I’m fascinated by habits — how they serve us, how they hurt us, how to create them, how to break them.
I’m also fascinated by creativity — how we combine what we’ve learned to build new things, how we block our own creativity and how we can release it, how creativity heals us and connects us.
Until recently, though, the two things didn’t really connect in my day-to-day life.
Habits were structured, patterned and repeatable.
Creativity was free-flowing, inspired and at-whim.
Writing a novel is what finally made these two things come together for me.
On my birthday this year, I typed “The end” in the first draft of Paint It Red, a mystery novel set in the Santa Fe art world. I wrote it over the course of about 8 weeks — which is fast-paced for the average novelist, but almost too slow compared to novelists who make their living at this work. Nonetheless, it was an aggressive goal for me personally, and to make it happen, I had to write 3-4 nights a week.
Early on, this was pretty hard. Getting 500 words written in a night (the absolute minimum I would let myself get away with) was a slog. In the last couple of weeks, however, I found that on many nights I could write 1,500 words with relative ease.
Part of this was that I was getting to know the world and the characters better as I went. I could see where the story needed to go beyond the high-level outline I had created. The story and characters took on lives of their own in some ways.
I believe, though, that an equally important part of why the writing got easier as I got further into the project was that I had made a habit of this creative work.
I am almost done reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done (yeah, I’m decades behind in reading this one), and there was a quote about this very thing about 3/4 of the way through that really struck me.
The challenge is not to be creative — it’s to eliminate the barriers to the natural flow of our creative energies.
What if that’s all a good habit really is? Eliminating the barrier to natural flow?
Common novelist wisdom has it that you’re supposed to let a first draft rest for a while so you can gain fresh perspective before you start to edit it. And while that’s good advice (and why I always let client work sit overnight before doing my final editing pass), I’m going to break that rule with this novel for a couple of reasons:
- I have a goal to give my beta readers a draft by Halloween.
- I want to keep up this habit I’ve created — and I’m not in a place to start a new novel yet until this one feels buttoned up.
Of course, there is a third element at play here that books on both habits and creativity sometimes ignore: desire.
I want to continue to write books. This is the cornerstone of the future I envision for myself and my family. This is why I can keep up the habit when things get hard — and why I’m not waiting for creativity to just happen. I want this.
I was reminded of the power of desire recently when a yoga class I attend regularly was canceled. Instead of replacing that exercise with something else — like a long walk — I used the time to catch up on some reading. I didn’t want to exercise. I wanted to go to this yoga class. (Obviously I should revisit some of my health goals, here.)
Of course, as always, I have book recommendations if this blog post resonates! …
If you’re interested in exploring the topic of desire, a good book I read recently was Jennifer Louden’s Why Bother.
And Jessica Abel’s Growing Gills is a great book about building better habits around creativity.