My Coffee Shop Creativity Ritual

by Barbara Martin

in Creativity, Creativity at Work, How to Tips

I sometimes write in a coffee shop. I might go there because the peeps at home are driving me nuts, sometimes because I am feeling uninspired and hope a short stroll and change of scenery will help jolt my creativity, sometimes because I am away from home and just plain need a pit stop with a table, wifi and a caffeine fix.

Atmosphere Affects Creative Flow
Ordinarily, I would prefer to work at home in solitude. But a coffee shop atmosphere sometimes works really well for me. Why? The virtual anonymity combined with the steady background hum, the orderly flow of customers and the rhythm of busy baristas create a soothing neutral but energized atmosphere. Of course, disruptions can happen here, too: if the music is jarring, if children cry, or if there is loud rudeness then the feeling turns lousy and it impedes my creative flow. Frustrating when that happens!

The Ritual Sequence I Follow
Assuming all is well with the vibe, I perform a multi-step getting ready to work ritual, or what I consider to be a meditative creative ritual.

I get my drink in a to-go cup with a lid. I select a seat near an outlet with my back to a wall. I wipe down the table and set the cup to my right at two o’clock position. I place my bag at arm’s reach on a chair to my left. My folder goes on the table at twelve o’clock. I set my phone on vibrate and place it to the right at 3:00. I remove the lid from the to-go cup. I open my laptop. Sip my drink. And then I write.

So that’s the ritual I’ve unconsciously developed to prepare myself mentally to work creatively when I am away from home. Do you have one?

What kind(s) of creative rituals do you use?

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Marg Millard August 20, 2009 at 1:44 am

I have been making myself really work at my painting and I offer thanks for prods such as Reptitude in helping me stick with it.
I start my “ritual” the night before. When I go to bed, I try to forget all negative things and go over the “good” things of my day and chart a course for the following day and even further ahead but not more than a day or two. eg. I know I have this area that is giving me difficulty in a current project . Instead of sweating it I take a step back and look at what didn’t work and why and if I can’t find a solution, I move to right on to something else and work on that. Sooner or later, my mind, which will keep analyzing the problem in the background, will suggest something. Maybe it works or maybe it doesn’t but that is the learning way, no?
I wasn’t born a painter, I am learning to be a painter and I am going to have major disappointments but I keep chasing the effect I want and sooner or later I will get there, maybe.
In the morning, I have my meal, get my tea, glance through the paper, answer emails, go down to the road and set out the open sign, check the mailbox (we are very rural) open up the bamboo blind, turn on my music or radio, set out kibble for the “gallery cat”, go to my journal and catch up, then start……..maybe a sketch, moving onto something new and then back to finishing something started. If something isn’t happening. I sort and clean and pretty soon, so far i am back on the easel or drafting table. For now that is working very well for me. My production is up, my stewing is down and I look forward to heading down to the studio.

Barbara Martin August 20, 2009 at 1:53 pm

Marge, so much wisdom there! And you have found what works for you, that is awesome. I can’t help noticing your mention about the get up and go do something physical — that sort and clean — this seems to be true for so many creative people! Fascinating!! And the learning, the trying, the letting it percolate … great stuff!

Fabeku August 21, 2009 at 12:50 pm

I loved this post. And when I read your ritual, I started to laugh. Because it’s virtually the same as mine. Except I generally choose bookstores, and my folder goes to my immediate right. Otherwise, they’re exactly the same, including back-to-the-wall part.

When I’m at home it’s different. I may drum for awhile, or brew some tea, watching it while it steeps. Then I my space set up, spend a few minutes getting quiet and then I write, or paint, or record.

And when I’m finished I always say thank you in some way. Because I know I didn’t do what I did all by myself, so I like to give some thanks for the help.

Barbara Martin August 23, 2009 at 12:46 pm

@Fabeku The sameness — that is hilarious!

We should start a back-to-the-wall-with-a-to-go-cup club. For creative people. So I’m wondering how many peeps would join that? :)

And the thank you, all I can say is Wow. No wonder you are the king of sound!

Matt Blair August 31, 2009 at 8:55 am

Thanks for sharing your rituals, Barbara.

When going to work at a cafe or some other public place, I like to walk a bit before I arrive, at least a half mile or so if I have time. Sometimes I’m just spiraling around a nearby destination, but it helps me switch gears.

One of the reasons I leave the house to write is to escape from the internet. I pre-load browser tabs with web pages and articles and blog posts related to specific projects, and then leave wireless off. That helps to keep me from wandering. I rarely take my power cord, which creates a kind of pressure to focus and not waste time. And even though I do 80% of my writing and all my editing on computer, I always take a notebook with me so I can disappear onto paper if I need to. I tend to have a lot of drafts going at the same time, which can be overwhelming, and make a blank page seem very welcoming.

And that “what am I going to work on next” decision anxiety can be a killer, at a coffee shop or anywhere, so at the end of each session I always try to make a note or a brief plan of what I want to work on or think about or research, usually just two or three things to do next.

Barbara Martin September 5, 2009 at 12:50 pm

@Matt That transitional walk reminds me of commuters who treasure their drive/travel time for decompression and switching gears. And I totally relate to unplugging from wifi temptation!!!!!! But I’ve never heard that expression of “disappearing onto paper” — how does that unwind itself? And how do you limit to just 2 or 3 things to think/do/investigate next? :)

Eileen September 9, 2009 at 10:05 pm

I love this. It’s interesting how sometimes all it takes is mindfulness to create ritual. Like, everything you described sounds similar to what I do when working in a coffee shop, and yet I never would have called it a ritual. Now I will.

My ritual lately is shamelessly stolen from Havi: when sitting down to write a blog post I light a candle and say “I am a writer.” I just like it. :)

Matt Blair September 11, 2009 at 9:21 am

I don’t think I had ever used the phrase “disappear into paper” before that moment. It just kind of popped out. If the web is a never-ending glittering metropolis, with something interesting on every corner and down every alley, the blank page is a kind of cave, an escape from distraction and stimulus, my pen a flashlight looking around in the darkness.

How do I limit myself to a few things to do next? Sometimes very poorly! It’s always a challenge. What works for me is to zoom out from the detail work and ask myself: what are the most important things I could do next to shape this piece as a whole? I try to define really specific tasks, like: cut half the words out, or research ____, or find an image to write towards and possibly include, or re-read it and summarize my point in one sentence. Even if I don’t actually follow the instructions from my previous session, I still find that having 2-3 defined tasks helps me rebuild the mental model of the work I was doing. I guess that makes it a kind of ritual, too, even though I hadn’t thought about it that way either.

Barbara Martin September 11, 2009 at 10:04 am

@Eileen A candle! Borrowing is great — just so long as it works, that’s all that matters! And your coffee shop thing — welcome to the back-to-the-wall club.

Eric Maisel recommends using a centering sequence like his breathing/mantra technique to help focus. Seems like we all have our own adaptations.

Barbara Martin September 11, 2009 at 10:20 am

@Matt I love that image of glittery metropolis vs retreating to the cave with a flashlight.

That’s a ritual of leaving a set-up for the next time you work, sure! Gives the restart that much more focus.

When I have written morning pages consistently, it has seemed like disappearing into the paper for that half hour each morning. Contrast with the keyboard, it’s more than just the clicking keys, it’s something about the level of concentration, the mental bypassing the physical connection — yet also enhanced by it, holding the pen, feeling the paper move beneath my fingers. Maybe a neuroscientist could explain. I can’t.

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