‘People seldom see the halting and painful steps by which the most insignificant success is achieved.’ Anne Sullivan
In her hugely insightful book ‘The Creative Habit’, choreographer Twyla Tharp talks about the way in which starting her day with a ritual prepares her for the intensely creative work she does during the rest of the day.
Examples of rituals
Twyla Tharp’s own ritual is to work out in the gym for two hours; but she also describes very different rituals adopted by composers, writers, painters etc.
For example, Igor Stravinsky’s daily ritual consisted of sitting at the piano and playing a Bach fugue. As Twyla Tharp speculates, perhaps he needed the ritual to feel like a musician, or the playing somehow connected him to musical notes, his vocabulary. Perhaps he was honouring his hero, Bach, and seeking his blessing for the day. Perhaps it was nothing more than a simple method to get his fingers moving, his motors running, his mind thinking music. But repeating the routine each day in the studio induced some click that got him started.
Beethoven, on the other hand, would start his day with a morning walk. He would use the walk to scribble into a pocket sketchbook the first rough notes of whatever musical idea inevitably entered his head. Having limbered up his mind in this way, he would return to his room and start to work.
How can a ritual help you?
As Twyla Tharp says, turning something into a ritual eliminates questions such as ‘why am I doing this?’ or ‘do I like this?’. And through taking out the element of uncertainty from the start of your day, you prepare your body and brain for the more challenging creative work you are about to engage in.
How a ritual may help with creating legacy
Twyla Tharp’s emphasis of the importance of preparation rituals for creativity got me thinking that this would be an excellent way to start the day for anyone wanting to create legacy, whether in a traditionally ‘creative’ field or not.
For my part, since reading ‘The Creative Habit’, I’ve tried to find something that I can turn into a ritual (the ritual has to be right for you; and it has to be effective and reliable in kick-starting a productive day). I’ve tried starting the day with drafting blog posts; creative writing; stretches; reading; meditation. None of this seemed to work reliably enough. But about a week ago, I’ve initiated every day by typing something up for about an hour or so – either the creative writing notes I had taken during the previous day, or my notes on the latest book I had read (I always take tons of notes).
It’s too early to tell, but I’m starting to think that this might become my ritual – it seems to have worked wonders so far. I guess as I do most of my work at the computer, starting my day at the computer gets me ‘warmed up’ to my environment for the day. Indeed, one of Twyla Tharp’s observations is that many habitually creative people have preparation rituals that are linked to the setting in which they work. On the other hand, the fact that typing up notes does not feel overwhelming helps to ease me into my work environment for another day of writing.
What about you?
Do you have any ritual to kick-start your day? If you do, or if you have any other thoughts related to this post, I’d love to read about it in the comments section.
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