Charlotte Rains Dixon  

The Creative’s Dilemma: Routine or Free Rein?

Planting_fall_sonoma_283067_lWe creative types like freedom. 

"Don't fence me in!" we cry.

We need to be unfettered and unchained in order to do our best work.

And this particularly applies to anything so prosaic as schedules and routine, which are the polar opposite to creative passion.


That attitude is certainly the romantic vision many of us have about creativity.  I know I tell myself, I need my freedom, every time I spend an unexpected half hour farting around on the internet, or stay in bed instead of getting up early to write.

I need my freedom.  So don't talk to me about writing regularly. Because, you know, it will get done when it gets done, okay?  Which, with this kind of attitude might be, ahem, never.  Case in point:

My Morning Routine at the Start of This Year

I rose every day at 6:30, got my coffee and went directly to the office chair where I like to write in my journal, meditate and pray.  I wrote like a demon issuing orders to her minions.  Pages and pages every morning.  Ideas, brilliant thoughts, parts of scenes.  All that good stuff.  It was glorious.  And then one day it ended.  It just….ended.  I'm not really sure why.  I simply stopped doing it.

My Morning Routine Until a Couple Weeks Ago

I rose every day at 6:30, got my coffee, and went directly to my computer, where I would have the absolute best intentions of writing, but instead would open my email inboxes.  Oh, who am I kidding, they don't need opening–I never close them.  And then–an hour, hour and a half, sometimes two hours (gasp) later I would realize that I had accomplished nothing more than a few tweets, and answering some emails (but they were very important emails).

This bothered me every day I did it, but apparently not enough to do anything about it.  And so the stream of early morning tweets and emails continued.  And then, one day, as suddenly as my writing had ended, a new thought occurred: this transgression shall not stand!

My Morning Routine Now

I rise every day at 6 (I'm doing my best to work it back to 5:30), put on work out clothes, grab my coffee,  and write for 45 minutes to an hour.  Then I walk my husband to the bus stop (30 minutes round trip), thus solving one of my other problems, the fact I sit too much. (The other trick is to stand up every time I think, I've been sitting too long. It's harder to do than it sounds.) Upon returning home, I often sometimes convince myself to go back to the writing but usually breakfast beckons.

So, 45 minutes to an hour–not a lot of writing, right?  Yeah, I know.  But it's a helluva lot more than I was doing.  And I find that with the story in my mind after working on it first thing, I'm apt to steal a few minutes during the day to work on it.  I'm likely to have a couple ideas about it that I jot down.  I'm inclined to take some time on the weekend to work on it.

And when my dear, sweet, wonderful ego starts screaming about how I'm such a creative person and I can't be fenced in and I can't commit to a routine because that would kill the creativity, I tell her to shut up so I can write.  And so far its working out pretty well.

So, really, I'm not going to let any of you off the hook here.  I confess all this so that you know that I know how tempting it is to give into the illusion that we creatives need free rein.  No, we don't.  We need discipline and structure, just like everyone else. 

If you want to get your writing done, you've got to find a way to make it a routine part of your day.  Period.  And for me–and many others–the best way to do that is to get up and get it done first thing in the morning.  You'll feel good about yourself all day, I promise. 

What is your creative routine? 

 Photo from freerangestock.

0 thoughts on “The Creative’s Dilemma: Routine or Free Rein?

  1. Zan Marie

    Routine is good…until it’s not. ; ) I try to get the email/forum checks out of the way when I’m not fully awake yet. Believe me, anything written in the first couple of hours would be trash. Then after breakfast, tea, and a shower, I get to work…or not. Some days it works; some days it doesn’t.

  2. Cathy Smallwood

    Very apropos blog! I’m working hard this week to get back into my writing routine, having been away for almost two months. Goal is up at 6, do breakfast, walk, chores, admin etc. and be ‘in writing mode’ by 9 a.m. Am limiting emails to 30 min. chunks 3X day – works well so far; it’s the household distractions that are the devil!!

  3. Don

    Discipline is essential to every thing, and not just writing. That said, the really big problem with it is that it’s far easier said then done. However, if your willing to put in the effort, and yes might I even say down right sacrifice in order to achieve it, then the rewards are great and worth every bit of effort you put in!

    As far as ego goes then only good thing you can do with it is to bury it. Ego can, has and will continue to get in the way of writing.

  4. Charlotte Dixon

    Cathy, I can let the household distractions go, no prob (you should see my house right now), its the email and internet that are hell for me.  (It's 6:30 AM and clearly I'm answering comments, not writing–but I got up late and only have a few minutes until I leave for my walk.  See the justifications I make?)  I do think, however, that knowing what is going to distract us is half the battle.  And coming up with a game plan–for me, this morning, for instance, I'm going to come home from my walk and write before I allow myself breakfast.  Thanks for commenting!

  5. Charlotte Dixon

    Well said, Don.  Discipline is easy to talk about and much harder to actually accomplish.  It seems to me its like a groove–once you get in it, it is easy to maintain.  But getting there is the trick!  Yeah, and our pesky egos, geesh.  Sometimes they are just so unhelpful–and yet that's what they are for, to help us navigate the world!

  6. Charlotte Dixon

    Oh God, I love that–"routine is good, until it's not."  Describes me perfectly!  And yes, there is a case to be made for doing email when the brain is not yet fully awake.  Some people think that's a good time to get words on the page, but I do need at least a bit of coffee before I write.


    Thanks for this post, Charlotte, which I discovered through your newsletter. I love the juice that posts get flowing in the comment threads and will share my latest post too that I titled “Rocky Mountain High”: http://www.thriveandshine.com/blog/

    You and I have connected around writing before and I have to say I admire writers who help other writers. I’ve done this on a smaller scale as part of several writing group and it is really rich!

    Oh, and I have to share my good news that a story of mine was just published in a new anthology called Journey to Joy (that became an Amazon.com best seller the same day of its launch!) It is my first time being published in a book–and how cool that this gem is comprised of 35 women and 35 powerful personal stories? If anyone would like the link, let me know. I can be reached at mary@thriveandshine.com.

    Thanks and write on!


  8. Charlotte Dixon

    Thanks, Mary!  I know I've been on your site before and I look forward to checking out your most recent stuff.  Huge congratulations on the anthology publication–it sounds wonderful.

  9. Suzanne C. Robertson

    Finalist, Best Line Ever: “I wrote like a demon issuing orders to her minions.” Thanks for the laugh and the visual! And of course you are right about all this (except for getting up earlier and earlier … I am that night person), even though it’s painful. Thanks for giving it to us straight, Charlotte.

  10. Charlotte Dixon

    I'm glad you liked that line, I liked it too.  I feel rather demon-ish sometimes.  I know you hate getting up early, but if you're a night person–so be it, that's your time to write.  Me, I hit the computer after dinner and can't seem to put two words together! 

  11. Patty/Living Deep Studio

    I can really relate to your morning routine until a few weeks ago, Charlotte. I am so distracted lately. I think the best routine for me is to just not turn the computer on in the morning. This may sound drastic, but a few days ago I actually had my husband hide the mouse and turn on parental restrictions to block me from using the internet browser on my iPhone/iPad/iPod. I can’t do that every day, but it worked!

  12. Patty/Living Deep Studio

    oh no, my comment disappeared when I clicked “post.” Don’t you hate that?

    I was saying how I can relate to your morning routine you describe from a couple of weeks ago because I’m so distracted lately, particularly by the computer. The best thing for me is to simply not turn it on in the morning. But it’s so hard! This was drastic, but a few days ago I had my husband not only hide the mouse, but also put parental restrictions on my iPad/iPhone/iPod so I couldn’t use the internet browser. It worked! Had a great productive morning. Maybe I need to do that every day.

  13. Charlotte Dixon

    I actually found your comment in the spam file and published it–so now we get to see two wonderful comments from you.  (Typepad is dealing with some issues with comments going into spam–its a lot better than it was awhile ago, when everything seemed to disappear.)   And OMG–parental restrictions on the computer, courtesy of your husband!  That is the best ever!  I'm going to have to try that.  The problem I have is that I sometimes work on fiction in longhand, but there always comes a time when I want to get onto the computer….I'm going to try the parental restriction idea.

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