Shake It, Baby: Breaking The Routine

I find it hard to imagine a better avatar for chaos than a Furry using a ShakeWeight.

I find it hard to imagine a better avatar for chaos than a Furry using a ShakeWeight.

 

Routines can be great. They give a structure to what is essentially a structureless thing and make sure that you’re not just dicking around on the internet, looking at cat memes and whatever argument is brewing on Twitter today. But watch out for the moment when the routine–as embodied in your schedule, your word count spreadsheet, your plan–becomes more important than the actual thing you’re trying to create.

I don’t think this is just limited to creativity, either. When I started running, I had a routine: five days a week. No excuses. On one hand, that worked out fantastically: I was far less likely to flake on a run in favour of a new video game than I would have been if I’d just said, “eh, I’ll just run whenever I feel like it.” And I ran more, which built skill and endurance faster. But, after a while, the schedule took precedence over other things. Like injury. I kept running with burgeoning plantar fasciitis for a lot longer than I should have, because, in my head, meeting the plan was far, far more fucking important than the pain. I’m lucky I smartened up eventually, or I could have done a lot more damage than I did. As it is, I have a little twinge in my left foot to this day. Which conveniently serves as a reminder not to be so fucking stupid. Not saying I always listen, but…

Writing is the same: having a plan is a great idea, but it should serve you, not the other way around. And sometimes the best way it can serve you is by fucking off altogether.

Getting away from my daily stuff–the word counts, the research goals, the deadlines–cut something loose inside my head and helped me solve plot problems I’ve been working on for months. Part of it was because I was hanging around another, very creative person that I could bounce ideas off. But I think a lot of it was just the change. The routine ceased to matter at all, and the ideas flowed.

Now that I’ve returned home, I have gotten back into a routine. But it’s a different one. The time away also allowed me to reassess my day, see where it was helping and where it was holding me back. And I can put those ideas into practice, make something out of them.

So, if you’re a planner, inject a little chaos into your life. Your creativity will thank you. And the routine will still be there when you get back, ready to put all that new madness to good use.

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How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Spreadsheet

Max the Accountant Cat

You’re spending far too much time looking at cats on the Internet. Shape up. (Photo credit: Found Animals)

Spreadsheets: soulless, restrictive, dead-eyed little bastards, aren’t they? The anti-thesis of the creative impulse. All those little boxes, marching in their ordered rows and columns. Following rules, like suckers. I know some writers who won’t even go near one for fear it will steal their creativity like cameras used to steal souls.

Well, confession time: I use one. For writing. Actually, I use several, because each project has its own spreadsheet when it’s in the rewrite phase, but I use an everyday one. For all my writing.

For a creative person, that somehow feels like confessing to downloading Roomba porn.*

But I am very fond of my spreadsheet, and I’m not ashamed. All it does is this: keeps track of projects, due dates, total word count, projected word count, and how much I wrote in a particular day. And organize them in a neat, easy to read format. With colour-coding and stuff.

So why have I crossed over to the dark side** and started using something perfected by accountants? I could go on about organizing and chaos from order and all that, but it really comes down to one thing:

It makes me accountable.

With one glance, I can see how I did this week, this month, this quarter. Did I slack off? Did I knock it out of the park? Did I have a run of bad days that I later made up for? And how are those deadlines working out? Am I making them with time to spare, or is everything a last-minute rush? Can I do better? Can I take on another project without going mad?*** Have I been working, or have I just been going through the motions?

The spreadsheet is a way to cut through the excuses. If I look at it and see a bunch of yellow squares—the code for a missed day of writing—then I know I need to fix something. Maybe I need to work harder, or maybe I need to set that project aside until it’s ready. But something is amiss.

Besides, nothing is more irritating than having to go into that spreadsheet at the end of the day and mark something yellow. I use yellow for the missed day because it’s the colour of cowardice. And making that little click to shift the colour…it’s like admitting defeat. There’s a lot of stuff I’d rather do. Write, for one.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m behind in my word count for the day. And I am not getting a fucking yellow square this week.

*At this point, I just assume that there’s porn of everything on the internet. Rule 34, yo.
**In creativity, I mean. Let’s face it, if the Force was a real thing, I’d end up a Sith. I wouldn’t try it, but it would happen. No little green hermit is going to convince me not to get pissed off.
***Madder. Which is also a paint pigment.