Habits and routines are good. Ruts are not.
A routine is all about established habits. A rut is about feeling stuck or bored.
People can be creatures of habit. Routines are comforting and comfortable. I used to work with a designer who ate the same lunch every day for the 10 years I worked with him. A turkey and havarti sandwich and a container of yogurt. I know this because when I’d go visit him at his desk, I’d see that sandwich all wrapped up nice and snug in Saran wrap sitting there on the window sill. But I digress.
Routines are good when we find a habit that reinforces our writing practice. If you’ve established a writing routine, stick with it. If you examine the habits of famous and productive writers, you will find they have routines. They show up every day at a specific time to write.
In an interview in the Paris Review, author Haruki Murrakami said, “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
Mesmerization is a good thing.
But, if you’re bored with life or feeling stuck, mixing things up might give you some new creative energy. As writers, we need all the creative energy we can get.
To think of things in a new way, try doing things in a different way. Cultivate a little disruption in your life.
Here are several ideas:
Change up your eating. If you eat Cheerios for breakfast every day, have pumpkin pie once in awhile. Change where you eat. Sit outside on your porch and observe the outdoors.
Write something in a genre you’ve never written in. If you’re a novelist, write a poem. The structure of a poem might throw your mind in a whole new direction. Who knows, you may even find a poem finds its way into your novel.
Read a magazine you’ve never read before. Do you normally read writing magazines? Try reading Scientific American or Architectural Digest or a yoga magazine. Even better, get a couple supermarket tabloids. Scan the ones that feature stories about alien kidnappings and have headlines like: EARTH HUMAN’S SECRET LOVE AFFAIR EXPOSED and TOP CELEBRITIES AND THEIR TOP SECRET CELLULITE TREATMENTS. While you’re at it, give your brain a jolt by writing some practice tabloid headlines of your own.
Wear something different. I used to work with a guy who wore the same outfit every day. I’m assuming it wasn’t the exact same clothes but basically a uniform he’d created for himself: khaki pants, button down shirt in a small plaid pattern, and navy blue blazer. Every day. I loved it. I wanted to create my own uniform. If you’ve found yourself wearing jeans and a t-shirt every day, go for a week like my friend Jimmy. With him, you never know what he’ll wear on any given day. One day he could be wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and another day he could be decked out in a black suit, black tie and white shirt looking like a Secret Service agent. And then there’s his hair. You never know what color it’s going to be.
Travel the world or even just to another nearby town. This is one of my favorite ways to rev up my idea machine. Different weather, different culture, different energy, different scenery, different language equals sensory inspiration. Once I went from working and living in a small town to a big city. Weirdly, my favorite color before I moved was pink. After moving it became red.
Do something you’ve never done. Go visit your town’s tourist attractions. How many times do people live in a place and never get around to visiting the museum or the zoo or sculpture gardens?
Take a bath instead of a shower. Throw in bubbles. Authors Ben Franklin, mystery writer Agatha Christie, Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov, and French playwright Edmond Rostand reportedly wrote while soaking in their bathtubs. Take a shower outside. I stayed at a hotel once where when you stepped into the shower, you were outside in a cedar enclosure with open sky above.
Order something different at your favorite restaurant. How many people go to their favorite restaurant and order pretty much the same dish each time? I don’t know if there is a piece of research out there about this, let me know. But just anecdotally speaking, I do it and I know others who do it too. If you do this, next time you eat out, order something new.
Watch the Spanish TV or French or whatever language you don’t speak. See how many words you understand. Watch a foreign language film with subtitles.
The point is to do something that makes you feel different inside. Something that creates an emotional reaction. Shake things up to sharpen your creative edge.
Go out and disrupt yourself, and if you feel like it, report back what you did in the comments below.
For more ideas about how to shake up your creative spirit, read Carol’s post, Four ways to stimulate creativity and cure the writing blahs.