Put on your (creative) habit.
March 12, 2018
Thinking about habit today: how hard it is to maintain a productive one and how easy it is to fall idle. It took all my willpower this morning to get out of bed. You’ve heard about my bed, right? It’s amazing. There are cool pillows and soft comforters and my mom’s quilt that Granny made for her. There’s a nice fan blowing and the fragrance of lavender from the essential oil diffuser. There are two cats, one who likes to be in the small of my back, the other one is usually on my head or behind my neck. I literally have to push my darling creatures off of me when I want to get out of bed. I sleep really well these days but it is hard as heck to get out of my Bed of Comfort.
Especially if I have “gotten out of the habit.” And, man, have I ever gotten out of the habit. Traveling for two weeks, which is great and I’m glad I got to do it, but for a person who thrives on routine, is a bit of a struggle. Let it just suffice to say that I didn’t get a lot of writing done the last few weeks. I just got out of the habit.
What do you think? Do you think it’s important to have a habit of creativity? To try to do something regularly? I think most creatives would agree that you’ve got to put in the work. Most of you know that I have always wanted to be a writer. I was thinking the other day about the comic book my friend and I wrote a when we were in the 4th grade called “The Adventures of Superbucket.” (He was TOTALLY an Avenger.) But for years, YEARS, my whole life, I waited for the mood to strike, for a good idea to sweep over me and carry me to my writing tablet/word processor/TRS-80/PC/iMac, where I would then proceed to pour out a work of singular genius that would make me a millionaire and beloved by readers the world over. Yeah, that hasn’t happened.
But here’s what did happen—I had an idea one day while driving to Los Alamos, an idea that had “legs,” as they say, an idea that had the potential to go somewhere: a veteran whose head injury forces him to see into other dimensions. There have been similar stories to this but this one was mine to tell. (I don’t worry about that “it’s been done” thing so much anymore because really? Everything has been done. But it hasn’t been done by ME.) So I have been telling this story, mostly to myself and a few others that I trust to give good feedback. I have been telling it for nearly ten years now and in the process, learning the craft.
I haven’t written every day, not by a long shot. There have jobs to go to and griefs to tend to and and health to manage and many days I just couldn’t face that overwhelming, judging, crushing, perfectionist-triggering page. You know what I mean by that, right? You think you might want to write or paint or garden or go take a few photos but that blank page or canvas or flowerbed or lens tells you, “What do you think you are doing? You don’t know how to do this. You always fail. Nobody cares. And besides, if you can’t do it perfectly, why even try? Everything always comes out awful anyway. It’s just a waste of time and energy.” You’ve heard that voice, right? One of the most prolifically creative and talented people I know told me the other day that they didn’t want to try something new because they don’t want to waste their time on something they can’t do well. Any other perfectionists here? Anybody else not creating because they can’t do it perfectly? Yeah, you’re in good company. We call this “the resistance.” It’ll kill your soul if you let it.
But I know that during those times that I have showed up every day, butt in chair, those stretches of weeks, even months, that I kept at it? The happiest days of my life. Maybe what I was creating wasn’t that great. Maybe it was amateurish and overwrought and had too many adverbs. Sometimes I would leave my office and go to my Bed of Comfort and cry because it was so bad and I didn’t think I was ever going to write anything that anybody else would want to read.
But then, there were those days that I wrote something I liked, that said exactly what I meant to say with a depth and emotion that was intentional and with just the right amount of adverbs. Those days would carry me for weeks. They helped me face the resistance.
I’m not going to talk about those dark days when I wasn’t writing. Let me just say that I really think it’s a good idea for me to put my butt in my chair and do the work. It keeps me alive.
Stephen King, love him or hate him, is one of the most prolific and successful writers of our time. And in what I think is the best writing book out there (only King could turn a craft book into a page-turner), he tells us:
“There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement kind of guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think it’s fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist, but he’s got inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the mid-night oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life. Believe me, I know.”
~ Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
These past few weeks, I got out of the habit. But I filled the well with lots of new sights and sounds and experiences and brilliant moments with friends. I did manage to work some on my iPad though it’s harder for me to write when I’m not in my office with my two big screens and everything just like I like it. I’m still absorbed in the world of my story because ideas and impressions keep coming to me. It’s like I’m a real writer or something.
It’s a beautiful day in Lubbock, Texas. Time to get back to it.
(Post written for our Creative Accountability Facebook group.)