The Creative Routine

20 Ways to Become More Creatively Productive

Like all creative acts, writing is mysterious.  Sometimes it flows, often it doesn't.  To become a productive writer one must find a way around this challenge, a task easier said than done.  Creatives throughout history have often famously developed bizarre individual tricks to overcome writer's block.  

Early in his career, filmmaker David Lynch relied on obscene amounts of caffeine and sugar to get himself working.  He says,

"For seven years I ate at Bob's Big Boy.  I would go at 2:30, after the lunch rush.  I ate a chocolate shake and four, five, six, seven cups of coffee--with lots of sugar.  And there's a lot of sugar in that chocolate shake.  It's a thick shake.  In a silver goblet.  I would get a rush from all this sugar, and I would get so many ideas!  I would write them on these napkins.  It was like I had a desk with paper.  All I had to do was remember to bring my pen, but a waitress would give me one if I remembered to return it at the end of my stay.  I got a lot of ideas at Bob's."

Sometimes we need advice on developing a creative routine that's a bit more universally applicable.  For those yet to discover their Bob's Big Boy, there are numerous manuals on creative productivity that promise to mitigate the struggle.  Of course every minute spent reading about creativity is a minute spent not doing the work, which is why we at Novelry have done the hard part for you.  

Below are the twenty best pieces of advice on becoming more creatively successful from Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mindan anthology of tried and true tips culled from creatives in a variety of fields and edited by Jocelyn K. Glei. The book is structured in four parts, and we've picked our favorite bits of wisdom from each section: Building a Rock Solid Routine, Finding Focus in a Distracted World, Taming Your Tools, and Sharpening Your Creative Mind.  If you like what you see, we definitely recommend reading the full book, it was one of the best on the topic we've seen in a while.  Enjoy!

Building a Rock Solid Routine

  1. Do your creative work every day before you deal with what Marc McGuinness calls "reactive work", i.e. emails, phone calls, social interruptions, or deadlines that can wait until tomorrow.  
  2. Discover the time of day when you are most productive, and devote these sacred hours exclusively to your craft.  
  3. Frequency is the most important aspect of routine.  Do the work every day.  
  4. Forget about quality.  Perfection paralyzes.  If you work prolifically, quality will come.  In the meantime know that everyone produces crap on the road to great work.
  5. If you struggle to turn your creative aspirations into a viable daily practice, it probably comes down to fear.  You should figure this out, and then get to work.  Once you understand the root of your fear, you can choose not to be controlled by self-sabotage. 

Finding Focus in a Distracted World

  1. Evaluate your day to day experience to discover your most common distractions.  Coccoon yourself from these distractions during your pre-scheduled work time.
  2. Beware of the email black hole.  Don't lose your creative focus by falling into a task that will never be finished.
  3. Find a way to keep track of your progress and maintain a sense of accomplishment.
  4. Fight bad distractions with good distractions.  Reward yourself with a walk or latte if you work unbroken for the amount of time you set out to when you began.
  5. Never compromise sleep.

Taming Your Tools

  1. Set rules in your inbox so that your email organizes itself. 
  2. Be open to the idea of losing your phone for a week.
  3. Take time for momentary breaks from the computer.  Writers may benefit from writing on paper rather than on screen.  
  4. Distinguish between urgent and important interruptions, especially those associated with your electronic devices.  Few interruptions are truly urgent.
  5. Carve time out of your day for yourself.  Put away electronics during this time.

Sharpening Your Creative Mind

  1. Make work to please yourself, not for the approval of the system, your patrons, your friends, the art world, or editors.
  2. Engage in "Unnecessary Creation", creative work not directly associated with your craft that you do just for the sake of doing.  Gardening, weaving, writing if you are a painter or painting if you are a writer; each of these tasks will unlock your creativity and open you up to new ideas freed from the pressure of performance.
  3. Carry a notebook (and pen) with you at all times to keep track of momentary bursts of inspiration.
  4. Incorporate moments in your working process where you lay the groundwork for new ideas.  Ray Bradbury practiced free-association writing.  Experiment and find out what works for you.  Once discovered, you can return to the same tools over and over again.
  5. Relax, enjoy what you are doing, and let work flow without judging the results.  You must get out of your own way in order for inspiration to course through you.  Show up at the page.