Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Creative Environment & Rituals

A few years ago, I taught a creativity class at a local community college. Each term, I talked a bit about the need to determine your best creative environment; whether you prefer background noise, solitude, other warm bodies in the room, etc. 

My preference of when and where to create can alter from book to book, week to week and year to year depending on changes in my life situation. For instance, when I had small children at home, I needed peace and quiet in order to write. I wrote early in the mornings before my family woke up, closed away either in my home office or propped up on pillows and under the covers in bed in my spare bedroom. And I would revise what I'd written during breaks at the part-time law-office job I had at the time.

Now that the kids have grown and moved out of the house, I feel stifled sometimes by the confines and solitude of my home office. I often write in coffee shops where there's background noise, but not noise that's directed at me--as was the case when I was raising children! I also write outside sometimes when weather permits.

Long ago, I noticed that ideas and words seem to flow more freely from my mind into my fingertips and onto the page or computer screen when there's water nearby. Since I live in the landlocked great plains and don't have an ocean, river or stream within easy driving distance, my husband and I have turned our backyard into our very own tropical paradise, complete with palm trees, lush foilage and flowers, and even a waterfall. Watching the water trickle over the rocks, listening to the soothing, musical sound of it, somehow frees up my imagination. (To read a good discussion on the topic of water and creativity, click here.)

Famous 20th Century patron of the arts and author of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), Gertrude Stein, also found inspiration more easily in a certain environment. Purportedly, she connected most easily with her "muse" while in her parked car, where she would often sit to compose poetry on scraps of paper! 

Sometimes, despite the right environment, I get stuck. Walking is a tool I use to come up with ideas, dislodge writer's block, or solve plot problems. The fresh air clears my head as I let my mind wander. I don't know why walking works, but it does. The fact that I burn calories and tone up in the process is an added bonus!

Rituals can make all the difference, as well. Many writers and other artists complete rituals before starting their work for the day. For instance, writer Toni Morrison is said to drink coffee while watching the sunrise before she begins her work for the day. 

While writing THROUGH HER EYES, I began a ritual that I've continued. I make a music soundtrack for my book and listen to it often while I write. I search for music that captures the tone of the story. Since lyrics interfere with the words in my mind, I only use instrumental music, usually from movie soundtracks. My playlist for THROUGH HER EYES included music from the soundtracks of the movies GIRL INTERRUPTED, THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, and IDENTITY. For my book THE SHADOW GIRL that will be out next year, I listened to BENJAMIN BUTTON soundtrack and to the music of violinist Leila Josefowicz. 

When I sit down to write, listening to the soundtrack I create for my book helps me to immediately reconnect with the world of my story.

What is your best creative environment? Do you engage in any rituals before you begin each creative session?


Anonymous said...

On my sailboat - best place ever to write. To your point, it's something about the water.

Tanis Mallow

Sara Rayne said...

I almost have to be outside to write. I get so depressed when it's too cold and I'm stuck indoors. I also agree - water helps!
Finally, I too create a soundtrack while I'm writing. Sometimes, if I find a particular character difficult to write, I will search out songs that I think embody what that character is going through, how they're changing and who they really are. Then I make a playlist for just that character and listen to it any time I am writing a scene with them.
Great post - I feel all inspired now! *heads outside with laptop*

Jordan Dane said...

I can see that I'm gonna have to try that water thing. We used to have a Koi pond in our backyard. It was beautiful, but in our new house, we haven't had time to do that yet.

I have the upstairs to myself. It's a big media room that I've turned into my office and author storage. As you know, Jennie, there are a lot of things an author can accumulate over the years.

I do surround myself with toys, however. Right now I'm looking at my Diva Dog, a stuff pooch someone gave me as a gift, so I could look like Paris Hilton. Yeah, right. I have my Mr Wizard mug, a glitter cap, a yellow hard hat from TLA and my new straw hat from YART. I have my screaming Tomahawk and my Mr Wonderful doll. When you pull a chord, he repeats LIES that no man would say. I have bouncy bee attenaes, my walkie-talkie set, and a battery powered Green Bay Packer cap that lights up and flashes. Very subtle.

As you can see, I take my work very seriously.

Paula Millhouse said...

I have the basement in our Real Log Cabin in North Georgia - My computer is set up in front of my double windows that look out over a spectacular set of seven ridges of the Appalachian mountains. I gotta admit, it's pretty cool, and it's where I write, where I paint, and where my little kitchen garden thrives in the spring and summer and fall (if I don't ignore it for my writing).

We used to live on water and I miss that even amongst the beauty of the mountains (elevation 2100').

Here's a cool trick if you can't find water - buy yourself a Hammock - the really nice ones come with a stand - it's a big investment, but, if you can do it, I recommend it.

Sometimes I'll lay in the hammock and think on things, like my characters, and what they're up to next. The gentle sway of the swing is like a lazy boat on the water. I hang Tiki-lights to stare into, listen to my favorite soundtracks and compose scenes in my mind.

I have a pretty creative environment going on here, and yes, Jennifer, it matters. It matters alot.

Great post!

Anita Grace Howard said...

Jenny, great post! You know that I'm just like you in that I create a playlist for each book. (No surprise, since we're alike in so many other ways!)

Also, I can see how your beautiful backyard would make an ideal writing get away. I love it back there!

Jennifer Archer said...

Thanks, everyone, for sharing your "tricks of the trade." I love hearing how other writers work!