When Starting a New Creative Project
When I first started writing, I had a tight and precise routine.
I put the kettle on, dropped a green tea bag into a History of Art mug, turned on the local classical radio station, put my phone in another room, sat on the couch with the pillows just so. And right at 8:30 am, I began.
I'd heard that Maya Angelou worked in a hotel room with a bottle of sherry, Susan Sontag wrote with a felt-tip pen on legal pads, Hemingway drafted in the morning standing up. If I was to be a Real Writer, I thought, I, too, needed a distinct and perhaps quirky routine.
Now, after writing every weekday for nearly three years, I realize I was part wrong and part right.
I was wrong in that one doesn't become a Real Writer by having eccentric habits. One becomes a Real Writer by writing. Nothing more, nothing less.
But I was right in that when we open a new creative door for ourselves - starting to write, paint, build a website - routines can tame the resistance.
They make it so we don't have to decide each day when we'll start or where we'll work - decisions which can distract and delay us from actually doing the work - the routine's already decided those for us. So we can just begin the work.
And for me, once I have built the practice of creating into my life, the routines become less important. These days, I can write on a bus, plane, rickety card table, between meetings. Which throws open the whens and wheres of creating.
But I don't think I could have that freedom now if I hadn't given myself the constraints of routine when I was beginning.
Beginning new work is hard. Sticking to that new work is hard. But a few thoughtful routines may help reduce the challenge and turn our focus to where it needs to be: putting new work into the world.