I recently read somewhere that routine hinders the creative process. To really be creative, I read, we need to let go of organisation, routine and any kind of rigid preconceptions or framework, and allow ourselves freedom to explore in any direction and form that appeals to us.
I couldn’t disagree more strongly. If you think that routine is a hindrance and obstacle to being truly creative, I’d like to invite you to reconsider.
I suggest that it is routine that brings freedom and that freedom is often to be found within boundaries, not outside of them. Because parameters do one great thing for us, yes, even us creative types. They give us a sense of security. And if you feel secure, you can relax and have the freedom to be creative.
All art is created within boundaries. Or a framework of conventions, if you prefer to call it that. Mozart created wonderful music. Yes, undeniably, he was incredibly creative and had a flair for genius. But… Musical composition is, in many ways, one of the most rigidly ‘controlled’ art forms in that very deeply-held conventions dictate the agreed (not necessarily explicitly agreed) common elements that must be adhered to, in order to create any form of music. Sonatas have a specific set of rules, if you like. All sonatas have common elements that make them what they are. Similarly, concertos, arias, opuses and symphonies all have elements which dictate how they are created and underpin the very stylistic identity of a given piece of music.
Now I’m tempted to take a long detour at this point and show that this is exactly the same as the genre conventions in writing, that genres have their own conventions and that you can subvert or uphold these as you desire, but I won’t, as I’ve already waffled quite a bit, and I want to keep this blog-post fairly to-the-point.
Obviously we can all have an off-day. But you know when you are recharging and when you are simply wasting time or letting things slide.
Sometimes, I’ll admit, I do just go with the flow, letting words pour onto the page. There’s nothing actually wrong with that, but it doesn’t make for good reading, it rarely fits neatly into a novel, and I am a novelist, so that is what I need to write. Unfocussed, meandering writing, sometimes called ‘automatic writing’, is great fun, very cathartic and can help you to improve your writing overall. But for everyday ‘work’ writing, you need focus, not indulgence.
Within a framework, we have the freedom to be creative. Routine can be just such a framework. I’m actually not a very organised person with regard to my writing. But I have discovered that an established routine is my friend when it comes to cracking on with my WIP and meeting deadlines.
If you are organised, you can relax and focus on the job in hand. You make the most of your time, you crack on, (hopefully/usually) and have something concrete to show for it, so productivity is improved and you feel good about what you’ve achieved. Which makes it more likely you’ll do it again tomorrow. In addition, good output leads to increased experience, increased confidence and also positivity, and as many writers know, these are commodities that can be hard to come by.
Planned routine is anticipated, your subconscious inner writer is actually hard at work long before you sit down at your desk. You know what is expected, and what your intentions are. You’re prepared, in the zone. This means you ‘hit the ground running’ and are ready to go immediately with no need for warming up or getting yourself in the mood.
As I’ve said already, routine, planned writing leads to increased output and measurable results. You see the word count piling up and you see that you are moving towards your deadline or goal. This gives you the impetus you need to write through the tough sections of your book, those tricky little scenes and the mid-book blues, even through the ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ sulks.
For me, one of the main advantages to this type of organised approach to work is that I remain ‘current’ with my WIP. I literally don’t lose the plot. By that I mean I don’t lose track of characters and plot strands and the atmosphere of the book the way I do when I’m here and there and all over the place writing whatever takes my fancy. The resulting draft is more seamless, the scenes transition more smoothly, and small details are less likely to be overlooked. I’m totally immersed in my story.
They say it takes six weeks to develop a new routine: three weeks to break old habits, and another three to establish new ones. Give yourself six weeks, starting today. Who knows, by the time we reach the New Year, you may be firmly in the Routine is my Friend camp.