You sit down to write but nothing comes out. A blinking cursor or a blank page stares back at you. It feels as though your brain is bare and vacant—or too crowded for coherent, creative thoughts.
Either way, you’ve got nothing.
Today, your muse is somewhere else, anywhere but sitting next to you. Maybe in another country? Maybe on another planet?
Writing or doing any kind of creative work is exhilarating and magical and exciting, but it’s also exhausting, frustrating and demanding. Which is why many of us wait for the muse to show up to get started. But she’s fickle and inconsistent.
So how do we keep her around more often than not?
We become consistent. We create a reliable routine.
“Routines help to trigger cognitive cues that are associated with your story, cloaking you in the ideas, images, feelings and sentences that are swirling in your subconscious,” writes Grant Faulkner, the executive director of National Novel Writing Month, in his encouraging, insightful book Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo.
A routine tells your mind that it’s time to write—or paint or make or work on whatever project you’re working on. It says, all hands on deck, let’s do this, we’ve got this. After all, we did this yesterday and the day before and the day before and the day before that.
“A routine provides a safe and stable place for your imagination to roam, dance, do somersaults, and jump off cliffs,” Faulkner writes. However, “if you don’t have a routine, if you show up sporadically, it takes longer to warm up and remember your story.”
Routines don’t have to be boring, and they don’t have to be rigid. You can shake things up as you start new projects. For instance, Faulkner buys a new hat for every book he writes, “to change my writing energy a bit.” For a macabre story, he wore a “coffin hat.” For another story, he wore a derby. For Pep Talks for Writers, he wore a bowler.
And, of course, you don’t need to follow anyone else’s routine. The key is to create a routine that fits you, that speaks to you, and that entices your muse to sit down and stay for a long time—or at least until lunch.
Your routine might include sitting at your desk, doing a 2-minute guided meditation, jotting down one reason why you’re grateful for writing, and opening up your laptop. Your routine might be sitting in the same chair at 8 a.m. and writing your story in the same notebook.
Your routine might be walking to the park, finding a different bench each time, and sketching what you see. Your routine might be lighting a lavender-scented candle, putting on your headphones, jotting down how you’re feeling, and getting to work. It might be writing every morning at 6 a.m. or every evening at 6 p.m.
Your routine might be setting the timer for 10 minutes and writing a short poem about anything in your surroundings, or it might be responding to a silly, strange writing prompt. Your routine might be reading a page from your favorite book, a page that almost forces you to write. Your routine might be to spend a few minutes writing a few supportive sentences to yourself.
Make your writing/creating session sacred. Take it seriously. Certainly don’t hesitate to play. Let your imagination run wild. Let whatever arises arise. But take the actual session seriously. Cherish that time, and acknowledge that it’s important. Acknowledge that your words and your works are important.
As Faulkner writes, “honor the impetus that bids you to write—revere it, bow to it, hug it, bathe in it, nurture it. That impetus is what makes life meaningful. It’s what makes you, you.”