This is a guest post by Jamila Mustapha.
A deadline’s approaching. There’s a ton of work to complete. There are ideas to come of up with and guest posts to write… but your writing creativity seems to have deserted you.
You’ve tried to lure it back by applying the standard advice about fueling your creativity. You’ve even gone as far as to create a little writing ritual to trigger your creativity that way. Nothing as weird as sniffing rotten apples, but a ritual nonetheless.
Every time you sit your butt down to write, the blank page simply stares straight back at you.
Like many others, rituals to provoke your writing creativity just don’t seem to work for you. Have you ever noticed that all the advice about creating rituals seems to be lacking the answer to one vital question:
What makes them work?
In order to combat these paralysing moments of writer’s block you need a sound understanding as to what makes a writer’s ritual work – and crucially, a step-by-step guide to creating one that works.
That’s where this post comes in…
She does what?
The writer Sidonnie-Gabrielle Collette hunts for fleas from her dog’s back before she sits down to write. How is it that this ritual puts her in a creative state and why is it that when you try to hunt for fleas too, it simply doesn’t work?
I’ll tell you why!
It’s because Collete has successfully created a neurological link between flea hunting and a creative state of mind. When she flea hunts, she’s effectively communicating to her brain: “Hey dude, I want to write, put me in a creative state”.
Because the link has been created, her brain understands what it means when she performs this action. Flea hunting has been anchored to her creative state and so it works for her now every single time.
Anchoring occurs when a stimuli puts you in a certain state automatically. Collete’s brain responds to the message by putting her body and mind in the most resourceful state to write. Without that linkage, the ritual simply wouldn’t work.
How anchoring can work for you
Our lives are full of examples of anchoring – they happen every single day, usually unconsciously. For example, you detect a delicious aroma of food in the room and immediately feel hungry. That hunger apparently wasn’t there before. You feel hungry because the sweet aroma of food has been successfully anchored to a state of hunger that triggers automatically.
So a ritual is nothing but a stimulus that has been anchored to your creative state.
Successful anchoring largely depends on congruency. Your mind, your body and your physical environment need to all be in tandem towards achieving a particular goal.
The basics you need to get right before we start creating your own writing ritual are:
- Your state of mind must be favorable. A positive mind is much more receptive than a negative one. If you want to write and you’re already thinking of all the things that can go wrong, you’re unconsciously blocking your creativity.
- Your body should be comfortable too. From the clothes you wear to your posture and breathing – everything should be in a relaxed state. If you prefer to write in a suit rather than in your pajamas, don’t do otherwise.
- Your physical environment has to be conducive to work and creativity. You can’t make your writing spot a place that’s too hot or too cold, too distracting or too cluttered.
Although you may already know all these things consciously (they’ve been written about enough), it’s important to note that these little details don’t go unnoticed by your brain – they all add up.
How to create your own rituals
Now that you know why your writing rituals up until now haven’t worked, how do you create one that does?
First, be aware that an effective ritual can be used in two different ways:
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- When you want to begin writing (like Collette in the above example.)
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- When you feel stuck or distracted (like Beethoven who made frequent visits to the bathroom while composing in order to pour pitchers of water on his arms!)
But the best ritual is one that works for you any time and anywhere you want to write.
Your writing ritual can be connected to anything – an object, an action, a sound or a smell. The best rituals combine two or more sensory stimuli to give your brain an unmistakable signal.
Anthony Robbins said:
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“When a person is in an intense state, when the body and mind are strongly involved together and a specific stimulus is consistently and simultaneously provided, the stimuli and the state becomes neurologically linked.”
Which means you have to do the initial work first before it can start to work automatically. So here goes:
Four steps to creating writing rituals that work:
Step one: Get into a creative state
First, think of a time when you felt absolutely creative. A time you wrote what you consider to be a masterpiece. A time when the words just kept flowing and the process of writing felt blissful.
Recall what state your body and mind were in when you achieved this. If you sat down on a particular chair that day, do the same. If you listened to a particular piece of music to get focused, listen again.
This is by no means something you’ll need to do each time you want to find your writing creativity in the future. Instead, its purpose is simply to put you in a creative state so that you can create a link between that state and a particular stimuli.
Then start writing. Write something you feel comfortable writing but that requires your complete focus and attention. When you feel your body and mind are in an engaged state and the words are flowing freely as if they’re writing themselves, you’re in your creative state… and you’re ready for step two.
Step two: Create your stimuli/anchor/ritual
Your ritual has to be unique.
It can’t be something you’re already used to doing, seeing or hearing, or else your brain won’t get the message. If for example you usually sniff a green hanky that always carries a vanilla scent, then sniffing that won’t work as your anchor because you’re too used to seeing and smelling it.
The more unique (and random) the better! You create the anchor by supplying a stimulus while in a heightened state of creativity.
Step three: replicate exactly
Go through step two again and repeat your stimuli exactly as you did before. Repetition at this stage is incredibly important. You’re trying to communicate something specific to your brain so if the anchors are different, your brain just won’t get it. The key to creating a successful ritual is replication, repetition and consistency.
So repeat, repeat, repeat!
It might take a while, but your brain will eventually get the message. Why? Because it’s built that way.
Step four: Test your ritual
Test your ritual when you’re not in a creative state. Does it put you in the state you were in when you created the ritual?
If it does, excellent! If it doesn’t, it means the link has not been created. Did you replicate your ritual exactly and repeat it enough times for your brain to hook onto it? Try again. This is science – which means it works!
Why weird often works best
Why did all the famous writers have such strange rituals to get them into a creative state? I’d say because weird works best. Weird is unique and uniqueness is what makes a good anchor.
Having said that, so long as your ritual is unique to you and you can replicate it exactly, it really can be whatever you want it to be – weird or otherwise.
If you can master this, you can change and achieve all sorts of things in your life. Controlling your creative state means you can produce work when you would otherwise be stuck with writer’s block. It also means you’re more likely to see the quality of your work improve considerably.
If you could master your creative state of mind to your every whim, what would you do next?
Take on more work, write that book pent up inside of you – or just spend less time worrying about what to write and more time actually writing it? Let us know in the comments section below.
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Jamila Mustapha is a Nigerian-based freelance blogger and ghost writer for hire. You can connect with her on Google+.
Image courtesy of opensource.com via Flickr.