I’m convinced that one of the worst habits a writer can contract is an addiction to cliches. It’s perfectly okay to use cliches in everyday, spoken communications, so if I were speaking to you, like, in public, one-on-one, I’d probably say something like “I’m a creature of habit” to introduce this topic. But this is writing, and I’m not allowed to use cliches, so I’ll say instead, “I’m a lot more comfortable with familiar arrangements” and begin writing about routines by breaking one up. And that’s a good thing, because it’s a routine of expression and those need to be broken every chance you get. Routines of expression encourage intellectual laziness, which is the sickness unto death of good writing. Routines of scheduling are different.
You could argue that the same principle applies and I would have to agree, in principle, but I would defend my position with the argument that I’m more efficient when I’m comfortable and that, while it seems counter-intuitive, these routines, of scheduling and of place, actually facilitate creative originality. Maybe it has something to do with the natural instinct of self-preservation. We like to forget that we’re wild animals, preferring to think of ourselves as planetary Gods, the overseers of creation. What a joke.
We’re cave-dwelling animals, always alert to danger whenever we’re out of the cave. Creative monkeys, we’ve gone from simply painting its walls, to complete makeovers, to transferring the Platonic Form of Cave onto objects of our own manufacture – we call them ‘houses’ and ‘apartments’. The thing is that it’s in our nature to consider our safety at all times and a protected, defended environment is a basic and natural requirement. It’s the prime directive.
Productive routines may also have something to do with the circadian rhythms of the body. We all have preferred times, of the day, for working. We tell ourselves that those times are when we perform best and whether that’s a choice or an imposition of nature, it’s something that we’ve all experienced and understand, intimately. So here I am, needing to follow a routine if I’m to write anything.
There are three places where I’m comfortable – my cubbyhole at home or my special table at the local Starbucks are the two best. The third place I use is related to time-of-day, and coffee. A cup of coffee is part of my writerly routine, as is my five a.m. start time. The library is unavailable that early in the a.m. and in any case, would not allow coffee at the desk. But there are times when I can get away with some afternoon writing time, and that’s when the library comes in handy. I had to work at that one though, because it went against all my comfort props.
No coffee, an irregular, unpredictable environment and the wrong time-of-day. Though public, the Starbucks is a predictable environment; all the people there are regulars and it was easy to settle down and feel safe. The library is different. There are regulars there too, but the customer base is way bigger, and the frequency of an individual’s schedule is not on a daily period; people don’t generally read a book in one day, so library visits tend to be spaced further apart. From day to day, there are very few familiar faces in the crowd.
But I did work on it, and I do manage to cope with the situation, but only just. It’s not one of my favorite places to work.
I write best when I’m in my familiar place, my cave, with a cup of very hot coffee, freshly brewed, and I go for about two hours, or ten thousand words, whichever comes first.
If you’re a writer, you’ll get the joke in that last bit.