Monday, February 21, 2011


by Pamela Ehrenberg


A deep breath.  A certain chair.  A shift of music on an iPod.

For a lot of writers, students and teachers alike, it takes some getting used to the idea that you can't sit around waiting for a Muse to inspire.  We know that we need to begin writing for the Muse to understand she is welcome--but still the blank page stares back at us.

A particular notebook.  A special pen.  A header at the top of the page.

How does one begin without knowing what to say?  In her book The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp talks about "rituals of preparation," ways to signal to the brain that writing time has begun.

Closing one's eyes.  Rereading the previous day's work.

The idea, says Tharp, is to make the process automatic, to train the mind to understand that a particular action or setting is invariably followed by creative activity, so you don't need to waste time worrying about what you will say.  Set the brain on auto-pilot, and before you can stop to protest, you are already in a creative flow.

Unplugging the telephone.  Sipping hot chocolate from a certain cup.

Students of all ages love ritual, as a means to find order in a seemingly chaotic world.  Rituals need not be elaborate--or even perceptible to an outsider, as when Tharp suggests stomping her foot and shouting, "Begin!"

Teachers have long understood that rituals help in all sorts of classroom activities, from collecting lunch money to lining up for recess.  It only makes sense that rituals can help writing flow more smoothly too.

What kinds of rituals--planned or unplanned--do your students use to prepare their minds for writing?  How will you help them begin?


  1. For some reason, I have to listen to music when I write. If there is a lot of silence I cannot concentrate. It's kind of odd.

  2. Thanks for weighing in--and I bet it's more common than you think! Any specific type of music, or does it change with the type of writing you are doing?