Most of us carry the idea that great writers operate like mad geniuses, frequently swept up by sudden inspirations, brilliant insights and compulsions they neither control nor understand. Even though I know this is not true, I often behave as if it ought to be.
The truth is more mundane. Great writers put in lots of time. The act of writing stuff down is a major activity that gets as much time as they can give. It isn’t haphazard. There isn’t a muse standing somewhere just out of sight, waiting to kidnap the great writer when least expected.
Great writers build routines, deep habits of time and effort that can endure the storms, setbacks and sudden distractions of daily life.
I haven’t written in over a month. I’m not beating myself up about it. That doesn’t work. The past five weeks have been a maelstrom. Most parts of everyday have been outside my control.
Here’s the thing: most parts of everyday are always outside my control. They have always been that way. They will always be that way. Developing a routine shapes a space where not writing is more unusual than writing. Developing a routine creates a kind of gravity where not writing takes more effort than writing.
Life always surprises. We are not in control of the things that happen. Routine is a way of building a furrow in the ground to hide inside. Routine is a safe place to protect the things that matter the most. Routine is investment in a belief about yourself, a habit of being who you are. No matter what happens to carry you off course.
And when things get really crazy, we are able to be gentle with ourselves and be grateful for the anchor of routine. This isn’t a rigid, inflexible thing. It is a shape we create inside our lives. A place to put the things that matter the most.
Words. Stacks of them pile up over hours and hours which become days and days. Then weeks and months. Eventually years. This is a decision about how to spend a life. It isn’t a thing a person decides to do once in a while when the mood feels right, the angle of the light is just so or the inspiration has heated our juices. This is decision that gets made about the same time every single day. Write or don’t write. Either way, you are cultivating a habit. You are living your routine.