Here we are, another first Wednesday, and time for a contribution to Alec Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG), a talented (yours truly excepted) group of writers who share tips, advice, fears, and other neat stuff about writing. If you have something you’d like to share, trot over to the IWSG site and join up. In the meantime, this month, I’d like to talk about something that might seem counterintuitive—how having a relatively unvarying routine can help your creativity. That’s right, a dull, boring, same-thing-every day routine can actually be a boon to your creative process, so stop shaking your head and laughing and listen up. If the link above doesn’t work, go to http://insecurewriterssupportgroup.blogspot.com/. This is a temporary link until the insecure Writer Support Group moves to a new domain.
My Daily Routine
Every day, except when I’m sick and have to stay in bed (and, thankfully, my sick days are few and far between), I’m up between 5:30 and 6:30. I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember. I started life on a farm, where early rising was part of the daily routine, went from there to the army where it was part of the daily routine, and after 37 years of that as a daily routine, it is now hardwired into my system. Since I retired from government service three years ago, my wife has tried to get me to sleep in on occasion, but my body has become so accustomed to the 6 – 8 hour per night sleep, after 7.5 hours, my brain starts urging it to get up, and if I go over 8 hours, I get sore muscles, back aches and headaches. Besides, as you’ll see when I get to my ‘Work Routine,’ having a regular sleep-wake cycle is part of what contributes to my creativity.
After getting up, I do my daily exercise, shower and shave, walk the dog (or when we haven’t had a dog I just walk about half a mile), and fix breakfast. After eating breakfast I check emails, and then write for a few hours unless I have a scheduled activity outside the house.
After a couple hours writing, I take another walk. Then, if the weather is good I sit on my deck for two hours, smoking my pipe and either reading, taking pictures of the birds that visit the feeder, or making notes in one of my journals.
Two to three days each week, when I don’t have scheduled activity away from home, I take a two-hour nap from 2:00 to 4:00. As you get older, you too might find this a refreshing way to recharge and build energy.
In the evening, around 6:00, I feed and walk the dog again, wash up and eat supper, and then watch about two hours of TV. After getting my idiot tube fix, I hit the keyboard again and write until around 10:30, or sometimes 11:00, then I go to bed.
I do this Sunday through Saturday, holidays included. When I travel, it’s much the same except for walking the dog and fixing breakfast—I eat breakfast in the hotel restaurant on the road.
What follows is my writing work routine, and you’ll see how my daily life schedule fits it—and, hopefully, how all this feeds into what little creativity I possess.
My Work (writing, photography, and art) Routine
My focus here is on writing primarily. For starters, I have a daily writing quota of at least 2,000 words per day (I once did 1,000, but now that I no longer have a full-time day job working for someone else, I find it quite easy to make the 2,000 quota, and quite often exceed it by several thousand words. I do this regardless of any other planned activity, writing in portable journals I always carry with me when I travel. I write blog postings, book reviews, and work on whatever book project that is in progress—often having two or three books going at the same time.
I spend at least one hour each day reading. I read everything; books for review in several genres, books for pleasure—also in several genres, but mainly mysteries, thrillers, history, and science fiction—checking current news both local and international. When I’m reading, even for pleasure, I make notes of passages that strike me as exceptionally well done. These become guides or jogs for my own writing.
When I’m working on a book project, I write until I’ve reached a point where the ideas begin to slow, but not before I’ve done 2,000 words. I never stop at the end of a chapter, though, writing at least the first paragraph of the next chapter before closing it out. This makes it easier to pick up the next day.
Before I start on a book project, I do a rough chapter or section outline with main plot themes, characters involved, and the action for each chapter. I make character lists, with names, origins, ages, gender, occupation, and special characteristics of each character listed, and refer to them frequently as I write. I also do a timeline for the whole book, with start and end date, and then research to learn what historical events took place during that period. Sometimes the events will be specifically referred to, and at other times, I’ll have a character react to some historical event. I find this adds authenticity to stories and helps put readers more into what’s going on.
Sometimes I’ll devote most of a day to either photography or art (drawing and painting). For either I’m thematic. For instance, if I’m taking pictures, I’ll focus on birds or landscapes. Same with art, I’ll pick a specific subject and do drawings or paintings of that subject for a few hours.
How my Routine Helps my Creativity
At this point, you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with creativity. Well, since I have my day pretty well mapped out, and I’ve been doing it so long I no longer have to think consciously about it—for instance, when I put on my shoes I always put the left shoe on first for some reason. This leaves my mind free to focus on the creative aspects of my work. While I’m cooking my breakfast, for instance, I’ll be thinking about my work in progress. I might, for example, think about how preparing a meal could be worked into my current story, and how it might be used to foreshadow a key event in the story.
Even when I’m out taking pictures, my mind is taking in details of my surroundings. What sounds do I hear? How does the ground feel beneath my feet? What does the forest smell like at certain times of the day, or during different seasons? What color is the sky in the early morning as compared to late afternoon? All of these can add to the depth and richness of what you write.
Even when I’m taking my afternoon nap, my mind is working. I usually fall asleep thinking about my work in progress, and when I wake up, I’m one of a fortunate few people who can vividly remember my dreams. Immediately upon waking up, I go to my journal and jot down the most memorable parts of my dreams.
Now, I could go on and on, but I think I’ve made my point. By having a well-established routine, your mind is free to roam; to go off on those creative tangents that help to enliven your writing. You get more done—sort of two for one, if you will—the day-to-day activities of life get done, and at the same time you are creating what could very well be something a great number of people would enjoy reading or seeing.