Posted by Deborah Atherton
When Leslie and I meet to work on our creativity book (in progress, stay tuned) or our blog, the first thing we do is order coffee. We’ve never discussed this, but it has become our ritual, born in the days when we began meeting at (appropriately enough) the Art Café on Broadway. We usually order a meal or snack with it, but until the coffee is in our cups, we don’t start tossing ideas back and forth.
What is it about coffee? Or is it about coffee? Well, of course, it is in part about the coffee itself, which has the pleasing effect of sharpening our minds and waking us up, good preparation for creative work of any kind. But to tell you the truth, usually by the time we get together in early afternoon, we have both switched to decaf for the day, so the salutary effects of caffeine aren’t really part of the equation.
What it is really about, I think, is the ritual. Since coffeehouses came into vogue several hundred years ago, people have been meeting over cups of coffee to talk. And it seems to me, that over most of my writing career, whenever anyone had anything important to discuss with me or any new collaboration was beginning, it was always over a cup of coffee or tea. In the first writer’s workshop I ever joined, back in Connecticut somewhere in the Mesozoic era, we depended on several pots of coffee to get us through the night, and although the caffeine consumption may now have declined several workshops later, the ritual holds firm.
Rituals help us over that little hesitation most of us feel when beginning a new project or picking up the old ones after any kind of break. Many of us can’t sit down at our computers or at our easels without a cup of coffee or tea beside us; and you’d be hard put to find a day time rehearsal for any kind of ensemble that wasn’t fueled by Starbucks. We relax a little when we lift those cups to our lips; it’s the beginning of a chain of actions that we know (without having to think about it) will lead to us getting back into the flow of our work.
If you haven’t got a ritual, you might try inventing one that suits you. It doesn’t have to be coffee. It might be a walk around the block, or listening to some music that sets you in the right direction. I know a painter who swears by Diet Coke and a writer who likes to pop a chocolate truffle. The form of the ritual doesn’t matter; but the consistency does. If you repeat the same small action every time you sit down to work, you’re giving yourself a handy creative cue, and making what comes next just a little bit easier.