I love writing!
But, as with everything else in life we enjoy, there’s always something we don’t enjoy about it. That’s just how it is.
I don’t like not understanding something. I also don’t like my frequent inability to make creative decisions—particularly when it comes to deciding what I’m going to paint, or write about next.
It’s become clear to me now that I’m not the only one experiencing this never-ending tug-o-war between my creativity, my daily routines, and the discipline to actually sit down and write my thing.
The struggle is real.
I just couldn’t decide what to write about next, so I asked a few friends if they had any interesting ideas. I mean, ya gotta start somewhere! Eventually someone suggested writing about what I had been struggling with in the first place––creativity. Brilliant! I immediately started doing some research for inspiration, and I found other artists’ opinions about the struggles of artistry.
When Mason Currey wrote the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, he researched the habits and rituals of 161 successful and famous artists: poets, writers, directors, painters, singers, you name it. He reveals them as creatures of routine, and teaches us how our “working habits influence the work itself,” and how these great artists put aside time each day to do what they did best.
Currey explains that creating a routine gives you an opportunity to take advantage of limited resources such as time, self-discipline, willpower, and optimism. I love how he says, “To follow a routine is to be on autopilot.” As I read through his book, I took note of the patterns of these successful writers. They didn’t all live in one era, and very few actually knew one another. They hardly could have discussed their secrets amongst themselves. In some mysterious way, their methods must have worked.
Mason Currey went through the same process himself. He calls himself a “classic morning person,” which according to him is someone who thinks clearly in the morning, but is useless after lunch. One afternoon in 2007, he was stuck in the rut of a deadline, writing an article for an architecture magazine he was working for. It was the day before the deadline, and he couldn’t get himself to sit down and write.
Trying to console himself at the inconvenience of waking up at 5:30 every day, he started researching other people’s work schedules. He found it highly entertaining, and then it occurred to him that there was no compilation of this sort. So, guess what he did? He started his blog, Daily Routines, that very afternoon, and later wrote his book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.
But don’t assume the artists in his book were perfect (if you decide to read the book or listen to the audiobook, we specifically commend their good habits). There are frequent mentions of habits that we may consider to be strange or rather unpleasant. Nevertheless, here are the special traits of these artists, which you too can emulate to boost your own writing life.
These artists were serious about writing. It is evident in the following:
Patricia Highsmith noted, “There is no real life except in working, that is to say in the imagination.” She wrote two thousand words on a good day.
Ingmar Bergman was a filmmaker and writer. He noted that, “If I hadn’t been at work all the time, I would have been a lunatic.”
Henry James wrote every day, beginning in the morning and ending around lunch time. Likewise, Carson McCullers wrote every day, sometimes escaping the apartment to write in the local library.
Stephen Jay Gould was perceived to be a workaholic by others. After all, he did say, “I work every day. I work weekends, I work nights.…”
Jonathan Franzen and his wife, Kathryn Chetkovich, both wrote eight hours a day.
Benjamin Franklin sat and either read or wrote, naked, every morning.
Anthony Trollope stationed himself at his table every morning at 5:30 am. He trained himself to work continuously for three hours straight by sitting with a watch and writing 250 words for every 15 minutes that passed during those three hours.
About the experience, Trollope said, “I have found that the 250 words have been forthcoming as regularly as my watch went. But my three hours were not devoted entirely to writing. I always began my task by reading the work of the day before, an operation which would take me half an hour, and which consisted chiefly in weighing with my ear the sound of the words and phrases.…” Trollope didn’t merely write words, he studied them fiercely.
Ernest Hemingway wrote every morning as he was woken by the light of day. B.F. Skinner did the same, using a timer; and likewise, Saul Bellow wrote every day, beginning in the early morning and stopping around lunch time.
Ludwig van Beethoven never wasted a lot of time in the morning. He got to work as soon as he could, right after his morning coffee.
Søren Kierkegaard typically wrote in the mornings. His day consisted primarily of writing and walking.
Voltaire wrote in bed, leaving at noon only after he spent the first part of his day writing.
Frank Lloyd Wright said, “I go to sleep promptly when I go to bed. Then I wake up around 4:00 and can’t sleep. But my mind’s clear, so I get up and work for three or four hours. Then I go to bed for another nap.”
Even Mason Currey himself got up at 5:30 each morning for a year and a half to write his book!
Currey explains how comfort in an artist’s work space is extremely crucial: “External conditions—having the right pen, a good chair—were important, too.”
Then, Currey refers to an essay that Feldman wrote in 1965, stating, “My concern at times is nothing more than establishing a series of practical considerations that will enable me to work. For years I said if I could only find a comfortable chair I would rival Mozart.”
For Patricia Highsmith, her ideal work space “would be almost foetal and, indeed, her intention was to create, she said, ‘a womb of her own.’”
Vladimir Nabokov said, “I generally start the day at a lovely old-fashioned lectern I have in my study. Later on, when I feel gravity nibbling at my calves, I settle down in a comfortable armchair alongside an ordinary writing desk; and finally, when gravity begins climbing up my spine, I lie down on a couch in a corner of my small study.”
Stephen Jay Gould enjoyed, in his words, “an encouraging environment.”
Even the founder here at CYC, Elisa Doucette, needs her work space to be set up in a very particular way. “I like to sit on padded booth benches in cafes, with noise canceling headphones, and a hazelnut or caramel latte when I write. Anything less and it just feels…off.”
I found a short comedic discussion by Elizabeth Gilbert (from Eat, Pray, Love) to be ridiculously insightful. Kick-starting your creativity is about not being afraid to do what you were put on this earth to do. She touches on her uneasiness with the idea of artistry being compared to anguish, her anxieties about writing, and her findings following research on how to manage the inherent emotional risks that go along with creativity and the creative process. Gilbert notes that we all may have experienced how the “creative process is not always rational.”
Also, check out Amy Tan’s How We Create. Amy’s discussion centers us as the creators of our own universes and asks where our creativity comes from. She delves into her childhood, looking for hints and clues of how it all started: when was her creative self born? It is so interesting to listen to because it makes you think about your own childhood and where your creativity started breeding.
Finally, a tip for saving those sudden bursts of creative ideas. We’ve all had them. You’ll be driving in traffic or thinking of something amazing right before you fall asleep. You might be watching your favorite TV episode or standing in a line at the mall.
These artistic infiltrations often hit us at the most random of times, and half, if not more of those ideas, often go to waste. Why? Well, I think it’s because we don’t record them. We also forget them very abruptly, or often think we will remember them later but then don’t.
I’ve made a habit of using Evernote for this. I was tired of trying to remember forgotten ideas for my writing and painting. Now I have something to fall back on if all else fails:
It’s too much effort to write my ideas down, and besides, I don’t always carry a pen. Who does these days? Grab your cell phone, open Evernote, and voice record your awesome idea. By the way, you’ll notice the grammar and spelling is terrifying in the screenshot above. I don’t recommend typing it out while driving—that’s dangerous! For iPhone lovers, certainly make use of the voice typing feature, which types while you speak.
I don’t know why these ideas always have to come barging in at the most inconvenient times, but perhaps it’s when we allow our minds to relax a bit that our creative juices start flowing more freely. According to Inc.com, your mind lets go of the conscious problem you are trying to solve.
Just because we’re not always in tune with our creative selves doesn’t change the fact that we still want to create something great that will thoroughly entertain and amuse our readers. Seriously, we all desire to delight and inspire others. You don’t need me to tell you that. But if you need more proof, have a look at why writing only for yourself is terrible advice.
Great writers have something great to say, but know that it would mean nothing if it weren’t for those who share their vision.
Share your vision and others will share it too. That’s what creativity is all about, right
Sherise is a full-time virtual assistant, and currently, specializes in SEO, content creation & marketing, web research, and outreach. Sherise works and travels and in her free time she spends time in the gym, reads, writes and tries to visit more unsought after destinations on earth. For more of her work, you can find her here!