Ahem, well, I am back at last, to tell you all (read: myself and whoever else feels like trudging through this mess) what I have learned about routines.
First of all – despite the fact that my not having written on this blog for two months may indicate any ideas I initially held about routines are proven garbage, I stick by what I said in my first post on this topic – that I believe firmly that routines will suck my soul out (and therefore my creativity) if I let them, and that I need routines to write (and survive).
So, where does this leave me, if not hopping back and forth between the two like some sort of unpleasant hot coal dance that has me jumping from one evil to another, trying not to stay too long on either lest I lose my soul or my life (read: my creativity or my health – any more questions on this, refer to my last post and the treatise on melodrama)?
Well, the answer for me came in the form of an elusive feeling that I sometimes grasped, even on those more normal (9-5 like) work days. I’d be writing and tearing my hair out and spewing to all who could hear (the toad outside my window well who is forever falling down there and begging to be saved) how much the words I was writing were utterly unfit for anything but the delete button, and suddenly…. I’d storm away from the computer, tear open some pads of colorful construction paper resurrected from our basement supply of old art project materials, hurl them across the floor of my writing room in a whirlwind-like frenzy, and start… what was I doing? Well, I thought, I have construction paper… I have scissors…. I have a pile of words somewhat resembling a book, about a couple of confused characters in a twisted old kingdom- and there I had it. A map! I could make a map! And I cut and I crafted and I created until, an hour later, I was looking at the landmarks of my Kingdom’s capital city, arranged as I had imagined them. I had almost figured it out at that moment, and at countless others I’m sure… but then I smiled ruefully at myself, as though indulging an errant child who does not know better, chided myself gently for wasting time, despite the idea of a map being cool… and reminded myself firmly to return to the real work, to the writing.
And this, friends, was my big mistake. I realized there was some value to what I’d done… but I didn’t see how much, and didn’t know why it was so valuable, until my wonderful Aunt Leslie mentioned a piece of advice she’d recently received at her MFA program, regarding the value of play.
And just like that, the elusive feeling I’d been trying to capture for weeks was solidified into a tangible, essential idea for me – it is the lack of play, not the simple presence of a routine, that sucks my creativity clean away from me. But wait, you may ask, didn’t I vow that routines suck the soul out of me? Well… yes, and no. Simply put, routines can sap my creativity – but I’m just now figuring out that if I give my routines some wiggle room, if I plan flexibility and real, ground-rolling silly fun into my routines, then my muses will stay with me. You see, they, like me, will wither and die when hammered to a chair and told to write (or do anything else) because that is just what they must do, that they have to get back to the real work.
So how does one put play into the “real-world” and let it flow through them, make them sway until they dance and smile until they giggle? Well, I’ll tell you that for me, doing something literally can often help me “click” with the idea figuratively – so sitting down on the floor and cutting up colorful construction paper, taping blank pages to the walls and scribbling ideas on them, pinning things to a cork board and rearranging a map this way with pushpins, all help me to get into the mood of play. When I was a child, I knew how to play. It was so easy, so simple, so natural. So it makes perfect sense that to relearn how to play, I repeat some of my childhood habits – like playing with colored paper and scissors in a very messy way. Of course, there are other ways to learn (relearn) how to play, and play affects every part of your life – how can I create an awesome plot to my book if I’m afraid to play with all the crazy, outlandish, possible twists and turns that pop into my head? But it can feel really strange, a little risky, a little uncomfortable, a little crazy – and that’s exactly when you’re doing it right.
So my advice – the advice I am giving to me as a charge forth through another week in an attempt to find the perfect flow to a week of writing and other parts of my life intertwined – is to keep the routines that you think will and are helping you, but beware of those that are suffocating your play. Keep the yoga class with the instructor who guides you through a safe practice while letting you add your own variations at times, and challenging you to smile, to dance, to wiggle a little. Keep the daily walk through the woods (or around the block) that, while it may be sporadic in that you venture to take it only when you feel most restless, is a grounding routine in that you do it each day. Drop the breakfast sandwich with exactly three slices of tomato if you cooking was once a creative outlet for you, and the extra 10 minutes it takes to make an artful omelette will help refuel your mind at the same time it refuels your belly. At the same time, maybe accept the routine of the same basic set of clothes each day because not having to exert your decision making energy on clothes lets you have more for your writing (and your omelette making). And above all else, when you sit down at your desk, or wherever else you choose to work, DO NOT, under any circumstance, give in to the temptation to forget play, buckle down, focus, and be serious on the oh-so-serious work at end. Perhaps life should be taken seriously, but I refuse to take myself seriously, because you are never too old to play – for me, playing has never been more important. 🙂