Rituals and Habituals: Setting the Mood for Creativity.

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So here I want to get into ways to program – sort of – your subconscious for productivity with things to do before each session.

There’s something to be said for setting the mood when you’re setting up for a creative session. Just like putting on your sneakers & workout clothes can help you actually start exercising, there’s things you can do to help get your mind and body where it’s supposed to be. There’s plenty of apps, techniques and just things you make up to suit you to try out and utilize.

I’m not going to get into the science of how it works, I’ll leave that to the scientists. I just know as a writer and artist I have a few things that have worked well for me, and I want to share them with you.

They can be great when you just can’t seem to settle in the chair. Over time, they’ve even helped to the point I don’t need them quite as much as I used to, though I still enjoy using all of them when I can.

Except for the browser part. I always need help with the browser part.

So, I’ll start with the things I use for writing first. For serious sessions, I close my browser altogether. Sometimes I even take the icon out of the dock, so I really have to think about digging it out. Any delay gives the inner “you know, you’re supposed to be writing” voice a chance to intervene. If checking facebook would only take a microsecond, chances are it’ll take several minutes once you’ve checked it and found things to like and comment on and all that jazz. And the longer it takes, the further it drives the ideas and writing out of your head. So, I make it take longer by burying the browser, and so I’m more aware of the time I might take if I cave in to the craving.

Of course, I do try to beat that by checking it on my phone. Now I usually banish mobile devices to another room altogether. Sometimes I even put my phone on “do not disturb” mode.

It can help to promise yourself a treat that you can check all that social media stuff at “I’ve written enough o’clock” or something. Something to make you hold tight through a few hundred more words.

There’s some serious tools out there, if you need an extra kick. Something called the Magic Spreadsheet I’ve never tried. I’ve heard about “Write or Die,” an app which can do a range of things (depending on setting) if you pause too long in your writing, the most severe of which is to start deleting the words you’ve written.

I hate software trying to boss me around for any reason at all, so that won’t find itself installed on my system at all ever. F-bleep that sh-bleep.

I recently stumbled – by accident – upon a very effective and slightly extreme technique myself: I bought a used laptop. I was moving and knew that I’d want my writing to be more easily mobile. I’ve spent much of my professional life as a graphic artist and video editor, and so have always bought towers – I can easily cram more RAM into something like that, as well as swap drives in and out of it. Up until maybe 2 months ago, I’d been making do with an iPad and a bluetooth keyboard for out and about writing, but that had grown more and more nuisancesome. So I went to eBay and found out what would fit with my very meager budget. That came to a 5-6 year old machine, with just enough RAM to keep Scrivener, Pages, and my dictionary / thesaurus open before it slows down to completely unusable. So no browsers while writing on this thing!

Sure, that does put a dent on any quickie research while writing, but hey. That doesn’t pop up nearly as often as do the urges to check social media and email that need to be put down.

I like to use sound cues, things to set the atmosphere. I love this app called Coffitivity. This offers a few variations on coffee shop sounds, a sort of white noise that actually helps get the brain into production mode. I’ve loved it, though I don’t use it all the time, and haven’t tried installing it on the new-to-me limited-RAM machine. It also works from their website in a browser. Yeah, those browsers, they’ll do anything to give you a reason to keep them open.  :p

Further into the sound cues, I often utilize a playlist for writing. I have a decent selection of mostly soundtracks, mostly instrumental, and I’ll put that on “shuffle by album” to get and keep the mood flowing – though I do have one 10-minute piece I use regularly to kick things off. I know a few writers who do this, tho’ some need it to be WAY in the background and very mellow. I personally love a good, dramatic, energy-filled piece as I’m writing an action scene.

When out and about, I wear earbuds while I’m writing, even if I’m not listening to anything. This physical cue gives me permission to tune out the things around me (often real-life coffee shop sounds), and can clue in others around me to my “do not disturb” frame of mind.

For painting, I have a whole other approach that I frequently reach for. It starts with the clothes. Just as putting on sneakers can get someone on the road to running, putting on one of my much-loved severely-splattered outfits sets the tone for painting.

I use sound here, too, but from a very different angle. Audiobooks, podcasts, and NPR come into play. Listening to something I’m very interested in can keep me glued to my seat through a chapter, episode, or round of Wait Wait Don’t Tell me.

Many of these things are naturally 45-60 minutes long, or in chunks I can assemble for a suitable period. I get them into iTunes and line up a playlist for the day. For every 45-60 minute stretch of content, I throw in 2-3 of my favorite songs. When those get their turn, I get a chance to get up, jump around, stretch, hit the bathroom, grab a snack, or make some tea. And then when the next chapter starts, it herds me back to work. For really good books, I practically race back to my seat, so I don’t miss a thing. I just have to have something, or lots of somethings, on hand that I really want to listen to. Wonderfully, we live in a world where this is not a problem.

I’ve bought books on Audible, borrowed them on CD and via Overdrive from my library, and subscribed to a bunch of podcasts and podiobooks over the years.

I listened my way through Diamond Age, Snow Crash, American Gods, Anansi Boys, Game of Thrones (several books), The DaVinci Code, Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, Steve Jobs, Imagine, The 33, The Afterlife Series, Playing for Keeps, The Takeover, Earthcore, Ancestor, Shadowmagic, and so so SO much more. Podcasts-wise, I very much enjoy I Should Be Writing, and the Accidental Creative. I stay on top of a range of NPR shows, too.

This has an interesting side-effect. When I return to an area of painting to work in more detail or correct something or even just to look at it, I often remember just what scene I listened to when I last worked on it.

So, if you have something like this, I’d love to hear what you do. And if you need something? Try a few of these things out, see what works for you. Even something as simple as making a cup of tea or taking a quick shower can help signal to the brain that it’s time to work.

Seriously, give it a try, and be sure to give it a chance to work (unless whatever you try really doesn’t help at all). Habits don’t become habits on the first try!

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