How to Kick-Start Your Creativity With a Ritual

Tiu De Haan
The creative director of a global agency recently told me that when she gets stuck for ideas, she stands on her desk."It literally gives me a different perspective," she says. "A bit rebellious, maybe. But it works for me."

Given that Motley Crue's backstage demands include a 12-foot boa constrictor, a sub-machine gun and a jar of Grey Poupon mustard, I think she may have some wriggle room when it comes to rebellious rituals that spark creativity.

In fact, learning about the daily rituals of the great creative minds is an education in eccentricity. Some greeted their pots and pans at 7am (Jung), others took naked "air baths" before settling down to work (Benjamin Franklin), and some wrote only when there was a cow in view (Gertrude Stein).

We all have creative ideas lurking in the backs of our minds. The snag is that's where they often stay. Creating a ritual to access your own creativity helps you to get your words on the page or your colours on the canvas.

The trick is experimenting with what works for you.
Day or night-time, bed or coffee shop, laptop or notebook. Long walks or short naps. Strict schedules or permission to procrastinate.
There are no rules, other than those we create for ourselves.

As a celebrant, I help people to create rituals of all kinds that bring a little magic into the mundane. I also coach people who want to access their creativity.
And so I use creativity rituals every day.
In fact, I rely upon them.

I am - allegedly - writing a book. It covers life, love and death. It is a book born of my heart, brain, guts and soul. It feels like a baby forming in my belly, a huge new presence whose existence will transform everything, when its due date eventually arrives.

No pressure, then.

The thing is that writing the book is so important to me, so weighted with the potential and power that I have ascribed to it, that suddenly, by contrast, everything else on my to do list seems seductively shiny and incredibly fun.

Clean the fridge? Why, I don't mind if I do.
Tackle the tax return, months ahead of schedule? Bring it on.
Clear out the bottom of the laundry basket? Hand washing never seemed so sexy.
Write a blog or two or three? Hello, dear reader. It's been a while.

So in avoiding writing the book, this is what I have ended up doing instead. Writing about ritualising writing.
In order to avoid writing.

Perverse? Yep.
Productive? Kinda.

The kitchen cupboards are arranged so neatly it's like playing Tetris in 3D. Exercise has changed from a chore to a treat, with muscles appearing in places where until recently I only had, well, places. My receipts are filed in date order and my desk is spotless.

Procrastination itself can be part of the creative ritual. It can clear the decks, both inner and outer. And it means that when I actually start writing, the words can flow and I have a clean fridge.

Four simple ways to kick-start your creativity:

1. Create a ritual.
In my case, one more coffee than is strictly sensible and lighting a particular candle. There's something about the extra blast of hot, strong fire-power that helps my brain form itself into words. When combined with a candle with a particular smell - hinoki wood, in this case - it's as if my senses inform my errant brain that writing time has begun. Create a ritual that is meaningful to you. Make it brief, multi sensory and easily done. And do it every time you get to work.

2. Turn off the wifi.
Get an app that makes it impossible to go online without restarting your computer. Or take yourself somewhere where offline is the only option. There's a writer who works best when she is on a plane or train where distractions can't dispel her focus. Or go analogue and take your notebook to a park.

3. Set a time limit.
Put your phone on airplane mode and set a timer for 30 minutes. When it sounds, stop whatever you're doing and reset it for 5 minutes. Take a break. Facebooking, tea making, dancing, anything goes. Then set it for another 30 minutes and get back to work, knowing the stretch is short enough to be manageable, yet long enough to be productive.

4. Agree a deadline.
Any deadline will do, as long as it isn't solely with yourself. It might be an agreement with a trusted friend or a regular meeting of like-minded artists where you share your work. Better yet, set a deadline which may open up new possibilities - a competition submission, a funding proposal, a meeting with an agent.

There is a you-shaped space in the world that only you can fill - and a creative ritual is one way of deliberately stepping into that space.

Now, all I need to do is stand on my desk, say hello to my frying pan and go and find one of Gertude Stein's thought-provoking cows.

Tiu de Haan is a facilitator, cultural analyst, writer, creative entrepreneur, singer and celebrant. In addition to helping businesses unlock creativity, Tiu is the creator and founder of Eyeshine, a successful not-for-profit devoted to reminding people of all ages how to see the magic in the mundane.

This article was originally published 27/05/2015 at

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