I first posted about creatives’ lifestyles back in 2018, and now I’m bringing it forward and updating it, because this topic gets very short shrift when it comes to talking about a creative career.
We’ve all survived the first two years of a global pandemic when all of us have been in lockdown for most of it, and we’re now only just pulling out of the emergency measures and really getting to enjoy life once more. Right now is when the temptation to live life large is very great. But if you give into that temptation in the long term, it won’t serve your writing ambitions.
Read on to see why.
The conventional view of creatives is often that of Bohemians, living on the edge of society and obeying no laws other than those imposed by their muse. Creatives are seen as flaky and unreliable, poor and spiritually free. They live in clusters, supporting and encouraging each other, but seem to spend a lot of time drinking at the local bar and whiling away their hours in contemplation of their next artistic endeavour.
Of course, I’m laughing as I write this because the truth is almost the exact opposite.
Did you think that you were enhancing your creativity by embracing chaos and change and welcoming an unpredictable life?
In fact, the predictable, very-nearly-boring life is the perfect life for a writer.
Why a steady life is best.
Everyone has a built-in limit on how many executive decisions they can handle in a day before they start mentally unravelling.
You’ve likely experienced that draining state more than once. Think of those days when there’s no milk for breakfast and you must figure out what breakfast to serve instead, or come up with an alternative to milk for your coffee and the kids’ cereal. When it’s garbage day and you forgot to put it out and now must circle back because you already forgot last week, and now you’re going to be late for work, so how can you shave ten minutes off your route to work? When someone calls in sick at work and now you have to cover their stuff as well as yours and suddenly, you’re juggling priorities like a clown (and no one is entertained). Even before you reach lunch, you’re already yearning to go home and dive under the covers and sleep for a month. Screw writing for the day–it’s just not happening.
Even an ordinary, run of the mill day, by the time you get to the end of it, can be exhausting.
That’s why writing first thing in the morning works best for the vast majority of writers. Your executive decision making fuel is topped up. As writing is a series of one decision after another, and every decision requires thought, you can see how trying to write when you’ve drained the tank for that day is a useless exercise.
Like all muscles, your capacity for decisions can be increased with regular workouts that push the limits a little further each time.
Once you’ve been writing long enough (in other words, sticking to a regular schedule), then you may find that you can write every night even after a crappy day, because your brain still has capacity left to deal with the challenges of writing. Writers who say they prefer to write at night have usually been writing at night for a very long time and are used to the mental workload.
That’s an encouraging thought, if the only window of time for you to write is when the owl is calling: Every night you push yourself to write is adding to your mental capacity to cope with highly creative activities at that time of night. The longer you do it, the easier it will get.
Why a schedule works for everyone.
Given that there’s only so much deciding you can do in a day, then it makes sense that eliminating as many decisions as possible gives you capacity to spare, right?
Hence President Obama only ever wearing the same two types of suits and shirts . It takes all the decision-drain out of the process of dressing each day.
It’s also possible that living a simple, pared back life with minimal possessions also saves a lot of your decision-making energy for your writing…because you’re not having to deal with those possessions and things. You don’t have to think about them, maintain them, or otherwise care for them. Or replace them.
A life with minimal drama, one that pilots itself via routines and custom, leaves you with the creative energy needed to write.
Enter the schedule.
Schedules take the guess work and need for decisions out of the picture. If the schedule you build for yourself says you should be writing after dinner, then you don’t have to brainstorm each day about when you can fit writing into the day’s schedule–it’s already been decided.
Schedules, when you stick to them, become habits. Habits = autopilot. You stop thinking about should-you/shouldn’t-you and just do it (to quote that company).
There’s evidence that sticking with a routine quiets the stress and gives your mind a chance to think about your writing, instead. If regular routines (no matter how weird) worked for greats like Mozart, Charles Dickens and Picasso, it’s worth considering building your own.
A writing schedule and a daily routine allow you to monitor your own progress. You’ll know very quickly if you’re no longer on track to finish the first draft by the end of the month, because the sense of mild guilt you get because you haven’t written when you promised yourself you would keeps you honest.
Without a routine, you could easily look around a month later and realize you haven’t been near your keyboard in weeks…and my, where did the time go?
There is no downside.
Even when you have a routine and that routine goes off the rails (which it absolutely will, sooner or later), you can still reschedule (mini-schedules and recovery and other tactics all work).
The disruption to a routine, depending on its nature, can give you a different perspective on something that you’ve grown used to. For example, when my husband was on disability insurance and at home all day, just that small difference in my daily routine caused me to rethink how I start and finish my days. We hibernated in our house (surrounded by more than three feet of snow, I hasten to add). From this change I got more than one idea for a story about couples who detach from everyday life and head off for weeks and months at a time…and what if no one noticed they hadn’t returned…?
Disruptions provide unexpected associations of disconnected ideas–the very heart of creativity…but you do have to have a routine in place, for the routine to be disrupted and your perception to be jolted.
Your productivity will soar
With a schedule, you will reach your writing goals. You’ll stress less. And you’ll sleep better.
Leave the Bohemian life to the dilettantes and those who like the idea of dying from chronic disease. Write, instead.