Many of us believe we have to do things in a certain way to get the creative juices flowing. It’s hard to let go of our treasured beliefs but do any of these routines actually work? Mason Currey has trawled the daily rituals of history’s creatives to identify six common themes. It’s not exactly a randomised controlled trial but, if you’re looking to boost your creativity, it’s a reasonable place to start. As you’ll see, I don’t measure up so well against the criteria. Can you do better?
Given that I tend to start winding down before nine in the evening, I’m not a night person, but you wouldn’t find me getting up to write at five or six. Yet I do find that some of my best -- and also my whackiest -- ideas come in that half-awake time just before getting out of bed. Much as I’d like to translate those thoughts into text before I’ve brushed my teeth, it doesn’t work for me that way. Repetitive strain injury means I rely on voice-activated software and I’ve learned that my voice takes longer to wake up than the rest of me. Begin too soon and my throat is protesting before I’ve got down 500 words. So I must be a mid-morning person: perhaps I’ll award myself half a point for that.
2. Don’t give up the day job
I'd love to pretend I juggle my writing around spoon-feeding a trio of toddlers and two sets of Aged P's before heading off for a ten-hour shift down the treacle mine, but I don't think you'd believe me. An aversion to writing too late or early doesn’t fit well with a nine-to-five job especially if, like mine, the job is so emotionally and intellectually demanding that all you want to do on coming home is curl up with someone else’s book. But the day job gave up on me a few years back; redundancy gave me an early pension and the freedom to do as I please. I don't think the small amount of freelancing I do justifies any points in the creative genius department, however.
Yippee! This is where I shine: long walks in autumn and winter,
pottering in the garden in spring and summer. I love being outdoors and the rhythm of walking especially induces a
state of reverie in which, if I’m lucky, the ideas and sentences come of their own accord.
I've even managed to combine walking with storytelling on occasion. Pity I can't have double points here!
4. Stick to a schedule
Not for me, I’m afraid, I’ve spent too long dancing to someone else’s tune to tie myself down with another set of restrictions. I write when I feel like it and, if I don’t feel like it, I assume there’s a good reason and do something else. But I guess this is only works because of a Catholic childhood and years of self-denial has rendered me naturally self-disciplined. And I’m never tempted by junk TV. Nil points for this one.
People have used creativity as an excuse for all kinds of chemical addictions, but coffee comes out tops. Even so, the evidence for the benefits of
caffeine is mixed and it’s best consumed in moderation, although most coffee addicts don’t care about that. My strict one-cup-of-coffee in the morning routine has nothing to do with my writing, but I’m giving myself a point. I used to drink tea at breakfast but, since travelling in South America when tea was never available, morning coffee has been my thing. I can’t drink instant, and it doesn’t feel right any later
than ten. Stuck in my ways, moi?
6. Learn to work anywhere
Oh dear I’m coming across as dreadfully fussy and, where I’m not, a bit of a prig. While the buzz of chatter in a café (presumably over a large cappuccino after a long walk) is said to aid creativity, I can’t bear noise. I’d
love to work in the garden, as Harriet Lane did when she wrote Alys, Always, but I can’t see my screen in the sun. I’m lucky to have a lovely study with a view over the garden which I ostensibly share with my husband, except that I can’t work if he’s in it. I’m blaming these inhibitions on the fact that I talk rather than type my words into the computer, but others might reckon I lack the flexibility gene. No points here.
So, two and a half points out of a possible six, I’m not doing very well. Still, I never believed in all that stuff anyway. How about you?
And for another take on writers' routines, consult the song of the sea god.