Beginner’s Guide To Creative Intelligence Lesson #3: Find A Warm-up Ritual (or two).   

Ernest Hemingway famously used to sharpen 20 pencils before sitting to compose.  The Irish author, Hugh Leonard, wrote a letter or two.  Stravinsky played a Bach fugue, the same one each morning. 

Almost everybody who creates fluently has one: a warm-up routine. 

Here’s mine: I waken, fall out of dreamtime, and before thoughts begin to rise, begin an Inspiration Meditation — sometimes sitting on a cushion but sometimes lying still in bed, under the covers.  

As soon as I finish, again without getting snared in thought or conversation, I go for a morning walk or jog.

Usually I find I’ve a note or two to make after that.  Then, over coffee and corissant, I F-R-E-E-Write — which yields lots more.

Sometimes I don’t get any notes at all.  It doesn’t matter.  The point is: it’s only when that little lot is done that I am ready to begin the real writing of the day.

The best explanation I’ve read of the need for creative preparation comes from the choreographer Twyla Tharp. “Everything that happens in my day is a transaction between the external world and my internal world,” she says, in her book The Creative Habit.  “Everything is raw material.  Everything is relevant.  Everything is usable.  Everything feeds my creativity.  But without proper preparation I cannot see it, retain it, and use it.”

This advice often meets a wall of resistance from students: they don’t have time, they wail.  It’s hard enough to fit the actual creative work into the daily routine, without adding in warm-ups and rituals. 

I understand.  I used to feel like that too.

I’ve done it both ways and – as the American TV pundits love to say – I’m here to tell you that meditation, movement and F-R-E-E-Writing don’t take time.  They make time.

With a warm-up ritual, we are burnishing the vital connection between us and life, between us and our material. Without one, we can often find that we don’t get started at all.