A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days…Annie Dillard
Most people confuse the concept of discipline with willpower and withstanding pain.
I disagree. I think discipline is simply training yourself to do something until it’s habitual. With a few tweaks to your daily habits, you can accomplish amazing things. I’ve always read a lot of self-development literature, and one of the key things I learnt from Anthony Robbins is that humans basically make decisions from one of two overriding principles: to gain pleasure or to avoid pain.
So how can we associate writing with pleasure?
One of the reasons I recommend daily journaling is because it forces you to set up a pattern that you repeat again and again, keeping your emotions and whether or not you ‘feel’ like writing, out of it.
You learn to associate that daily habit with pleasure (sometimes just the feeling of satisfaction after it’s done). It’s why it’s important to make your writing practice as comfortable as possible in the early stages.
Daily journaling helps you to put your writing first, and to learn to work at a time and in a way that no-one else’s needs or wishes or opinions on your work come into play.
Daily writing is also very helpful in teaching you how you work best, and what pulls you into the ‘zone’. This is imperative if you’re wanting to attack a larger project, such as a book.
So how can you get yourself into a good writing rhythm if life is stressing you out or you have a lot going on?
Here are my top tips on getting into the writing zone no matter what else is going on in your life or whatever your living situation.
Many people prefer to write in silence, but for me, nothing else has the ability to change my state as quickly as music. And when we live with others, having complete silence isn’t always an option.
Some research shows that music such as the soundtrack to the Big Blue has the ability to change your brain waves and put you into the ‘alpha’ state of consciousness.
Other research shows classical music such as Bach and Mozart helps people heal and study. I find this incredible – that music can actually affect our physiology. How beautiful!
I know when I’m working on a deep writing project, and I need to plunge into the flow, music helps me get into the flow state quicker than anything else.
I’m listening to ABC Classic’s Screen Sounds show as I type this. But you can create your own ‘screen sounds’ playlist – some of my favourite soundtracks include Lion, The Constant Gardener, Downtown Abbey, The Big Blue, and Betty Blue.
If you’re lucky enough to live near the ocean, there’s nothing like a dip in the sea to bookend a day of writing.
But if you live in the inner-city, like me, you can create your own little water ritual. I find a shower or a hot bath on a cold night can change your state and get you all freshened and relaxed, and your mind starts thinking in new ways. If you have to do your writing after a ‘day’ job, a bath can help you move from logical linear thinking to a more relaxed and creative vibe, too. Baths can really take me into the meditative state so quickly, and I find I have all sorts of new ideas wanting to be poured onto the page.
The key for creativity is that you want to be relaxed and alert at the same time.
Sometimes you just need to get up and walk away from the computer. So many times when I was working through the first draft of A Letter From Paris, I couldn’t find the answer or conclusion to a chapter or line, until I got out of my apartment and went for a walk. Something about the rhythm of walking outside, looking at something different (so that you aren’t consciously focused on a problem but rather letting it all unravel in the background) really helps when you’re writing.
Solitude and ritual
Cats, a quiet room, lighting a candle, burning some oils in a diffuser (basil and rosemary are great for concentration), burning a stick of palo santo and saying an affirmation, having a special chair with a cosy blanket, getting comfortable physically and knowing I’ll be undisturbed while writing are all integral to getting into the flow state for me.
Sometimes pulling a book of poetry or quotes off the bookshelf and just letting myself sink into that sense of intention, letting myself marvel at the miracle of words on a page I’m holding. That they once came from thoughts and I can now hold them in concrete form (ie. A book on a shelf that I can pick up, with a direct line into their psyche) can be enough inspiration to set me down at the page.
TIP: Do it regardless
Some days you feel the flow and some days you don’t. Some days you only have 15 minutes or you’re sick or you’re tired and you’re grumpy because all the other parts of life have taken your ‘best’ energy, but you just keep going regardless. Little by little, one travels far.
And then you recover from whatever your illness is, or you get super intentional that your ‘day’ job isn’t going to get your best energy so you set the alarm for street-sweeper o’clock, or you hear that someone with far less resources than you has made it work and you feel sacred and precious because you’ve decided to give yourself the gift of turning up for you, first and foremost, before you give your creative energy to the outside world.
That’s what discipline is – training yourself to do something every day until it’s habitual.
Make it nice. Do it even when it doesn’t feel nice. Do it every day until you feel like doing it. Reward your effort, not your outcome. Before you know it, you’ll be an expert on getting yourself into the ‘flow’.
What about you, what is your favourite ritual or prompt to get into the creative flow?