The Creative Habit

Most of us follow a daily routine. We awake at about the same hour, maybe hit the snooze a few times, grab breakfast and a shower, dress and hit the road. Usually it’s the same road -- and the same mode of transportation, with maybe a beverage of choice on the way, and then in the door at work at roughly the same time, with all the familiar tasks awaiting.

Some might find this a seriously limiting portrait, a sort of Dilbert Dullsville, unconducive to creative production or flights of imagination. But actually, inside that predictable routine lies genius, if you know how to tap it. For many of the great artists, writers and designers, this very kind of structure proved key to their success.

To take just one writerly example, Charles Dickens awoke at 7:00 each morning, had breakfast at 8:00, and arrived in his study by 9:00. He worked in silence in front of a window, breaking briefly to eat lunch with his family and then at precisely 2:00 he took a 3 hour walk through the countryside. He ate dinner at 6pm then relaxed with his family for the rest of the night. This regular pattern yielded some of the greatest English literature, including Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, and A Tale of Two Cities.

What makes that level of structure such a potent tool for creativity? For one thing, it raises the odds that you’ll be at your post when inspiration strikes, and it frees the mind when the parameters of where you’ll be at what time are not up for debate. In contrast, working only when inspired or motivated makes it hard to focus; it’s easy to become blocked or scattered. A deliberate workflow helps eliminate stress, increase focus, and allow your brain to think creatively.

Simply put, when you work regularly, inspiration is more likely to strike regularly. And having total familiarity with your tools and work setting frees you to best use those tools and relax in that setting. If you left your desk for the day in a mindset of creativity, when you return to that same desk the next day it will be easier to pick up that creative thought where you left off surrounded by the same visual cues.

The take home message? Don’t wait for inspiration to get you to your desk, or laptop, or drawing board -- you will waste your life waiting. The writer John Updike famously said: 

"I've never believed that one should wait until one is inspired, because I think that the pleasures of not writing are so great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again."

There is no one right way to influence your personal creativity, and patterns can certainly change, but creating structure in your daily routine can be very helpful. Every person functions differently, but we are all creatures of habit.

For more reading on the habitual patterns of other famous creative minds, pick up the book: Daily Rituals by Mason Currey.