Routine & Ritual

I remember in college having a discussion with a friend whose creativity I admired, and she said that she just forced herself to be creative at a set time every day, or on some regular basis. The concept was new to me, as I’d grown up with an artist mom who seemed to always be squeezing out bits of creative time when she could, but never with any stability. Plus I had, as many do growing up in the late 20th century, the overblown romantic view that the muses can’t be forced, art is fickle, creation came down to the inescapable need and talent of the creative person, and so on. In other words, my friend’s comment kind of blew my mind.

I told her that I didn’t think creativity could work this way, and anyhow it seemed impossible to face that kind of pressure to create and actually make anything worthwhile. And yet, I couldn’t deny the truth that with this surprising approach, she was the one creating tangible, real things. Twenty-five years later, I think we were both right, though she was more right, ha! See, it’s simple: routine creates the fertile ground. It allows for the possibility of chance, good luck, serendipity, the stars, whatever you want to call it, to take hold and grow.

Some people are more inclined to routines, but I have never been one of them. Once I became a mom a decade ago, I was even less inclined. My once-sweeping freedom had been crushed to stolen minutes here and there, just as I remembered my mom having had. The last thing I wanted to do was impose some kind of routine that would tie me down even more. Once we got past the toddler years though, and I’d been forced to adopt a semi-routine by my tyrannical but adorable babies, I began to see the advantages. A caveat though: for my personality type, there must always be a hidden trapdoor of some type that lets me escape any routine, however briefly. The important thing is that it’s there, so I rarely use this trapdoor. (This also was some hard-won knowledge, but so important in figuring out how to make a routine work for me.)

There are many books out there on the creative routines of writers; so many in fact that it seems almost to be a sub-genre, but some popular recent-ish ones are the two Daily Rituals books by Mason Currey. He also has a newsletter that discusses routines. There’s another good writers’ routines newsletter by Hurley Winkler. Of course, there is no one routine to suit everyone, and routines, like everything in life, adapt and evolve as time goes on. Still, a big step in the writing life is to create one. It sounds so mundane, but there is no denying that when I brush my teeth, pop out my contacts, and wash my face, my mind and body know that sleep comes next and it tends to get me started on that road. The same is true for the creative parts of me, or whatever it is that comes up with ideas. I can get fancy and add coffee, incense, a lucky notebook, a favorite spot in the cafe, whatever, but the base of (this) writer’s life is routine. Be it thirty minutes a day, a la Gertrude Stein, 6000 words a day (famously Stephen King), three hours before lunch like Alice Munro, or writing followed by a 10 km run like Haruki Murakami, the important thing is you create a schedule and you stick to it.

So, that covers the routine aspect of that long-ago college discussion. And the unpinnability of creativity? The magic of ritual helps here, I think. Light that incense. Have a lucky pen. Save some music that is only to be played when you write. Go on that short hike through the woods, collecting pine cones or small stones that draw your attention. Eat that bit of bitter chocolate. One tip: the more senses involved, the better. Let your mind and the world, the muses, whatever there is, know that you are ready and are now entering the world of possibilities and creativity.

Hope this helps, and good luck.