Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Creativity vs Routine

My friend Scott just posted on facebook, the intriguing question “Does routine destroy our creativity or do we lose creativity and fall into the routine?” (from a comic by Randall at
But are routine and creativity really opposing forces?

For me, creativity went on the back burner for many years while I worked full-time, because I fell into that trap of thinking that all the busyness of life and routine left no time for creativity.

As a stay-at-home mom, working only part-time during tax season, I decided I had no excuse anymore for neglecting my dream to be a writer and so, I embarked once again on a quest for creativity. But those with children know that there’s no such thing as working “part-time.” I’d find myself writing at midnight, feeling resentful of the “routine” that kept me from the creativity. Other times, I’d squeeze in a sentence or paragraph between loads of laundry, feeling (slightly) guilty that creativity was causing me to slack on the routine.

Then I broke my ankle. Which is a perfect excuse to ignore the routine, and sit at the computer with my leg elevated, churning out page after page of amazing literature.

Except it’s not working out that way. After a few productive days, it all dissolved into staring at the computer screen, fixing a typo here or there, and then reading blogs, twitter, and facebook. What I now realize, is that the routine had never really prevented the creativity. While I was washing the dishes, or making dinner, or driving in the car I was always thinking about my story, and by the time I had a chance to write, I’d already mentally done a few revisions, or came up with that perfect line of dialogue (the one that caused dinner to be a little late, because I just had to write it down).

Out and about, running errands, I’d notice things that might filter their way into my story. I saw the perfect mom for one of my characters, walking out of the grocery store as I drove by. A Cobra Mystichrome that passed me at high speed on the freeway became the perfect vehicle to sideswipe my heroine in the fan-fiction I wrote.

I’ve even made a playlist on my ipod of songs that go with my story, so I can keep the ideas flowing throughout the day. It works great to keep me focused while I’m busy. But it’s useless if I’m just sitting around. I get bored, and look for other diversions.

Tomorrow, I’m supposed to be getting a walking cast. I hope so. I hope I can get back to the routine, back to letting creativity be the cure for boring rather than the source of it. Back to breathing a sigh of relief at 9 pm because I can finally write what I’ve been longing to all day. Back to realizing I stayed up till midnight because I couldn’t stop writing, not because I couldn’t get started.

For me, creativity depends on the routine. The only essential, is to make creativity part of the routine.


  1. This post really speaks to me. I too use a playlist, and use it to keep my writing close to me while I do dishes, vacuum and play with kids. And I love that you found that routine breeds your creativity. What a healthy, wonderful attitude towards writing and chores! Thanks for the perspective!

  2. Yes, this makes a ton of sense to me!I find that I have to schedule writing in via TPR becuae when I just have tons of unscheduled time I either feel like I "should" be writing or I am wasting my time. I guess your ankle hasn't been all a bad thing. I think Jon Kabat-Zinn said that not-practicing is practicing and that sounds a lot like the lesson of the broken ankle. I guess I mean sometimes not doing something gives us a better perspective on doing it.


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