Break thy Routine

Day 147/365: Interview ScheduleOh, I love a good routine. I go to the same pubs, eat at the same restaurants, and meet the same friends. I run the same route three times a week, eat a similar breakfast every day, and sing the same songs in the shower.

My writing is set as a daily routine as well. Since it is contingent on when I teach at the university, the time changes daily: Monday 3-5, Tuesday 5-7, and Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, 9-11. The daily output is 1,000 words but those are the times I am sitting on my ass at my desk pumping out words.

A couple months ago I read an article on how changing up your writing routine – where, when, how, and with what – could assist your writing. The idea is that if you are in a comfort zone with your writing you might not be getting the most out of it. It’s based on the idea that exploiting your creativity demands an adventurous and innovative mindset, and if a writer is in a too comfortable place, they might be missing out by simply having an over-relaxed mind.

Obviously, this is one of several theories on the best ways to write. Some people think that a routine is necessary to put a writer into that ‘writing mode.’ Others think that consistently shutting oneself off from the world is the best way to get results. And these are totally valid points and reasonable ways to look at writing schedules and routines.

I have always taken a ‘to each their own,’ mentality on this. Being creative is a highly personal thing and I do not believe that there is one right way to write, paint, or dance. However, I did wonder if there was something to this idea of changing it up. An experiment was in order and so, over the period of three weeks, I wrote in different places, different states of mind, different positions, and with different tools.

I started by changing where I wrote in the house. I normally write at a desk in my office, but tried instead writing on the armchair in my living room on an IKEA lap desk. The advantages of this were that I was comfortable and my back didn’t hurt after writing (I am an old man, so this is a plus). Still, I was comfortable and relaxed, and this removed the feel of work from writing and my focus went out the window. I scanned the internet, looked at pictures on Reddit, and found that I needed to extend my writing by thirty minutes to get my 1,000 words.

I decided that if too comfortable was bad, I’d try the opposite. So the next day I wrote at my kitchen table. Other than becoming hungry (seriously, I’m like Pavlov’s dog), I found that working at the kitchen table produced fine results. I went a little further by working on the floor. My back told me never to do that again. And I listened.

Changing my location was producing interesting results, so I started writing at cafes, pubs, and restaurants. I have always enjoyed jotting notes and brainstorming at a pub but have found that I don’t really get the writing done there. But now, once I got into the work, I had no problems. I sat, blocked out the world around me and stampeded towards 1,000.

Also, since I didn’t feel like carrying around my laptop, I switched to writing with a pencil in a legal pad. This has been interesting, as I have found a great deal of benefit to writing a first draft by hand. Since I can type much faster than I can write I always thought that a computer was better. However, after two weeks writing by hand I feel that the extra time needed complements the process a little more. It allows me to be more thoughtful and to pay attention to what’s coming out.

Strictly in the interest of this experiment, three times I wrote drunk as an Australian snake handler. I tried three different alcohols: Irish whiskey, vodka, and Becherovka. OK, now, despite the fact that I love a good drink, I have never bought into this bullshit, faux romantic idea of the drinking writer. I never write drunk. Ever. Because anytime I have ever tried to write while drunk I threw it away the next morning under the specter of shame and embarrassment, stopping short of wearing a disguise and setting the work on fire. AKA: Not my best work.

And, again, I found this to be true. The writing was constipated, erratic, and just bad. It was also illegible. The only positive I can come up with here is that I doodled a neato army guy and a really cool duck. Maybe that’s why there are more drunk painters.

As I mentioned, I am a guy who loves his routines and daily habits – maybe too much. Because I stick to these routines, I seem to negate the possibility that I can do things another way or at another time. For example, if I miss my morning run for some reason, it’s often hard for me to consider doing an afternoon run. I just schedule the run for the following morning. And this kind of thinking can lead to making excuses to get out of things.

This little experiment exemplified that my routines aren’t binding and that even without my desk in my office and my laptop, I can still get the work done. Basically, I’m not slave to my routine. It was a good lesson to learn and one I’d recommend others try, no matter what they do.

Plus, now I’ve got a cool duck doodle.

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