Creative blocks are something all creative persons experience, no matter in what field. I wrote about it in my last blog post. One of the best ways to counteract these blocks is by establishing regular routines or habits. That’s a way to get into flow, daily, without having to even think about it.
You may have heard about Ernest Hemingway. He made it a habit to write every morning. He liked to start early, around six o’clock, sometimes not even bothering to dress. He once said, “By writing in the mornings, you make sure that writing does get done.” Hemingway would write until noon and then he could often take the rest of the day off. He wrote standing up, facing a chest-high bookshelf with a typewriter on the top, and on top of that a wooden reading board.
Also Twyla Tharp, the renowned American dancer, choreographer, and author, starts her morning with a regular routine. She wakes up every morning at five-thirty and takes a cab to the gym. And then practice her dancing routine for a couple of hours. In her book The Creative Habit she writes: “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.” And continues: “A lot of habitually creative people have preparation rituals linked to the setting in which they choose to start their day. By putting themselves into that environment, they begin their creative day.”
I think both establishing habits to get started with whatever creative work one does and do so in the morning, preferable as the first think one do, will work wonders for the creative process. In fact, I have spent the last month finding a workable morning routine and making it into a habit that really gets my day started creatively.
I have always had to fight procrastination. I would often not start to do whatever work I had to do before I really needed to, maybe because of an imminent deadline. There is always so much fun or interesting things, I could rather do. Funny enough, though, when I get started with photographing, editing or writing, I always enjoy it. Still, I often have had to push myself initially. People with more psychological insight than me point to the fact that creating in and of itself means to explore the unknown and new. And we human beings don’t feel comfortable with the unknown. We are safe when we can be in a known environment. Being creative pushes us out of that safe zone.
By building a good habit for the start of the day, we are able to circumvent that uncomfortable feeling of the unknown we encounter when we want to be creative. I have noticed it myself. My new morning routine has changed it all for me. Now I am ahead of the game, tasks are done before they need to and I feel I have energy and look forward to doing more creative work, whatever it may be.
In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear writes about how to build good habits as well as how to break bad habits. He gives a handful of great and concrete tips. For instance when you want to build a new habit, try to make it attractive. You can do so by pairing something you want to do with something you need to do. You should also make it easy, for instance by make small steps in the beginning. Instead of writing two pages on your novel, allow yourself to just get started and be happy with that. After a while when the habit has come under the skin, you can increase the amount of work or steps. Clear also suggest to make habits satisfying. That could be giving yourself an immediate reward when you complete the habit.
It’s said that it takes around a month for a new habit to establish itself as something you do automatically. That’s about the time I have practice my new morning routine. I still don’t feel it kicks in without my conscious initiative. Nevertheless, I have already seen the result and the positive changes my morning routines has resulted in, so I don’t think there is a way back any more.
My morning habit has worked wonders. If you don’t have any routine, maybe it’s time to build your morning habit? Or at least give it a try?
When you read this, I will be in Brazzaville, Congo, to do a story about a woman scientist who has gained international recognition for her research in viruses, included Covid, Ebola and HIV. What she does is also very creative.
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9 thoughts on “The Creative Habit”
The English word habit comes from Latin habitus. That was the past participle of the verb habere, meaning ‘to have.’ A habit is something you have (as a part of yourself).
I like the idea of my habits being part of myself. Thanks for the heads up, Steve.
Wise words Otto, I should force myself to create my routine…
Thanks for reminding!
Good luck with forging your new routine, Robert.
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You have pressed the right button with me, Otto. Klausbernd and I were contemplating why we are we so busy and get caught up and sidetracked … so we decided to start every day with a meditation after breakfast. It worked well for longer than a month and then we fell out of it for various reasons. Thank you for this inspiration to reconsider what would be helpful for my own creativity.
Meditation is definitely part of my routine these days. But yes, it’s easy to get sidetracked, isn’t it. Here in Brazzaville I haven’t had time at all, so when I get back to a more normal rhythm again, I have to make sure also to enforce my new habits. 🙂