fleeting relationship with rituals. I tried not looking at my phone for the first two hours of the morning. I attempted to stay away from social media. I flirted with reading the news with every cup of coffee. I made a pass at playing a game of sudoku when I woke up. I pursued several different avenues of inspiring introspection, critical thinking, and cosmic thinking, but have not found the one. I always end them.

 

I think rituals need to become a habit. Which just makes me consider, why is it I can stay committed to something as unproductive and annoying as biting my nails, but I frolic between activities that would actually make me a better person?

Creative Rituals – The Blessing of Hatcher

When I was a freshman, I thought that I could write papers in the community lounge where all my friends were “doing homework” which looked a lot like watching youtube videos, playing games, and blaring music. Needless to say, I was mistaken. But, did I stop going to the lounge to write papers? No. It had become an awful ritual that never ended in productivity.

Actual image of me entering the lounge.

I realized that I had associated this room with homework even though I knew it was the worst place to do it. I went my entire freshman year spending ten hours a night in that lounge working on assignments that should have taken 30 minutes. It wasn’t until my sophomore year when I found God’s gift to this planet: Hatcher Reference Room. Finally free from the chains of freshman dorms, I was a free woman with a mission to find a place where I could actually be productive and this library was my calling. Within a week, I was going to Hatcher every day after class and on the weekends to do homework. I broke my old habit of doing assignments with friends and found that working alone was my key to success.

As a senior, I have developed a ritual of writing papers in a quiet library with no friends around me to act as distractions. However, I must admit that I do write from the comfort of my bed from time to time. I think the ritual of getting to the library is what motivates me to write. It is very similar to Tharp’s ritual of calling the cab to get to the gym. If I can get to Hatcher, I know there is a greater chance that I will be productive than if I was at home or with friends at a coffee shop.

The struggle of second semester senior year has been, surprisingly, keeping up with this ritual. After 5 semesters of perfecting this routine, I find myself less and less motivated to get to the library these days. Is this a byproduct of senioritis or does this happen to other people too? Is it possible to outgrow a ritual?

 

The Creative Ritual

Before beginning Tharpe’s book The Creative Habit, I had never really thought about any of the rituals that I have for writing. I have my own general rituals for productivity. There’s the bullet journal that I strive to maintain. Before I go to bed, I also put my keys in a bowl by my front door so I don’t forget them the next morning. This also encourages me to think about anything else I may have forgotten to do that day.

However, I have recognized how hard it can be to just start writing. This became especially clear to me last semester which was the first time I had so many writing assignments due in short periods of time. I would linger over readings and ruminate, not getting anywhere with producing for a while. Over time, I’ve found that it helps to sit down and write down whatever comes to mind about the topic in question. It doesn’t matter whether all of the words show up in the final draft. At least I have my thoughts down which can cause new ones to arise.

It can get very disorganized. After I’ve doing this, it let the document sit for a while. Eventually, I come back to it and try to make sense of it all, usually color-coding similar ideas and eliminating ones that I like.

This can be hard to do, as I consider myself a very calculated person and not the kind that can usually think before they speak. Becuase of this, I often am surprised by how much material I can develop from this exercise alone.

 

Challenge Journal 1: I don’t do Rituals

I don’t do rituals. They freak me out. I feel like I am more of a “going with the flow” kind of person, especially when it comes to writing. I don’t really like rituals as I feel like, if I had rituals before writing and I forgot to do one thing that is part of my “writing ritual” then I would not be able to write because I probably could not stop thinking about it. To me, rituals are like a “To-Do List” that you never actually finish and hate yourself for a while because of it.

I know that there are things that I do most of the time when I am about to write a paper or writing it but I can’t say that I do this all the time and that it matters to me whether or not I am doing those things. I merely am aware of this because of an essay I had to write in my Capstone Class “How I Write.” Even at the time, I had a hard time coming up with a list of things that I do as a writer because it is never the same. The only thing that I can say for sure that I do is thinking. Not really revolutionary but apart from that I can’t really come up with something.

I don’t write at the same place all the time, I don’t always write on the same laptop or in the same notebook, I don’t always have the same drink or food, sometimes I listen to music sometimes I don’t, sometimes I write everything at once and sometimes I write every other day. So yes, the only thing I actually do and could maybe count as a ritual if we are really flexible with what counts as a ritual is that I think.

Challenge Journal – Rituals

After reading Tharp’s take on rituals, I am now very clear on the importance of all rituals to the creative and writing process. I have always tried to have some form of a ritual in place to help me write: be in a quiet room, clear my mind, and just start making my fingers move, whether I have something to say yet or not. However, I do believe I usually take for granted the creative experience. As I can imagine many people have a similar thought process of, “Oh it will just come to me…I’ll write when I have an idea” I believe that these rituals are a way to speed up that process and put yourself in a position to come up with significant ideas on the spot.

One of the biggest challenges I have when I begin to write is simply picking the topic of what I am going to write about. I think back to my time I spent in SAC 210, when we were first assigned to write our 10 page screenplay. I was so excited about this opportunity, but simply could not decide on what to write about. I remember being up the night before our longline was due and going back and forth between about 10 different story ideas. Once I finally came up with an idea I was fixed on the other ideas I could have gone with, and if I had a made a mistake.

A ritual I would love to start developing is whenever I know I am going to be starting the creative process, starting to brainstorm early, and then each week cutting down my ideas from 10, to 5, to 3, and finally picking a topic that I feel the best about. But perhaps even more important than that is once I have my topic, having the confidence to stick with it. Investing into the idea, and not looking into the past and second guessing my decisions.

Challenge Journal: My writing rituals

Writing doesn’t come naturally for me until I have settled on a topic/argument. What do I do when I’m not yet inspired? I run. I run as fast as I can and picture the problems and worries of the day filtering out of my brain.

I suppose what running allows me to do is analyze and accept things that are clouding my creativity, and let them go. Sometimes these conflicts and problems fuel my imagination and become part of my argument (or story, depending on the genre) in my writing. Some might say that my problems shouldn’t mix themselves into my writing, but I disagree; why not write about the things that are at the forefront of my mind? The trials and tribulations that keep me up at night and make me wonder “why, why, why?” can drive me to create my very best (not to mention meaningful) work.

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I often find myself writing at night between the hours of 7pm and 1am (yes, I happen to be a night person). There is something comforting knowing that everyone around me is in a state of rest at that hour, so I can calm my mind and allow my brain to wonder and wander. I love looking outside at the street lamps and the moon, or at the peach-scented candle I sometimes light beside me. I love to wrap myself in heavy blankets on my bed and let my fingers work speedily on the keyboard. These warm and cozy feelings both inside and out (referred to as “hygge” by Scandanivians) allow me to concentrate and prepare my ideas to flow.

Challenge Journal, On Ritual

Before I write, I don’t think about how the creation of a piece will come to form. I sit in the library, with a tea in hand and ten hours of ocean waves crashing through my headphones, staring at a blank page waiting for my fingertips to start typing something. This something could manifest as an opening paragraph, a brainstorm of topics, a note on what to research, or whatever. There’s no tried and tested method I have that gets me into the swing of writing. The only thing I can guarantee that will precede the creation of a work is my tea and the ocean’s waves. So, according to Tharp and her ‘wake up, get in the cab’ ritual, this would be my ritual for writing. But, I don’t consider it so, as it is my ritual for everything that requires focus. It doesn’t spark the wheels of creativity or massage my brain into action, but instead it signals to me that it is time to do what I need to do.

My relationship with rituals is complicated. More recently, the crumbling of day-to-day rituals has left me lost in its debris. My life used to run on a schedule like it was a well-oiled machine, making my every day life a ritual in itself. While this appears under the guise of routine, this routine was actually a sacred ritual. Each action meant more than the action itself. My nutritional routine signaled to me that I took care of my body and what I put in it, as did my workout routine. My study habits indicated that I was working hard, taking school seriously, adequately preparing for working life, and being productive. Even the time allotted to spend with my friends had purpose and necessity, as that was the part of my day that made all the other arduous and tedious tasks seem worth it. As a result, the ways in which I conducted everyday life used to be a ritual. But such is not that case anymore, as I have begun to give into immediate desires rather than entrusting my rituals as they became too routine. The daunting thought of waking up to perform every single ritual became far too heavy for me to bear. In effect, I feel lost and confused without the comfort of familiarity to turn to. And what’s harder is trying to reignite the rituals that once guided my life, as they seem just so demanding. The notion of ritual then looks paradoxical, as it is something both of necessity and destruction.

What does this mean for the ritual I must create around the practice of writing? In my life I have clearly learned that rituals are as good as they are bad. When it works, it works and it works well. But only because I am a slave to it and because, as Tharp says, I “do it without questioning the need.” The independence I gain from abandoning ritual consequently turns life upside down and therefore makes me feel even more dependent on ritual.

So where do I go from here?

As I think about developing a ritual to help me exercise creativity as a habit, I wonder if it will even do me any good. In performing the same action prior to every writing exercise, what if it becomes to weary and daunting to even perform, making me lose my way once again? Tharp notes “by making the start of the sequence automatic, they replace doubt and fear with comfort and routine.” But my problem was in beginning to doubt and fear the comfort and routine in my daily life. Therefore, my writing ritual must consist of an anti-ritual of sorts. Something that I do every time I begin writing however something that doesn’t remain static. Perhaps the spontaneity of the ritual will enhance my creative process rather than stifle my excitement towards starting. While I could come up with a laundry list of ideas now, I figured it would be ineffective without trial and error. So, I’m curious to see where my experimentation with rituals takes me and in turn to see how it will affect my writing.

Anti-ritual ritual

My problem with rituals is that they don’t clash well with my personality. Rituals are cues that set off a course of events, typically productive events. For instance, we ritualize brushing our teeth or removing make up in order to go to bed. I stay away from these cues because I know rituals would trap me inside of them. If I commit myself to something, I dedicate myself entirely. So if I were to ritualize lighting a candle before starting to write, I would have to do every time. The problem is that it isn’t practical to light a candle every time I go to work on an assignment. Sometimes there are no matches, no lighters, and no candles. My brain would scrape against this reality, unable to comprehend, and so I’d never get to work. Of course, I could come up with a less demanding ritual—perhaps a pre-writing mantra—but I’d lose my mind in routine.

When I think of the writing process that went into my first Gateway assignment, I remember a disjointed creation that took place wherever I could fit in moments to write. On one occasion, I went to a friend’s dorm and worked on my project for six hours, eyes glued to screen, unaware of people flowing in and out of the room. Another writing day kept me in solitude at a desk, a more traditional approach. Yet another time, I found myself writing while standing; my laptop lay on my lofted bed. Each time, I inched closer to a finished product. The only thing that connected these fragments of production was the open letter they produced (my gateway assignment).

All respect to Tharp, but I think I’ve managed to be mostly productive in my own anarchist type of process. What gets me to work is the work itself. It needs to be done. Perhaps subconsciously, gestures like opening my laptop, clicking on the Google Drive icon, creating a new document, viewing Canvas modules, etc. function as mini-rituals. But the trick is not to tie myself to these gestures. Don’t think about them as stimuli, just a pathway to the work. I’d call this my anti-ritual ritual.

 

Challenge Journal 1: Rituals

There is a certain amount of weight attached to the word “ritual.” To me, it implies something vastly different from words like “routine” or “habit.” Unlike brushing your teeth or watching TV before bed (activities that I would label as routines/habits), rituals are almost sacred. They require a certain level of mindfulness and focus in order to successfully create their intended effects. Before engaging in Tharp’s discussion on creative rituals, I never thought of writing as an activity that would be accompanied by such a practice. But just like athletes go through pregame rituals to signal that it’s time for competition, I’m now convinced that writers should go through pre-writing rituals to signal that it’s time for creativity. Doing so can serve as a catalyst for tapping into the most creative parts of our thinking.

With that being said, pre-writing rituals will look different for each writer. It’s important to discover the most helpful ritual for you. Identifying what that looks like takes a lot of work. As I read through Tharp’s piece, I wondered what kinds of rituals I could engage in to support my writing process. I tinkered with some ideas pertaining to my setting and to my sensory environment, but then I realized that I’ve been engaging in a writing ritual ever since I started college: listening to music.

I don’t just put my music library on shuffle when I write; I’m actually pretty intentional about the type of music that I listen to as I’m writing. As I’ve done this, I’ve discovered that finding the right music to accompany my writing can be a powerful thing. For example, I’ve done a lot of retrospective writing throughout my college career. I often write about personal stories or past experiences that I find worth revisiting. There have been times, however, when I have a lot of difficulty placing myself back in these moments. To help me overcome this challenge, I play the music that I listened to during that corresponding period of my life, and suddenly, my past feelings and memories become much easier to access. I might write about past experiences in my Capstone project, so keeping this ritual in mind will be helpful as I move forward. I would recommend trying it to anyone who is reaching into their old memories in their writing.

Even when I’m not recalling past experiences, I still find the right music helpful for getting my mind in the right place for creativity. There’s a post-rock band called Explosions In The Sky that never fails to get my creative juices flowing. Their music contains no lyrics – just rhythms and sounds that I can casually listen to without too much effort. For whatever reason, listening to their songs takes the edge off of writing. It becomes less stressful, and writer’s block becomes easier to overcome.

Everyone is intimidated by the “empty white room” that Tharp so artfully brought to life in her writing. For me, finding the right soundtrack, the right aesthetic, and the right musical energy makes the empty white room a little less daunting. As we begin out Capstone Projects, the blank, empty pages are right in front of us. I hope that we can all find the right rituals to aid us in turning them into our best work.

Challenge Journal 1: Kind of Rituals

I don’t think that I’m a very ritual-based person. I don’t have a lot of routines or a place I have to go to study. I’m pretty organized (at least kind of organized) and I rely heavily on my Google Calendar, but this doesn’t carry over into my writing process. For as much time as I’ve spent writing as an English major and a Writing minor, I do not have a system to my writing.

Even though I don’t have a system now, it used to be much worse. Until about my junior year here, I would just jump into writing. No outlining, no brainstorming, nothing—this was an obviously based system and it made everything much harder then it needed to be. I then realized the merits of outlining, and I guess that sort of serves as a ritual now. Before I start an academic paper, I create two docs. I have a final paper doc, for actually writing the document, and an outline doc, for creating a long, detailed, bullet-pointed outline. This has worked pretty well for me.

This outlining system, so far, hasn’t really carried over into my creative writing. I took a creative nonfiction class and I don’t think I wrote a single outline. I barely utilized outlining for my Gateway course, either. I don’t know why this is the case, exactly. I know that outlining helps me in my academic writing. When I get done with my outline, everything is so detailed that it’s just a matter of filling in some transitions on the final doc. But for whatever reason, despite the success I’ve had with it, despite the peace of mind it brings me, I feel something barring me from using it for creative writing. I’m not sure what it is or how to remedy it, but maybe being cognizant of it is enough. I have a kind of ritual, and using it might be the answer to becoming a better writer.