Awhile back my friend Anna wrote a post about building a physical, external aid to creativity. Hers was an automat– a replica of one of those old-timey walk-in vending machine/diners, which she would stock with things to help her get writing when she’s feeling blocked. I thought this was a really cool idea. She invited her readers to suggest their own constructions, but I couldn’t think of anything. But then, writer’s block isn’t really my problem. I have miles of story mapped out for my webcomic. My problem is sitting down and getting started on drawing pages, and then continuing to draw pages rather than re-watching old seasons of Breaking Bad.
One morning I was doing what I always do. I’d had breakfast, read the paper, and I was reading all my online newsfeeds, comic subscriptions, and Facebook updates, trying to rev up for some drawing before it was time to walk the dog. I go through the same routine every day. It’s a ritual with no clear conclusion. There’s always more to peruse on the internet– I just stop when I feel guilty enough. Or I don’t stop until Teagan starts bugging me for a walk, and the morning is a wash. And then I have other obligations that eat up the day and the comic falls behind.
I decided that rather than a construction like Anna’s, I need a better ritual. One that sends a clear signal to my brain: now is drawing time. Kinda like how we bow in for Aikido. In fact, almost exactly like that.
We bow a lot in Aikido. At the beginning of class, at the end of class, when we practice with someone, when we pick up a weapon. We bow to other students, to the sensei, and to the shomen, which is a kind of altar at the front of the dojo. It may look like a lot of pointless rigamarole, but it actually serves a purpose. Aside from being good etiquette, treating the time and space of practice in a certain way we separates it from the outside world. Starting class with a bow is a way to clear the mind, set aside whatever else went on that day, and focus on training.
So I started doing this for drawing. I made a very rudimentary shomen by hanging up a collage of artists’ work I would like to emulate. I found a nice box to hold my favorite drawing tools when I’m not working. I do a formal bow at the beginning and end of the work day, and a casual bow when I step away for a break.
I did this for several weeks and managed to crank out pages consistently. Then some other obligations came along, and I stopped bowing, and page production slowed way down. Causality? Or spurious correlation? Rather than a pure cause-and-effect relationship, I think the ritual and the work feed each other. I’m going to get back in the habit of bowing in and see what happens.