Tuesday, April 03, 2007

301 . . . The Creative Habit

I noticed as I began to write today's blog piece that it would be number 301. I find that a little mind-boggling, really. But then again, I don't.

Mostly it's a matter of showing up. Obviously I haven't shown up every day. But I manage to get here pretty regularly. And some days -- particularly when the book is going badly or, worse, when the book is not going anywhere at all -- that I can write here is what saves my sanity. At least the blog continues to move. Words have not deserted me entirely.

You may not think that's much -- and judging from some of my posts, it may not be. But there is virtue in showing up, in making a habit of it.

I was reminded of that again as I began to read Twyla Tharp's wonderful book The Creative Habit. Both words -- creative and habit -- are equally important. Creativity without habit is a matter of waiting for inspiration. And sometimes, frankly, inspiration is in short supply. Or if it isn't, without habit you may not know what to with it.

In her chapter, rituals of preparation, Tharp writes, "I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab."

It is a small act, but it is habitual. Every morning she turns herself in the right direction by hailing the cab. It is the point of no return.

When I decided I needed to write 2000 words a day to finish this book up and get it all sorted out before the end of April, I went back to a ritual of my own.

The first thing every morning when I am deep into a book, I stumble into my office before I do anything else. I either turn on the computer or, if it's already on, I bring up the chapter I was working on the night before. I don't read back. I don't do anything except immerse myself in the page I was writing. I stare at it. I sink back in. I type.

Maybe I type 5 words. Maybe I type 500. Whatever. It doesn't matter. What matters is that before I'm even quite awake, I'm back in the story.

The first words come more easily if I let them out before I even brush my teeth. And then, when that first burst of story is on the page, I save it and walk away. I make the bed. I brush my teeth, wash my face, get dressed. I come back and type a few more words. I go downstairs with the dogs and let them out. I put on the kettle and make a cup of tea. I go back up and write a few more words. I bring down the laundry.

It's a routine then to be thinking about the book, to be inside the book while all the outside stuff is happening. There is no one to talk to -- except the dogs who, with the exception of Gunnar, don't talk back. And so it's me and my characters, communing, having tea together, putting in the laundry together, mulling, typing, thinking.

But, like Twyla Tharp and her cab, my ritual isn't all the other stuff, it's bringing up the file and throwing myself into it before I'm even quite awake. It's like jumping into the cab that will take me to my work.

If I get away from doing that, I can lose the whole day. It's the habit that makes it happen. The creativity turns up once the habit has opened the door.

And that's good.


Blogger Liz Fielding said...

An important lesson, Anne. Perhaps the most important. Thanks for reminding me.

04 April, 2007  
Blogger Annie West said...


I was so interested to hear about your morning writing rituals. You're so right about the importance of habit. It makes the whole writing process so much easier if you can train yourself to do it almost automatically - so it becomes your routine. I find those weeks when I'm forced to have several days in a row away from the story make like incredibly difficult as I get out of the habit. Thanks for blogging about this.

And, congratulations on your 301st blog!


04 April, 2007  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

You're right, Liz. It never hurts to be reminded. When I thought about the cab, I realized that that's exactly what I was doing when I settled into writing before I even had my eyes open in the morning.

And yes, I think it's really hard, Annie, to take time away from a book and then come back and hope to find the muse waiting. The muse has usually gone on holiday, too. So I need to keep showing up.

04 April, 2007  

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