” In the meantime, this month, I’d like to talk about something that might seem counter intuitive—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….”
Wise words, Charles Ray. If you’d like to read his entire blog post about how having a routine enhances his creativity, you can read it here. His post got me thinking about my present schedule, and how I’m struggling to feel and be creative under its lack of routine. It goes beyond being a creature of habit or needing a structure to my day. As Ray points out, with a routine, your mind doesn’t need to focus on mundane daily tasks but can just follow the routine without thinking. The mind (and imagination) is then free to play creatively.
I know what my particular problem is, of course. Every time I’ve had to work for someone else, usually in an office, I’ve struggled with re-establishing a routine for my writing work. When I worked fulltime, at least the work schedule was predictable and I could more easily schedule my writing around it. But now, I’m working part-time and my work schedule is not as predictable or regular. I’ve had to be more flexible in all areas of my life as a result. On the one hand, I’m learning more about “going with the flow” and flexibility. On the other hand, I’m having real problems scheduling my writing work and that has slowed down my return to writing regularly.
When I first began writing fulltime at home, I started by taking the time to think about a work schedule. I wanted to approach my writing as a job, not a fun pastime, and I wanted to be as productive as I could be, recognizing that there are several other aspects to working as a writer besides the actual writing, e.g. research, marketing, reading, etc. I planned to work on both fiction and freelance nonfiction. The schedule I settled on eventually has been in force for years and suited me very well, giving me also flexibility to deal with the business side of writing and life obligations. That schedule Monday through Saturday:
8:00 to 11:30 a.m.: Writing new short stories, novels, essays or screenplays or revision work, work on specific projects, e.g. blogs.
11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Lunch break — a complete break away from my desk and usually involving cooking in the kitchen as well as eating.
12:30 to 1:30 or 2:00 p.m.: Journal writing usually, but sometimes work on essays or continue work from the morning, notes on new projects.
1:30 or 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.: Online work, reading, research, marketing/promo tasks, publishing blog posts, online networking. This is flex time and when I’ll schedule errands, appointments, etc. as necessary, or continue writing from the morning.
At the end of last year, I landed the customer service part-time job. Initially, I focused more on settling into that job but continued to write nonfiction essays as usual. My writing schedule was cut back, however. I thought I’d be able to figure out a new routine once I’d settled into the new job this year. Then, during the first half of this year, both my writing and work schedules were shot to hell because of serious illness. Suddenly, I had a different schedule or routine that focused on dealing with being sick, resolving the mystery of what was wrong, and medical treatment. I lost my ability to concentrate on anything for very long, and as a result, I could not write or read or do anything that required concentration. I knew I was getting better when my ability to concentrate returned a couple months ago.
My routine now is that I don’t have a routine. There are certain things, however, that I know I must have in my daily schedule, e.g. 1-2 hours of rest because I’m still healing (usually I read during this quiet time). The best time for this is in the afternoon. I seem better able to write in the mornings, as well as doing some online work. So the days I go to the part-time job in the afternoons, I’m at the computer in the mornings, and I rest as soon as I arrive home after work. Days I go to the office in the mornings have been the most scattered and the days I don’t get much done.
I’m confident I’ll eventually figure out a routine and implement it. Being completely healthy again will really help, and it’ll be several months still before I’ll be there. So, I will need to live with this frustration and sense of being unmoored probably for the rest of this year. In the meantime, I am writing: blog posts when I can, and nonfiction essays. Eventually, I’ll add fiction to the schedule, too.
Do you agree with Charles Ray, also? Or are you a writer who doesn’t need a routine?