I Wish Life Was More Like A Sunday

I came across this sentiment recently in notes I took a couple of years back whilst working my way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It was one of several items in a list of wishes that made me smile upon rediscovery. There is something about the sentiment that draws me still, so I thought I’d spend a moment or two on a Sunday and work out some of the elements of Sunday life that make it so special.

  • Sleep-ins. Best chance of a sleep in is on a Sunday. The working week is full of bustle, Saturdays fill up with things to do. Sundays are usually less hectic.
  • Catching up. A slower start to the day encourages a more leisurely pace. Sundays offer space for dawdling and pottering about, even if this means catching up on news missed during the week, or small chores left aside until a pocket of time appears. Sundays are full of such moments.
  • Sunshine. Not always guaranteed, of course, but if the weather is kind the temptation is strong to enjoy it with an outing or even just working in the garden with the sun on your shoulders. It is energising and grounding,  providing an energy store for workdays spent inside.
  • Just relaxing. That might sound obvious but without the usual bustle and to-doing, there is space to daydream or read a chapter in a book without interruption or haste, or listen – really listen – to the song playing in the background or the slower pace of the world outside.

What do Sundays mean to you?

[Photo: sunset in the Hartley valley]

Methodical Matters or Why Routines Rule

There is part of my personality that yearns for order, consistency and a daily pattern of sorts. I know this wouldn’t suit everyone, and there are times when it doesn’t suit me either, but I’ve learned to accept that I work best when there is a structure about my day. This is applicable for me personally and professionally, regardless of the multitude of factors beyond my control that can have an impact on what I can reasonably accomplish in a day.

What does this have to do with writing? A few posts back I mentioned that I hadn’t been writing as much as I would like, and I outlined a few ways that I managed to find a bit more time or at least make the most of the time that was available to me to create. This has definitely helped, and by creating pockets of space I find that ideas are still coming through, even if all I can really do is get the bare bones down, at least I am capturing these moments.

Recently I stumbled across Quiet Revolution, a site with lots of great resources particularly – but not exclusively – for introverts. The work of Susan Cain, author of Quiet, is featured, and there is a wide range of articles across a spectrum of subjects. In early August there were two articles about creativity by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West: 4 Ways to Make Space in Your Brain to Create, and 3 Ways to Hack Your Environment to Help You Create. I found these articles interesting and have returned to them a couple of times over the past month or so.

There are a few things that I have been doing for some time to help with both routine and creativity, including Julia Cameron’s morning pages, but I hadn’t really explored the use of visual mental imagery as outlined in Stephen Kosslyn’s psychology of ideas. Something I liked was the idea of scheduling ‘unstructured idea-generation time’ after immersing yourself in a new book or movie, giving yourself the space to play with the images created by the experience. It sounds simple but how often do we launch from one thing to the next, rather having time to reflect and explore what has been encountered?

Environment plays a part in creativity, and I know that whilst I can be creative when I’m away from home, or at work, or doing the grocery shopping (sometimes inspiration strikes at odd moments!), having a dedicated space set up makes it much easier to get into my creative zone when I’m at home. This is similar to the idea of ‘The Bubble’, the ideal creative state outlined by Twyla Tharp. By working on the creation of this space, you can have a bubble of creativity that travels with you as a state of mind.

Is a designated space for creativity important to you?

[Photo: Megalong Valley Tea Rooms, Megalong Valley]

How many books on writing are too many?

I cannot remember a time in my life when I didn’t have a fortress of books. It has only been through a gradual embrace of the electronic age that I have stopped leaving home without at least one book. What if I was stuck somewhere for more than a minute without something to read? Unthinkable. It is a relief now to carry a stack of them on my phone.

Lately I’ve been doing a half-hearted tidy of my books. They are sprinkled throughout most rooms with elaborate stacks on the shelves of a hallway mirror, and the coffee table needs a regular decluttering as it is the first point of call for all new books. But the piles are getting unwieldy and some sorting is now overdue.

I did go through a phase when I stopped buying books on writing as bookshelves were already groaning under the weight of various tomes. But a few crept in, then a couple more, and it’s time to revisit and see if there are any that aren’t earning their keep.

The reference books are non-negotiable. There are several dictionaries and thesauruses, including a centenary edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary as there are times when I want to look up an older meaning of a word. There are style manuals, dictionaries of phrase and fable, and books on reading like a writer. I have a couple of editions of Pears Cyclopaedia – one old one new – again for the contrast in words and life in general over time. There are books on writing mysteries as I love to read them and have started a novel on this genre, as well as books containing a plethora of writing prompts.

So far all I’ve managed to do is shuffle spaces and create enough room to accommodate my existing collection, spread across several shelves, as there isn’t anything I’m prepared to cast aside as yet. They contain a wealth of knowledge and conflicting viewpoints and often contradictory information but there is a comfort in knowing they are there. If I had to choose five to keep, the current winners would be:

1. Macquarie Dictionary, concise edition. I love the mix of dictionary entries and encyclopedic information touching on Australian life.

2. Macquarie Thesaurus, also concise. I do prefer to have a couple of backup thesauruses though, as I often know what I’m looking for and won’t stop until I find the word that is taunting me from the sidelines of my vocabulary.

3. A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves. The joyful mix of daily writing prompts, tips on writing and general guidance on how to have a more creative and fulfilling life.

4. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The ritual of the daily pages has been an important aspect of creativity for me in recent years, but the book covers so much more than that. I revisit the exercises from time to time to see how I’m travelling in a creative sense.

5. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. The encouragement to write past the initial barricade of self-criticism and doubt has stayed with me, years after reading this book. When I start a new project, sometimes it is only Natalie’s voice encouraging me to write through the dross that helps me get to the glimmers of gold. And I’m not hearing things – the book is also available in an audio version.

What books encourage your creativity?

[Photo: apples ripe for picking]

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]