Ritual : Writing :: Key : Gate

OKAY-

I was all about process oriented work in my gateway project (see “Project Process” in my ePortfolio). The mindful territory you enter when focusing less on the destination and more on the journey is incomparable and personally productive in perhaps the lease “actually” productive ways. Twyla Tharp has, of course, schooled me because I failed to consider the impact that ritual can have on process.

Rituals are something that I have absent-mindedly practiced in my acting and singing: working out before singing, steaming, nebulizing, doing certain physical and vocal warm-ups to free the body for work, taking the time to do hair and makeup (or if you’re lucky, just pop on a wig) before a show. Each of these rituals open the gates between reality and the adopted reality of a show or audition. My rituals are ever evolving from situation to situation, and I hope they continue to do so as I learn and grow as an actor and human.

I was also raised to practice ritual before bed: bath, or shower, brush teeth, pajama set, tuck in, read a book, turn off the lights, set up all of my blankets and stuffed animals just right. Only then could I drift off into optimal sleep. Sleepovers took some getting used to for me, and even now I stumble home from a party at 3:00am and put myself in the shower before even considering hopping into bed (no more stuffed animals though, I’m afraid).

But what about writing? I could sing, act, sleep without rituals; it just wouldn’t be as fruitful. I feel that ritual is perhaps where my writing process lacks, and what could really set my creativity and productivity free.

I have come up with a small grab bag of ideas that could perhaps be  a part of my ritual as I try and unlock the gates between my everyday life and my writing:

  • establishing my writing spot somewhere in public (I can get a bit unmotivated in my own space and have been known to use spare mornings, afternoons and even evenings for cat naps) and including the walk to the destination as a part of said ritual
  • establishing a specific desk set up (I’m very big on paper products, pencils, pens, you name it)
  • or listening to the same song or playlist on my walk

If I am being quite honest, this is the first time I am making it a goal to make writing something ritual worthy. That sounds quite negative… and I don’t mean it in a harsh way, as I do really enjoy writing. But I realize that I often depend on writing deadlines for motivation. I wish I didn’t. I wish that I would write on my own accord as things come to me, wish that I would listen to the little ideas that pop in my head for an essay or the lines of a poem or song or collection and roll with it for no other reason than the fact that “I am a writer; I write!”.

Hopefully ritual will help me kill the little vampires in my head that tend to suck the life out of these little muses that I hear inside me (Count Self-Doubt). As the forming of any habit, it will take practice and failure and a little more practice and perhaps a little more failure.

Let’s do it.

Challenge Journals: Writing Rituals and Confidence?

After reading Twyla Tharp’s chapter on Rituals, I began to think about all of the rituals in my life. As I shared with Julie, my day always starts off with a glass of warm, lemon water. Before I run, I stretch out my quadriceps for 45 seconds, each. I have always thought that these mindless actions were just a part of my life, but I now realize that they’re rituals, and I now realize why I do them.

I have long struggled with confidence. I don’t think many people would believe me when I say that, as I am usually one of the loudest people in the room at all times. I attribute that to my uncanny ability to “fake it till I make it” – I will forever be a believer in that phrase. This lack of confidence, however, has transferred over to my writing, as well. I’ve been blogging under a password protected website for over 4 months… I clearly have something to say but am so nervous to say it. And that’s what I’m nervous about for this course, this project, this Capstone. What if people don’t like what I say? What if they think that I’m wrong? What if I don’t make sense? What if..?

Now let’s take a step back to rituals and talk about one of my favorites. Before a career ending injury during my junior year of high school, I played basketball religiously. One of my favorite things to do: shoot free throws. Why? It was monotonous for sure, but I knew one thing when I stepped up to the line- if I dribbled the ball twice with my right hand, spun it around, and took a deep breath before shooting…that ball was going into the basket, and I was going to get 1 more point next to my name in the stat book. A ritual that gave me confidence… could that transfer to writing?

I hope so, and I guess I’ll found out this semester. As Tharp mentioned, getting in the cab started her routine, just as dribbling the ball twice started mine. These rituals instilled confidence, and the rest was second nature. I’m hoping my writing rituals will start to do the same. As I mentioned, I attribute a lot to smells, so maybe I’ll start associating a vanilla cupcake candle with confidence.

If anyone has any other advice for instilling confidence in my writing, please do share! 🙂

Challenge Journal: Rituals (I really need some)

Three weeks ago, I sat in the beautiful, cavernous Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Here is where I would write my last game story for The Michigan Daily — one of over 200 in the past four years. And it sucked. I was writing an acerbic column about the football abomination that the Michigan football team displayed in the Peach Bowl, and the words weren’t coming to me. Had I learned nothing in college from this newspaper? I labored through cyclical writer’s blocks, thesaurus reading, and getting a comprehensible idea down on the page. When it was done, my editor said he loved it. But I still thought it sucked.

I can truly say that I don’t have trouble starting the writing process. Sure, I can experience the typical struggles every writer goes through, but at the end of the day I’m a punctual, detailed writer. I had never needed a routine: no specific location, drink of choice, or anything to get me moving. It just happens, and that thought process has given me a lot of comfort to get things done.

Despite the relative ease for me to put words down, my column writing experience from a few weeks ago is my norm. Even though the writing occurs, the process can be strenuous with little validation. And when I finish my work, I hardly feel overcome with joy or satisfaction. I call it being results-oriented, but even then I only submit work that feels good enough to me. This unfortunate realization sparked by this class has created a need for personal change. With a few added rituals, I hope to inspire confidence in my ability to rituals and become more process-oriented with my work. Hopefully then writing becomes a wholly delightful experience. Some rituals that I didn’t think I needed, but hope to implement include:

First, leave my house. I often get consumed by the convenience of my home: a bed, a bathroom, a TV, snacks, and friends are right there, so it’s where I work. But all of these factors ultimately distract from focusing on the writing process. With more frequent, smaller windows to type sentences, writing becomes more laborious. With a clearer, quieter mind, which can be found in a more remote work space, I can write within a stream of consciousness and examine my writing more completely.

Second, celebrate after a finished assignment. Nothing too fancy, but something to look forward to beyond closing computer tabs and my laptop like seeing a movie or buying a nice meal.

Yes, they are baby steps. But I think it’s a good start and I am open to any suggestions that others have to reward themselves for their writing.

New Years Ritual-ution

When reading or working on my computer, I always have a pen and paper next to me. I like to think it’s there so that I can take notes and remember what I’m doing, but the really reason it’s there is because I don’t feel comfortable without it. It’s just something I’m compelled to do even though there might not be a great explanation for why it’s there. So, before I walk into the “white room” of whatever I’m about to do, pulling the pen and paper out to act as a buddy by my side is an example of a kind of ritual that helps me prepare to create.

As a high school baseball player, my coach was simply obsessed with rituals. Everything about each game had to be the same, from the order we walked off the bus, to the counting of stretches, finally to the infield and outfield warmup. If we messed up at all, he was absolutely infuriated. This was his ritual. Just I feel irked when I don’t have a pen and paper next to me when I’m writing on the computer, a faulty warmup would test Coach Cimini’s mental stability. Looking back, the reason he may have been so focused on this strict regiment (we thought it was absolutely absurd) because it was the part of the day that he felt like he could control. Once the game started, as a coach, the game was mostly out of his hands.

Tharp hits on this point as well. “To some this might seem superstitious, but a superstition is nothing more than a ritual repeated religously. The habit, and the faith invested in it, converts it into an act that provides comfort and strength.” When going into the creative environment (for Coach Cimini — managing the baseball game; for me — producing my best work for school), it is extemely beneficial to have ‘comfort and strength’. Wouldn’t it be great if we always felt comfortable, and strong?

I wish I had more ritual in my life. I can’t say that every morning I do a certain activity or each evening at 6:30 I watch Jeopardy. Mostly, I think it’s because my life is always changing, and I don’t mind constantly changing pace. It’s part of what keeps my head on a swivel, keeps me alert — the challenge and excitement of new experiences everyday. That being said, as Tharp points out, rituals don’t have to revolve completely around the activities you do. It can be as simple as taking ten deep breaths each day after lunch to recenter yourself and prepare yourself to have a productive remainder of the day.

I’d like to have an activity as a ritual, such as hailing a cab to the gym (as Tharp does) each morning. But my lifestyle has never been that structured and I’m not sure it will be in the next few months before I graduate. So, rather than focusing on an actual activity, a chunk of time, that becomes my ritual, I’m resolved to create ritual in other ways throughout my day.

OK here’s an idea: I’ll listen to the same song each and every time before I start work on my Capstone project. I’m interested to see how this will affect my state of mind and creative potential. As I’m getting started with brainstorming, analyzing potential ideas, and challenging myself to think in new, creative ways, this could be a way to put myself in a happy place of strength and comfort. Now, to the depths of Spotify to find a tune!

How to begin: rituals for writing success

Over the years I’ve tried many rituals to kick off productive and profound writing sessions. Some of them have been effective, others not so much. All of my writing rituals have been incredibly mundane, but I don’t think such things need to be exciting. They’re simply meant to put me into a mindset that is conducive for focused production of text.

 

I solidified the best and current version of my set of rituals in the Fall semester of 2016. My “final exam” for an upper-level political science class covering the political history of modern (1945-present) day Germany required a total of 20 pages of essays to be completed in approximately five days. As you can imagine, I needed a way to kick myself in the ass and get going.

 

Firstly, I cannot write anywhere other than at my own desk, typing on my own personalized keyboard. There are LEDs underneath the keys set to a brilliant purple color, and the light travels in waves across the keys, bouncing from side to side at a steady pace. Purple is my favorite color, and the wave pattern gives me something pleasant on which to focus. The keys themselves are set on mechanical switches, rather than rubber domes, which gives them that late 1990s clickety-clack, IBM type sound.

 

Secondly, it is important for me to be totally comfortable. In the warmer months, this means wearing basketball shorts and an undershirt. In the cold months, sweatpants and hoodies. I can’t work in jeans; I don’t know why.

 

Thirdly, a beverage is important. Coffee, an energy drink, water, you name it. I need something to sip on.

 

With these tools, I’m usually able to produce some sort of useful writing. However, as I’ve written these steps out, I notice that while I practice many preparatory rituals, I have no finish line, no congratulatory obligations. Perhaps I would feel more motivated to reach the end of whatever segment I’m working on if I knew there was a mini-reward waiting for me. Should it be a favorite snack? An episode of whatever I’m currently binging on Netflix? A smoke break? I’ll be trying out some of these ideas over the next few days; I’m almost always working on something. Maybe I’ll post a followup about how each ritual felt. Let me know if you have any suggestions, please.