creative ritual

The Power of a Good Creative Ritual

5 Things You Need to Know

I know what you’re thinking. Is this some woo-woo, fluffy, mantras in the mirror type thing?

That’s a big NO! (insert belly laugh here) Definitely not! If you don’t like the word ritual, use the word routine…although that word sometimes scares the heck out of a creative as well. Who wants to be locked into a routine!

A ritual is simply an established or specified process.

It’s something you do consistently to get ready for…insert your activity here. You already have more rituals in your life than you realize. Do you do the same basic things in the same order in the morning when you get up? What about when you prepare to go to bed at night? Guess what? You have rituals. Call it a routine, habit, system, whatever…. it helps you prepare for whatever you’re doing next. Athletes have them before games. Musicians, dancers, and actors have them before going on stage. Speakers have them before making presentations.

If you’re a creative who’s having trouble getting in there and doing your thing, you need a ritual to prepare your mind!

Creativity is something that many of us take for granted. It’s fun and we enjoy it, but we really don’t prioritize it. Especially if we are being “creative” for our own joy and happiness. There’s no deadline or client applying any kind of pressure to get the work done.

And, even if you are a “professional” creative responsible for the income, that doesn’t mean you enjoy it all the time! Sometimes it feels impossible to get into the flow.

What you need are habits and routines that feed your creative process, to keep your energy and inspiration up! That “ritual” is what primes the pump; it preps your mind to get excited about what you’re getting ready to attempt.

Why Does a Creative Ritual Matter?

A ritual, even a creative one, is developed through the power of habit. Creativity is dependent on inspiration. To be successful, that inspiration and motivation is built on top of a foundation of habits and routines. Why? If you have a routine in place, that takes the “decision making” out of the equation and the routine signals the brain that it’s time to create.

If there’s no routine, you walk into the situation with all kinds of (false) decisions to make: “Is this what I want to be doing? What else could I be doing? What should I do? Is now the right time? Should I wait until the perfect time? Maybe I should try something else first. Do I really want to do this? Maybe I should look up some ideas on Instagram. I should probably wait until the laundry is done so I have a clear head.” Sound familiar?

It won’t take your brain long to talk you out of your creative practice because of ALL the overwhelming decisions that “need” to be made first! Newsflash – those decisions don’t “need” to be made – not right now, and probably – not at all!

When you have a routine in place, it frees up your mind and strips the “emotional” brain of any of the decision-making power! Your ritual or routine helps get your mind in the right mood and get down to business. I can’t tell you how often I rely on my rituals and routines to get all of my “things” done!

5 Elements of a Creative Ritual

There’s no right or wrong ritual. The right one is the one that works for you. However, there are a few things that are common among them:

They take time to perfect~

Give yourself some grace. You won’t go from having no habits or rituals to having a fully fleshed out routine overnight. Finding what works for you is a process. You’ll try a variety of things, adding something here, rearranging something there, or just scrapping the whole thing and trying something new. You may have an idea of what works for you already but let yourself change as you feel inclined until something feels “just right”…and it works!

They remove distractions and excess~

The best creative rituals carve away distractions and excesses until it’s just you, your creativity, and the tools of your craft. Close your email and silence your phone. Use noise-canceling headphones if necessary and forget that to-do list. Mark McGuinness, a poet and coach, only uses one particular coffee mug during his writing time. Maybe you only write with that one special brand of pen. Create a time and space for you to simply be a creator.

They tend to involve the senses~

Whether it’s Beethoven smelling the fresh coffee beans as he counted precisely 60 per cup or Gertrude Stein’s huge pure wool bathrobe, the senses play a vital role in establishing a creative ritual. Just think: the softness of warm wool, the slick surface of a pencil, or the smell of the wood shavings and graphite dust. How can you incorporate an extra sense into your own creative ritual? What feeds those positive emotions that fuel your creativity?

They’re done consistently~

The power of the creative ritual lies in the power of habit. In Creatively-U we talk a lot about the power of good habits and how to build them. Because a habit is so powerful, your routine will become even more effective if you do it consistently. You might not do it every day, but the more you do, the stronger it will be and the more it will work for you. This is one you’ll set up consciously, so it will help you, not get in your way.

They have a purpose~

You get to decide how to use a creative ritual. Do you want something that helps you get energized and motivated to just go in and start? Is it something you want to use to make sure you finish your projects? Or do you need to have a go-to routine, so you make sure you cover all your brilliant ideas? Like me, you may have several and each has a different purpose.  We all have a bedtime ritual that we probably aren’t aware of. Never-the-less, it’s there to prepare us for relaxation, rejuvenation, and sleep. As you experiment with your creative ritual, keep your purpose in mind.

Which brings us to-

Rituals Can Vary Depending on the Project

There are a lot of creative things I need to do to keep my business rolling. I need to write these articles. I have to build out course lessons. And I have podcast scripts to write. When I sit to write, I have to be in the right frame of mind because writing is not something I “enjoy” as a creative pursuit. (I don’t hate it – but I’m not a novelist or a playwright). So writing is reserved for a certain time of day when I know I will have the greatest concentration. I boot up the computer and gather my inspiration for whatever I am writing. Then I put on the “writing playlist,” light the writing candle (always citrus) and brew a cup of tea. I usually have some sort of biscotti or little tea biscuit. The music must be soft and instrumental because I find anything with words distracting when I’m trying to write.

For my mixed media collage work, the ritual is totally different. The playlist is louder and more energetic, the drink of choice is usually coffee, an iced beverage, or possibly a cocktail! I’m able to concentrate on these projects even if I’m tired because the textures and colors light me up regardless. If I don’t want music, I’ll enjoy a podcast or an old movie in the background for some “human” company. I know it’s play time when I put on that particular apron, pull my hair back, give Cosmo a hug and toss him a waded-up piece of paper for him to play with. I place a small collection of his favorite art supplies on the corner of the table for quick access and to keep him out of MINE! It’s time to go to work.

Some Ideas for Your Creative Ritual

So, what are some things that you can try to create a new ritual that will help you stay consistent in your creative practice? The possibilities really are endless. And like me, you may develop several depending on what you’re doing.

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Consider all your senses. Scents are expressive, and they’re powerful triggers for mood. Scent is a great tool for building a creative routine. Remember, even the scent of your paints or a freshly sharpened pencil can do the trick! I find the same works for sound. It can be music, windchimes, or outdoor sounds in the summer that get you in the mood to create. Is there a certain window that has beautiful light coming through? Is there a certain piece of clothing that signals comfort and ease? Is there a smooth rock that inspires you as you rub it in your hands before knitting? Consider sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
  • Consider your comfort. Don’t let yourself get too cold or hot. If you’re going to sitting or standing for a long period, try starting your creative ritual with some stretching, a yoga flow, or a happy dance to get the blood flowing. This really speaks to the any movement or body position that might inspire you and trigger creativity. Sometimes that simple act of moving can put you in the right space.
  • Consider your environment. Nature is not only a source of inspiration but being outside in the sun is good for your health. A quick walk and some fresh air can be an excellent creativity tool, especially if you’re not feeling motivated. And if you’re a writer, sometimes the ritual can be arriving at a coffee shop, ordering your usual beverage, and then putting on your headphones to begin your next chapter. Make sure the area where you do your creative craft is a place you want to be in. Make sure your environment is inviting and comfortable.
  • Consider your distractions. Yes, sometimes silence is the best thing. Even if you think you’re a music person, give silence a try. This is especially important when it comes to your phone or computer. Those constant notifications can be distracting and pull you away from your craft. You might also consider “white noise.” There are several machines that produce “white noise” but you can use a fan, or play some background nature sounds, ocean waves, or thunderstorms.

I follow a lot of creatives and there are as many things to try as there are people. Whether it’s a particular coffee mug, a special soundtrack, or a favorite nibble, find the combination that works to get you in the right mental space to create. Maybe it’s twinkle lights, maybe it’s chocolate, maybe it’s the smell of pencils and paper.

Consistency Over Content

The content of your creative ritual is less important than the fact that you build it, do it, and do it consistently. And remember, it will take a while to get it just right. This is a trial-and-error thing. You may already have an idea of things you’d like to include, so start there. Make sure it doesn’t get bloated and take more time than necessary. Let it be easy. It may also change over time depending on how you and your creativity evolve.

Here’s an example: Joanna Penn, a thriller novelist who lives in the UK had a writing ritual that included her morning at a local café where she stood at a certain table with a cup of tea and the sound of rain and thunderstorms through her headphones. When the pandemic made going to the cafe impossible, she found it difficult to write. For three weeks she struggled. She found she had to develop a new ritual for use at home. Her environment had to change as did the time of day. She chose the soundtrack to Game of Thrones since her old soundtrack was strongly associated with the café. She reports that she finished the new novel and is getting ready for release.

So, what is your creative ritual? Do you have more than one? What fun things do you include? Leave a comment below and let me know. Join me LIVE on my Facebook page, Virginia Leigh Studio, at 3:00 pm Central every Wednesday to ask questions and talk about our most recent topic. I’d love to hear how your creative rituals are going.

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If you’d like help developing your own creative rituals, grab my FREE “DIY Creative Ritual Kit” below. It’s a fun and engaging guide to building your own rituals, full of ideas, activities, and examples to help you build that perfect creative prep-step!