We opened our fourth workshop with a chat about writing routines and practical goals– whether you prefer to set yourself a word count limit, or spend a set amount of time writing every day.
My routine sees me writing every weekday morning, in the same cafe, for one hour, like clockwork. I also write at other times- lunch, in waiting rooms, on trains, etc… but the morning routine anchors me to my practice. For years, I’ve accomplished this by carrying the tiniest computer I can find with me at all times. Right now, it’s an iPad with a keyboard case, and I feel very spoiled.
Canadian novelist Ray Robertson gave me the simple, magic formula that helped me get into a routine. He told our workshop group at U of T that what he did when he started writing, was to promise himself he’d write for, say, 45 minutes, twice a week. When he wrote, he’d mark it down in his agenda. Once he’d met his goal a few times, he’d gently increase either the duration or frequency, congratulating himself with check marks, every time he succeeded. He said he worked his way up to about 3 hours a day this way.
I did the same thing. (Albeit far more loudly, on a wall calendar, with markers and glittery fish stickers… hey, whatever works… you have to satisfy your inner nerd.) It was difficult at first to stay still and just write– not fiddle with anything, get up and clean, play with the dog, fix another hot beverage– and this was before social media exploded all over our lives and writing stations. I had to tell myself “well, you have to sit here for an hour… I bet the time is going to go a lot faster if you’re typing…”
And it did! And by doing that, I also taught myself to let my mind wander– to be happy with typing antyhing just to get the words flowing. To be grateful for any snippet of inspiration or memory that might wander across my desk, and “distract” me from what I otherwise thought of as work.
Of course it was all valuable work. This is what routine has to give us and teach us. Outer constraints (word count, time limits, quiet rooms with nothing but desks in them) don’t inhibit creativity, they protect and foster inner freedoms by quieting our surroundings so we can draw our attention inward to see what’s already there.