We fall into old habits*

I like routines. I find comfort in habits and having things in their place. By creating structure I find I have more freedom and mindspace to think about other things.

Routines do need a bit of room for give and take as things inevitably happen. I’ve written before about morning pages, which are an enduring legacy for me from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Since January 2014 I have been writing three pages daily in A5 journals, emptying out my head, ranting when I need to, testing out ideas, plot points and thinking through work related challenges. I was surprised that I kept to it, even though I have kept a journal intermittently for years. There is now a growing collection of these journals, swollen with the ink of many pens, marching their way along the desk in my study.

The routine of writing these three pages, preferably in the morning, has saved my sanity at times. There are other days when sleep is too tempting, or I have an early start, or there is some other hurdle to sitting down and getting the words out. But if I do miss this morning session, I tend to feel less ready to deal with the day ahead. There are some days when, before sitting down, I can’t think of a single thing that would be worth writing. And yet, with the weight of a pen in my fingers, the flow begins. If I miss the morning, I usually write when I get home, knowing that I’ll feel better for spending 20 minutes doing it, and vowing that I’ll get up earlier to honour this time tomorrow.

I know that keeping this routine matters to me when I miss breakfast or coffee to get the words out before I face the work day. If I do a self-scan at some point in the day, I will recognise a restlessness if I’ve missed a part of my morning routine including daily pages, meditation or walking my dog. These activities provide structure, but all of them also give me time to think, to dawdle a bit if I need to, to look up and see something other than the challenges of work or chores or the endless to-do list that keeps spitting out tasks like a dot matrix printer in my mind.

Sometimes routine is turning up at the desk even though the well feels a little dry. Pick up a pen or poise fingers over the keyboard and see what comes out. It might be slow and sluggish at first, but by creating the framework for creativity the chance of having something to show for the admission price of turning up is greatly enhanced.

How important is a routine in your creative life?

* The opening line from ‘Laugh in their Faces‘ by The Whitlams.

[Photo: winter landscape near Cooerwull in Lithgow]

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17 thoughts on “We fall into old habits*

  1. Habits and routines are what keep us going sometimes. I don’t have any writing routines per se, but I do have things that just magically get done each day, sometimes without a great deal of thought as to when and how they were achieved. I think children respond very well to routine.

  2. Hey Jane ๐Ÿ˜ƒ such a great post here. I can relate to what you’ve written about pages. I’ve been doing them for years now and I can’t believe it. As a teenager I desperately wanted to be a diary writer but never kept it up for more than a couple of days. In 2009 an art teacher encouraged me to write each day in the morning before making and I began to write regularly then. It was mostly to get my head straight about my art. In 2012 I completed the artist way and began daily pages.

    • Thank you for all of your feedback, and I’ll respond in kind – comment by comment! I was really interested to read about the use of the morning pages (or any regular writing routine) to help tap into the creative space before creating art. It sounds like we were both doing a bit of journalling before we were taken with the more regular rhythms of the daily pages.

  3. I don’t need to do them in the morning, I do them at any point during the day. If I do them in the morning they are more likely to be done though. I remember when I first started pages I couldn’t stop writing – pages and pages and pages. It’s settled to be at least 3 and maybe 6 max. Sometimes I write on paper, sometimes on my phone if I want to travel light. Sometimes it’s a struggle to get through 3. Sometimes I’m amazed by what comes out. Sometimes I’m so bored with my repetition. Sometimes I’ll start writing in a new way.

    • Like you I find I’m better off doing them in the morning. That being said, it can’t always be done (ironically, like today for me ;)) but I know that writing things out is just better for me. Like really cheap therapy! I usually keep to the three pages as I handwrite and it’s a bit slow. If I have more that I have to get out I’ll use an online journal as I can type so much faster. But I usually write it out if I can as making myself slow down a bit usually helps. You are so right about repetitition. It’s inevitable and sometimes I wonder if I’ve written something before then I just shrug. Perhaps it’s something that matters but othertimes it is the mundanity of life and what I’m up to next. And seeing as I like routines so much, it gets a bit predictable … I like how sometimes you start writing in a new way, like there’s a new perspective or direction – that’s ace.

  4. One of the reasons I keep doing them is that when I go to write something else it comes so much easier. I have to admit at the moment I’m only doing them on about half of the days. This is cause I’ve got too other daily commitments going – meditating and making something. It seems one of the daily things had to give. I keep trying to get back on track with pages, but I’m not going to beat myself up over it. Maybe it served it’s purpose. My partner and I have discussed how drawing or making art every morning might be a better fit for an artist and that writing each day a better fit for a writer.

    • You are absolutely right about it making it easier for whatever else you are going to write. I think it’s about keeping the flow going. Being put on the spot or with a tight deadline used to terrify me, but I know I can churn it out now because I keep my writing muscles limbered up. Being reasonable about missing days is sensible, and I know it is common to ebb and flow around the daily pages ritual. It comes down to what works for you. For me, there is a very particular kind of satisfaction in knowing that I write every day, even if it is these pages which are personal but they are also a space in which I play with my writing projects. I like the idea of making art of a morning is the artistic equivalent of the written pages – anything that gets you in the zone is a great notion.

  5. Do you read back over your pages? Do you think about if anyone will read them say when you’ve died – like idea – ha good luck piecing it all together. Nah I think it’s unlikely someone will read them. I don’t get time to read them myself. I have looked back through on a rare occasion, but I’m thinking it’s probably more of a thing that just exists in the moment. Unless there is a solar flare that wipes out all the technology and we find ourselves at a loss of something to consume ๐Ÿ˜‚

    • Sometimes I do read over them. I might be thinking back to when I went somewhere or did something, and be wondering about my initial impressions. The pages are often surprising, and they are usually funnier in hindsight. I like to come across story ideas or dreams, images that I can tease into something else. This makes it worthwhile for me. As for anyone reading them, good luck to them! Most of it is in the moment stuff, but there are also bits that need to be recorded somewhere so I can move on.

      Thank you for sharing your experience so honestly, and for asking some great questions. You’ve really made me think about morning pages and creativity in a different light, and for that I am grateful ๐Ÿ˜ƒ.

  6. Great to hear such a wonderful routine. I started blogging as a direct result of reading someone who had adopted your approach (for, the same source too I think, but I can’t recall). My regime is a lot more forgiving – 5 days of the week I try to write something – either a page of writing or half an hour if I can’t write much (might dabble with a bit of poetry or prose, both of which I am not good at, but all the more reason to try). Good n you for your stellar effort

    • Thank you, Terry. Everyone is different and you need to do what works for you. Writing for a blog is a great discipline too – anything that keeps you creative and playing with words. Your blog posts are so well-thought out and interesting to read, and I appreciate you taking the time to read & comment on mine ๐Ÿ˜Š

    • That would be challenging! It’s funny how routines become part of the fabric of daily life, sometimes without any fuss or fanfare, but you sure notice it when something intervenes. I’m glad your internet has been restored ๐Ÿ˜Š

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