Ruts and Routines

Routine is both comfortable and comforting. There is security in knowing that you will do the same things in the same order and for more-or-less the same duration every work-day. There is reassurance in knowing that this weekend will follow a pattern much like last weekend and very much like next weekend. Routine makes everything stable.

Many of us have a tendency to fall easily into routines. One of the strengths of the routine is that we don’t have to think about it. No concerns about what to do next—we look at the clock or the calendar and we know. If it’s the right time and day to work on our art, we do that. If it’s time to eat, we do that. And so on. I rather like routines for all of those reasons mentioned, but I have a friend who reminds me that doing things always the same means not that I’m in a routine, but in a rut.

But then, ruts are comforting too, and ruts are really comfortable, and easy. You really have to think about nothing. Just put the wheels into the grooves in the road and you don’t even have to steer. And since you are a creature of habit, you don’t have to think about speed either—you’ll go along at the same tempo you used the last time you went this way.

We all pretty much agree that ruts are bad, but a rut is simply a routine that’s gone on long enough to make it a practiced thing without any conscious alternatives. It’s that no conscious alternatives thing that’s not so good. That prevents us from seeing new possibilities, from exploring other methods, from developing new ways of thinking. It’s comfortable, and, because it amounts to autopilot, we tell ourselves, it leaves us more time for creativity.

Or does it? I have been working on a very large project for weeks now. Because I’ve learned to take my own advice, I work on it every day. This has resulted in plodding along, working every evening—sometimes just a little; other times for a longer period. Unfortunately, I am in the not-so-creative, preparatory part of the project. It’s work. I slogged onward, unknowingly losing interest every day. Then the deadline of another project suddenly interfered, forcing me to alter my routine. The results were wonderful! The second project got finished on time, and that energized me so I was able to go back to the larger project with fresh eyes. Suddenly I began to see possibilities that had been invisible before.

The obvious lesson is to avoid ruts, and perhaps even routines. Unfortunately, the latter may not be possible, particularly for those who have day jobs or other obligations. Perhaps a better alternative would be to change our approach: instead of telling ourselves that we should work at our art every day or week or whatever, perhaps we should, in addition, set goals. For example, instead of writing for a set time every day, Stephen King writes 2000 words; he does not stop until he has reached his goal. Some days that takes a rather short amount of time; others require a longer period. Another thing we can learn from observing King is that he gives his work a high priority, meaning that he may have to have adjust some other aspect of his life when things are moving slowly. Many of us do it the other way around, and short our artistic work when life intervenes.

Like many artists previously discussed here, I am a great believer in discipline.  However, when discipline becomes a routine which then develops into a rut, we must find a way to break out of that rut and renew ourselves. Our work will only benefit.

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Date: Monday, 30. September 2013 0:28
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