I like (and don’t like) my routines and habits.
A few weeks ago, I read on my iPad The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. You may have heard of the book — published in late February, it has remained on the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list for months. I don’t always read best-sellers (and let’s don’t even talk about the current best-selling fiction books). But this book was appealing, not because so many other people found it so, but because I was ready to examine my own habits, to keep what worked and to change what didn’t.
I’m still working on some of the changes, but I’ve successfully adopted a few of the more basic (and very important) ones. I’ve cut out almost all (diet) Cokes from my diet — for those of you non-Atlantans, Cokes = all carbonated drinks. I’ve shifted my choices of what to eat for lunch at home from whatever we had in the fridge (like leftovers) to what I ate every day as a younger mom: albacore tuna fish or cottage cheese-and-fruit — and when eating out, I’ve made much healthier menu selections. I’ve increased my weekly cardio routines from three times a week to five or six.
I’ve been doing these things not quite long enough yet for them all to feel like habits; they still feel like choices, causing me to think (see book mentioned above). But with each day, I’m getting closer, and as my husband says, it can be all right to make a different choice occasionally, as long as you get right back on your routine afterward. That’s key for me. Aside from health-related issues, however, I’ve also tried to apply what I learned about routines to my work life as a writer.
In some ways that’s been difficult, but in other ways it hasn’t. When I sat down one August to write the first draft of my first novel, d’habitude I worked every weekday from 9 am to 1 pm straight; I was finished by May but didn’t realize that revisions would take just as much work and a lot longer. Much as I know what daily and weekly habits work well for me, and even though I feel comforted (less mentally stressed?) by them, I also feel rather constricted by them. There’s a part of me that’s figure-it-out-as-I-go and, well, more creative (which is essential when writing fiction). My spontaneous, imaginative, only-as-organized-as-I-have-to-be side has always battled against my productive, organized, good-habit-keeping side. This was even the case when my children were little and my occupation was stay-at-home mother — with four kids, I had to be organized. However, I fought and surrendered to that necessity. Hopefully, no one noticed.
Now that I’m writing full-time, I’ve found that I can balance creativity and productivity while making an effort to re-institute my working routines. Dialogue and scenes (the fun part) appear in my head and on the page more easily once I’ve got the story’s plot fine-tuned. My game plan can and does change along the way, but it keeps me focused when the words aren’t coming. Aside from a two-week vacation with mon mari this summer, I’ll continue my work schedule even when life’s demands get in the way. And I’ll enjoy (more than he will, I fear) the break in routine. I’ll get to think more, I hope, while maintaining my healthier habits.
I’d better bring some paper, a pen, and my iPad!