Love Letter on Rituals


Artists are superstitious creatures. Everyone has some sacred ritual that must be consecrated before making magic. A beloved poodle’s teeth that must be brushed alongside morning coffee, for example--Gertrude Stein. Exactly sixty coffee beans that must be counted, brewed and poured into the same cup each morning--Ludwig Van Beethoven. Or—my favourite—oysters and champagne must be one’s sole diet--Isak Dinesen. Okey, maybe hers also included some amphetamines, just say no to drugs kids! These rituals may seem strange to others, obsessive even, but the secret every working artist knows is that rituals awaken the inner muse. Some believe so completely in the power of these sacred habits that they’re loathe to even share them with friends.

I should know—I am used to be one of those super secretive and superstitious creative types. Once, at dinner with writer friends in Iowa (shout out to Szechuan House), I played dumb when the What’s your routine question went around the table. “I’m a morning writer”, I lied. Not a dishonest lie. Just an incomplete truth. Because like Toni Morrison, I believe in snatching first light and working it onto the page. But my ritual is far more elaborate than just that. Let me explain.

Years ago, when I first began writing seriously, I was also enormously sick. Depressed AF. No getting out of bed except to make up strange stories about other people’s lives kind of sick. No joy and what’s the meaning of life kind of sick. Writing saved me. So did reading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. So much of what he wrote spoke to me. Invite your muse, Steven insisted in his signature I’m not taking your bullshit style. Ask the ancient Gods for their help, he nudged. Huh, I thought, feeling something stir below all the layers of pain. A prayer? An invitation to my inner God muse? Softly. Quietly. Something within me shifted.

So I tried it. Every morning, before writing, I invited my muse. Use me, I asked. And then, over years, the prayer evolved into a morning ritual fit to awaken God Herself to come out and play.

But I’m not telling you my ritual. Of course not. I’m embarrassed shy about it. Obviously not at all superstitious! And I get why you may think I’m silly or playing coy. More importantly, I know why you may resist a creative ritual yourself. That’s silly, I hear you saying. It’s stupid, it’s touchy-feely, not my style...blah blah blah. It also works. Over time, ritual trains your creative brain to kick into high gear, just as Sasha Fierce knows it's time to Epic Slay when stage lights beam On. Just as religious folk knew bitter herbs and no meat Friday meant Pesach/Easter last week. Oh and Happy Holidays, boo!

At some point, someone had to make all that stuff up. Probably some dude. Probably man-splaining. But why not invoke that same logic to awaken your creativity? It may sound stupid or obsessive or artsy-fartsy to your analytical mind. That’s ok. Do it anyway. Create a sacred daily portal into your most creative self. Go ahead—Count the coffee beans, brush the dog’s teeth, say that little prayer. Get superstitious. After all, this creative stuff is nothing if not witchcraft.