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.

2 thoughts to “Challenge Journal 1: Rituals”

  1. Hi John,

    It sounds like Tharp’s exploration of rituals and as it pertains to the creative and writing experience really opened up your views on rituals all together. I also agree that it is important to find the ritual that works for you specifically, everyone is going to have different triggers that allow them to be “in their zone.” It sounds like music is something that is very helpful for you as a ritual, and it is interesting that you are meticulous about which music really helps you be creative. I for one have a very hard time writing with music playing or any sort of background noise, so I think this just goes to the point of how certain rituals work for certain people. When you say that you are inclined to listening to certain types of songs to bring back a nostalgic feel, I am curious if since you have starting doing this, do you make a list of songs that you listen to in the moment and the corresponding feeling? This way you could always go back find songs easily.

    – Oliver Scherick

  2. Hi Jon!
    I resonated with your response because when I occasionally listen to music while doing homework, I find that it needs to be something without lyrics, as well as a tune I’m rather unfamiliar with. The lyrics tend to distract me–I start thinking about them and their hidden meanings, and then analyzing them if they are abstract…eh, it just gets messy and I end up hitting the pause button.
    I love what you mentioned about certain songs pulling you back to the past–isn’t it funny how music does that? I think it also works that way with smells too, but I’ll spare you from that conversation…
    There’s a playlist on Spotify that I discovered a few months ago: Coffeehouse Jazz (there is also “Christmas Coffeehouse Jazz, in case you were curious). I love jazz because it’s warm and it reminds me of home, mainly because my dad is a jazz musician. I remember going to Border’s Bookstores (does anyone remember those?) when I was a child and watching my dad’s jazz trio play in the dimly-lit cafe. Dozens of people would pack into the small space on weekends to sip a latte and hear Dave Brubeck tunes. It was their weekend ritual.
    Needless to say, having low-key jazz play gently in the background while working makes me feel like I’m surrounded by my family and friends even when I’m ridiculously stressed or homesick, and also helps me get into the right headspace before writing.
    ~Bekah

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