Good Habits

Sometimes being creative is extremely demanding. Sometimes I have to push myself to get going, whether I am writing a text, photographing, doing post-production, making a blog post like this or something quite different. Sometimes it’s hurting almost physically to try to be creative.

There is no easy way around the fact. However, good habits can help. As Twyla Tharp, one of America’s greatest choreographers, concludes in her book The Creative Habit: “It’s vital to establish some rituals—automatic but decisive pattern of behaviour—at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, and going the wrong way.”

These last couple of weeks, I have been making good habits for myself. I don’t say so to brag, but maybe it can be an inspiration for others who might feel overwhelmed by the demands of being creative—or trying to be.

I usually work a lot, but can also be good at procrastinating, particularly chores I would rather not do. As strange as it may sound, creative tasks might sometimes belong to that category, at least until I get started. The point is simply to get started, at least for me. For instance, I find writing more demanding than anything else I do. I love to write, but I hate to write, too. Or; I love to photograph on the streets, but it scares the shit out me, too. It’s all a big contradiction, but isn’t that what creativity often feels like?

Good habits have saved me from complete disaster this last month. I have been buried in plenty of work, which generally is good for a freelancer if you want to survive. But can also cut you short of drowning. My weeks have been juggling between making interviews, photographing for the same articles or some other assignments, writing the texts and editing the photos. It’s been hard not falling behind with the work.

My way to dealing with the load of work, has been to organize good habits for myself. When I have gotten up in the mornings, I start the day with reading the day’s newspapers. As a journalist, I need to know what is going on, so it’s part of the job. When done with the papers, I went to my desk and started to write whatever article I had in the working. There was no way around it. Every day, writing would be the first thing I did. Part of it this, is the fact I pointed to already; that writing is such a demanding process for me. By getting going with writing as the first thing each day—and not allowing myself any excuses doing anything else—I would be working much more efficiently than otherwise. My habitual schedule would be to write up until lunch. From there on, I would organize interviews or photo shoots if needed and/or processing images. Finally, at the end of the workday I would do the odd jobs, like sales taxes, answering emails or other office work.

The key for me has been getting started with the writing and forcing myself to write no matter what. And, yes, some days I felt empty and not able to write anything inspiring. I would still write however boring it would come out, accepting that it would have to be edited at a later stage. As I noticed I was able to keep up with the work, it inspired me to keep going on like this. I think I have been more efficient than I often am. I usually work long hours, starting the day at 7.80 am and not ending work before 7 pm. (It must be noted that included in this time frame, is reading the papers as well as physical training, as I see the latter as equally important as my work and thus need to make sure I create room for it).

Nevertheless, there it’s still plenty of time for work. That has sometimes been part of the problem. In the morning, I might think there is no hurry since the day is still long in coming, so I find ways to postpone what I don’t want to do and end up wasting time. And suddenly the day is gone.

With good habits, I keep pushing and don’t allow myself much breaks before the work is done. Instead, I might end the day earlier and have a longer evening off for pleasures or doings not related to work. It’s really been exciting when I notice I have been able to keep up with all the work needed to be done. Before this last weekend, I was completely adjourned with all work up until then, and for the first time in very long, I could take the weekend off with a clean conscious—despite the workload hanging over me three weeks earlier. Usually, there is always something I could do or ought to do in the weekends, but this time there was nothing to do at all. This weekend I felt light and keyed up realizing I could do nothing if I so wanted. Even if I didn’t, just knowing made me thrilled.

Good habits create space for creativity. It frees up your mind and inspiration, when you otherwise might get bugged down by the mere thought of what could end up becoming insurmountable chores. Again, to quote Twyla Tharp: “Turning something into a ritual eliminates the question, Why am I doing this? The ritual erases the question of whether or not I like it. It’s also a friendly reminder that I’m doing the right thing.”

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50 thoughts on “Good Habits

  1. Many details…a hard working man and a hammock. The picture goes so well with your text – and organizing ourselves is something we all must learn. The hard way mostly. Now, when I have retired from most work, I indulge in long breakfasts with slow reading before I start my day. It is a privilege, but I have earned it.

      1. Yes, one day…you will be thinking of it too. I was fortunate to be able to retire very early. I had lost some friends far too early, and wanted to make sure there would be some years of good life left before old age. Having the chance to go – I took it. I believe people should think – and think again. You don’t know how much time is left, and not how healthy you will be.
        Thank you for a thought provoking post again.

  2. If your statistics suddenly go through the roof it will be because I’m coming back to this post over and over again for inspiration and instruction, Otto. Most of the habits I’ve indulged in lately are bad (or at least not productive), so I’m eager to try your method and see if it gives my days a bit more discipline and structure. Thank you for always providing such insightful and interesting posts. Also, your photo is gorgeous.

  3. Very good and inspiring habit! I like the feel of free from worrying about unfinished works too. Your keeping the routing consistent and do hard work during the allotted work time are just called “balance”!

  4. You have a great set up of good habits, Otto, that’s most important and is the only way that keeps us going. What a great storytelling image, along with your inspiring article, I wonder where it was taken, I could make a guess, in Cuba? Have a great inspiring week.

  5. What you say about habits sounds very familiar. I constantly am being forced to restructure my days because of weather, so I need ways to provide for flexibility and productivity. One trick I’ve learned is to write when I have a block of time — morning or evening — and not try to sandwich it into unexpected pauses in the day. I prefer writing at night, but if I’m too tired, I simply put it off until morning: but that block dedicated to writing happens every day. It’s become a habit!

    1. Some similarities between the two of us, in other words, except your tend to write later on while I write as the first thing I do. I am actually a type B personality, but by getting “rid” of the writing early I can spend the rest of the day with anything fun. 🙂

    1. One thing at a time is the best. Multitasking has been much hyped, but new studies shows that multitasking only reduces our concentration in each of the tasks we try to juggle at the same time.

  6. Hello Otto…ahh The Creative Habit is such an inspirational book on the discipline needed in creative work. I’m a big fan of just setting the kitchen timer to “make time” to focus on all the mundane computer tasks that need to be done in order to “have time” for work in my studio! Best to you!

  7. I agree with you about the need to establish a pattern for the day. I find that different parts of the day seem to generate different types of energy and I try to plan my activities accordingly. Sometimes it works!

  8. In my line of work creativity doesn’t play a big part and only when my work day is done can I devote time to the arts that I love but when I am drawing a blank I am tempted to give up. Your article is inspiring as always. Much success to you Otto, enjoy the season.

  9. It sounds like you’ve found a method that really works for you…I have read that many writers write in the morning, until maybe early or mid afternoon. It always seems to be the way with writing – you have to just go to that space where you write and do it, first thing. For me, it’s different, because I have no assignments at all. It’s great not having to work for a living, but it takes a while to figure out how to manage your time. Right now, I’m still happiest letting things develop according to how I feel each day – it’s a luxury, I know! I’m glad to hear you have a lot of work these days, Otto – that’s wonderful.

    1. I think Ernest Hemingway was one of those writers starting out with writing as the first thing every day. When it comes to habits and how we approach the creative endeavour, there is not one solution that fits all. We all have to find our way—as you have.

  10. I totally agree. As I wrote on my own blog, this week I fought myself, but in a way it turned out well because it forced me to buckle down to meet my deadline. At the same time, I was very aware sarting first thing in the morning doesn’t work for me. Trying to force myself to do it just makes mistakes that I have to correct later. The point is to make good habits that work for you. I’m glad you’ve figured out your rhythm. Love the photo.

    1. You are very right, we all have to make habits that work for each of us. Mornings has not always worked for me either, since I am not really a morning person. Thanks for commenting, Linda. Always appreciated.

  11. What a great post and very timely and relevant for me at the moment. I too am a big procrastinator and sometimes have trouble just starting but usually when I begin things flow. Thanks for the jolt and reminder Otto, of how important it is to create good habits.

  12. I certainly share many of your delaying strategies! When I do get it together and get the work done I always feel great about it, but getting started can always get derailed by something as simple as cleaning the cat’s litter box. I sometimes think that those people who crank out enormous quantities of productive work must just basically be ADHD!

  13. I have to admire your attitude, Otto, and it has obviously paid dividends. I am an expert in procrastination. It comes to me totally naturally 🙂 🙂 But I love that feeling of lightness when the job is done and free time beckons.

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