A writer needs a rut to run in.
If you’re troubled by the construction, let me also say it this way: a writer needs a rut in which to run.
But about this rut…you might be thinking, “Hold on, now, how can a coach who encourages curiosity and creativity be promoting a rut?”
After all, People get stuck in ruts and never change, never take risks, never explore new possibilities. Ruts are things to get out of not to fall into. Ruts feel like tedium. Monotony. Boredom.
And there’s some truth to that, but I’m going to try to convince you to think differently about the monorail experience. When you have a rut to run in, parts of your life switch to autopilot and you don’t have to reinvent every single day. It simplifies life and frees up mental energy for greater willpower and creativity.
It steadies you.
Think of a rut as a habit or set of habits—a routine—that automates parts of your life.
In an article in The New York Times, John Tierney, who wrote the book Willpower with Roy Baumeister, says, “The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts…there is a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control.”
We writers need that self-control—that willpower—to stick with the job, to finish the story, to meet the deadline. And we need some creative energy to bring it all to life.
Writers need a rut to run in.
If we deplete our brains on a lot of inconsequential decisions, we’re more likely to delay our writing and run off to the movies with a friend. We’ll pay less attention to a long-term goal like, to finish a book, and just fiddle with Facebook for an hour. If we do manage to write, a brain lacking willpower will be tempted to default to tired, predictable expressions, too mentally fatigued to reach for something fresh.
[P]eople with the best self-control are the ones who structure their lives so as to conserve willpower…they establish habits that eliminate the mental effort of making choices. Instead of deciding every morning whether or not to force themselves to exercise, they set up regular appointments to work out with a friend. Instead of counting on willpower to remain robust all day, they conserve it so that it’s available for emergencies and important decisions.
As writers, we want to conserve willpower so it’s available for some of the important decisions involved with creating and completing our art.
A Guardian article quoted W.H. Auden:
Decide what you want or ought to do with the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble…Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.
What routine will you form to free your mind to create? What rut will you run in that will leave enough willpower to keep you seated at your desk to do the work you’ve set out to do?
Pre-decide what your routine will be. Set it on repeat, day after day, so that it’s automated, so it’s a habit, and it becomes a rut to run in, leaving you with mental space and energy … to write.
Ideas from this episode:
- A writer needs a rut to run in, freeing his mind to stick with the work and generate creative ideas.
- A rut to run in lassoes the power of routine, or a set of habits, to “automate” the more inconsequential parts of our lives.
- Structure your life to conserve willpower by reducing the number of decisions you need to make.
- Beethoven and Bergman lassoed the power of routine, running in ruts each day to free up their creativity.
- Pre-decide what your routine will be, then repeat it, day after day, to form the rut.
- Do You Suffer from Decision Fatigue? (The New York Times article by John Tierney)
- Rise and shine: The daily routines of history’s most creative minds (The Guardian article featuring W.H. Auden, and the routines of Beethoven and Ingmar Bergman, mentioned in the audio)
- In Your Own Words: Ann Kroeker—Habit (featured at the website of Charity Singleton Craig)
- How to Form a Daily Habit: Don’t Break the Chain
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Book Discussion – The Art of Memoir
Do you read or write memoir? If so, you’ll enjoy the book discussion of Mary Karr’s recent release The Art of Memoir. I’m posting a new set of questions each Tuesday, but jump into any of the conversations. Anyone who has commented will be alerted and the interaction can continue!
Join the conversation Tuesdays at my Facebook page: