Artistic Freedom – The Unfounded Fear Of Ritual And Routine

Meet Me Here Tomorrow, Let Me Call You Mine...
image: dancoachcreative

As creative types, we usually like to think of ourselves as untethered and spontaneous, full of ideas and free to create whatever we want, whenever we want, wherever we want.

For many of us, this is the ultimate definition of artistic freedom.

But how artistically free is it to not be able to create anything at all because you’re so utterly overwhelmed with all the possible things you could create, all the creative projects you could start?

How artistically free is it to have running battles in your mind about when to create, for how long, and how to possibly fit it in amongst all your other demands and commitments?

How artistically free is it to be so crippled by all these choices on what, when, why and how to create, that the only option you feel you can choose is one of withdrawing from creating anything meaningful at all?

Too much freedom of this kind means that instead of a carefree state of pink, fluffy happiness and running through cornfields with our arms open wide, we feel more like we’re gagged and backed into a dark damp corridor with every exit boarded up, and the roof caving in.

It’s like renting out a DVD of The Sound Of Music, and when you start watching you find it’s Eraserhead.

This artistic freedom – this attitude of “I’m free to create whenever inspiration takes me” – sounds romantic and noble, but in practice it just isn’t very realistic.

To be able to create the art that matters to us, the work that is deeply important and smouldering within us desperate to burst out into the world, we need rituals, and we need routines.

Now, before you run away as fast as you can with your hands over your ears shouting “La la la la I can’t hear you, I must run free!”, give me a chance to explain.

Routine doesn’t mean being boring, repetitive, predictable, and making the same art over and over.

And ritual doesn’t mean having an altar to creativity and offering up prayers, chants and sacrifices daily.

What these two ideas together give us is simply a structure and a framework to become as creatively free and powerful as we can be.

We eat at similar times most days, and we all have basic nutritional needs that if we don’t honour, we fall sick. Eating regularly, and serving these basic human needs doesn’t mean we have to eat exactly the same meals day in day out. There’s a lot of room for flexibility within that basic requirement for food.

Plus we can eat alone, with our families, with friends, at home, at other people’s homes, in restaurants, and so on. Again, a lot of variety is available there around this fundamental routine of keeping our bodies fueled by food and water.

It’s the same story with creating.

You don’t need to create exactly the same art every day, use exactly the same ideas, or create in exactly the same place.

That would be dull and monotonous for any of us.

But by having some basic structures and practices in place – like creating for 20 minutes each and every day – we can go a long way to nurturing this basic need within us that I for one would argue is virtually as important to us as food and water are.

The author W. Somerset Maugham, when asked about how often he was inspired to write, is quoted as saying:

“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

He showed up every day at his desk to write. That was his routine and his ritual. And it gave him the freedom to write as much as he did and become one of the most prolific and well known writers of his era.

Running in fear from having a simple routine than frees up your creativity no end just doesn’t make any sense.

Once you’ve already pre-decided you’re going to show up and create at a certain time each day, all that tension, anxiety and guilt, all those struggles in your head about whether to create today, and when to fit it in are bypassed.

Leaving you free to channel your energy into creating whatever you’re most passionate about creating.

You show up, you create for 20 or 30 or 60 or 180 minutes, you finish and move on. Until tomorrow.

In a matter of days you begin to realise you’re creating more freely than you’ve done in years, and can’t wait until your next session.

Maybe you add another session each day.

Maybe each session will be longer.

The more you enjoy it, the more you create, and the more you want to create.

Ritual and routine are your dear faithful friends, your trusted allies, your superhero sidekicks.

How are you going to embrace them and use them to help you be as creative as you know you can be?


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14 thoughts on “Artistic Freedom – The Unfounded Fear Of Ritual And Routine”

  1. I love the way you suggest and model transformation from the concept of routines and barriers, to habits as supportive structure! I just wrote about creating patterns in our lives as an important creative thinking tool my last post. You expanded on our reluctance to be prisoners of routine by changing our perception. Thank you!


    1. Hi Beth, thanks for your comments, I think you’ve unravelled and explained my article to me better than I could have to myself! 🙂

      Yes, as with many things, we can shift our perspective and approach to see them another way, and see the positive and benefits from most situations.

      Habits are incredibly powerful, and once we get over the traditional idea of habits always being “bad habits”, we can harness them to be a very positive ongoing force in our lives.

      Thanks again.


  2. I am a big fan of having a structure or schedule in mind of when things will happen that should get done in a particular day. When one has identified when activities A,B,C,D are going to happen, one doesn’t spend the time for task A worrying about whether one will get to tasks B,C, and D. Tasks B, C, and D are put off so one can focus on A during A’s dedicated time.
    For me, it is not that one has to stick hard and fast to the precise plan. Rather if it turns out something takes longer than expected, or there is an unavoidable interruption that upsets the schedule, after the interruption, one quickly adjusts the schedule and gets back to the task at hand.
    I find it is nice for such a schedule to include some totally uncommitted time as well.
    If during task A, a brilliant thought flashes in about task D, one can still write it down to pursue during task Ds time. In the rare event that something whole or entirely dramatic strikes at the wrong time, like a poem of twenty lines springs to mind while one is in the shower, I would turn off the water, write out the poem, and then return to the shower.


    1. Fritzie, I like that logical way of putting it, how you have set chunks of time for each task, or part of task, but still allow for flexibility within that.

      Yes, so many of us are in the situation of trying to do task B, whilst worrying about not having done task A as well as we could because while we were, we were partly think about task B, and at the same time half planning task C!

      When we just focus on one thing at a time, give it our full energy, we can do amazing work.

      I like what you said about scheduling uncommitted time. This idea, which I’ve heard referred to in a few places recently as “white space”, is so valuable. Time do just walk, or sit and think, or meditate, or start something spontaneous as the mood takes us.

      You’ve obviously mastered the whole concept of how having routines and schedules frees up our creativity and takes so much pressure off as we create. 🙂


  3. Ok, Dan…I think I finally hear you! Starting today….15 minutes each evening either before or after dinner. One photo to post on my CCS photo page. The end.
    Jean 🙂

    PS…love the part about the “carefree state of pink, fluffy happiness and running through cornfields with our arms open wide.” !!! I am sooooo there!


    1. Great plan Jean, we can build a very powerful routine with just 15 minutes a day. Once you’ve got that in place for a few weeks, it will lead to you wanting to do more and more… 🙂


  4. This is a great post for all creative types. The thought of only creating when inspiration strikes is nice, but it’s also a good way to never get anything completed. We need routines if for no other reason than to block everything out and let inspiration strike. If you spend all your time stressed and working on other things your inspiration has a lot to fight with to get your attention. If you set time aside everyday to create then your inspiration can show up and have your undivided attention, so it’s probably more likely to show up :).


    1. I love this way of thinking about it Caethes, you’re increasing your availability, sending a clear message to whatever ideas and sources of inspiration that are waiting to find a home that your home is warm and welcoming, the kettle is boiling and the doors are wide open. 🙂


  5. Having recently read an excellent book about adult ADD, I suspect many creative types have it or part of it. I know my ADD fights my wanting to complete projects I start and contributes to delaying my starting projects. Having routines and schedules help a great deal in getting things started and completed. My problem now is still having trouble getting these routines established well enough so I can get projects completed. I also like the comments that when you have a schedule you don’t have to think about what needs to be done when. This is still part of trying to put it into action instead of just thinking about what I should be doing. I just found your site and like it. Keep up the good work.


    1. Thanks Wes, glad you like what you’ve read.

      Yes, the aim is having these routines and habits so embedded that you don’t think, you just do. There are things that ALL of us do each and every day without great analysis and debate beforehand, we just do them, we find the time, and we know they’re important. Like sleeping, eating and breathing for example! Making time to be creative is not far off these in terms of how essential it is to a happy, healthy life.

      Starting small then building up is an excellent way to form strong habits and without overwhelming yourself. Let us know how your routines evolve…


  6. I hopped over and read Beth’s post and it seems to echo a little of what I have been feeling myself and also wrote on my blog: That these routines are helpful in themselves but often we have a great deal of difficulty in keeping them up and perhaps this is because we are not completely in touch with the Life Purposes behind them. Since discovering mine, my resistance to routine seems to have disappeared!

    I’m off to download the TED talk Beth mentioned as well 🙂 thanks to you both 🙂


    1. If our actions are in conflict with either our beliefs, or our deeper values, we won’t be able to maintain them. For example if you hold the belief that creating art is “just messing around” or “just a silly hobby”, you will always struggle to give it the time and focus it deserves.

      Also, yes we need to feel that what we create, the way we create, and how often we create all feeds into a larger vision – one that moves us on to a better, happier life and a more accomplished, experienced and fulfilled artist, and that needs to be something we genuinely want to strive for. 🙂


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