By: Bowen Gillings
Routines are death. When I was in the Army, I learned routines are literally death. It’s called operational security (OPSEC). Having a routine, a regular schedule to daily operations, let the enemy know your wheres and whens, and before you knew it, kablooey! Having a routine in daily life can make your creativity and productivity go kablooey. Consistency, on the other hand, is what publishers demand, readers want, and writers need.
Allow me to clarify the terms. Routine is patterned behavior. It’s the realm of day planners and iPhone Reminders. It’s multi-colored calendar entries that follow the same Roy G. Biv arrangement week-in and week-out. Consistency is meeting deadlines. Consistency is regular, high-quality production on time and on target. Consistency is the goal. Routine is the crutch.
Routine is patterns. Consistency is production.
“But wait!” I hear you cry. “My routine is how I consistently produce.” Many can’t imagine finishing a manuscript without the structure of routine to lean on. You guard your daily writing time like Cerberus at the gates of Hades. You find comfort in knowing what the morning will bring or solace in seeing your word count at the day’s end. Routine works for you. It’s comfy and nice and would never hurt you the way Cindy did in high school. I gave you my heart, Cindy!
So, what happens when your routine gets violated? How do you feel when you don’t get the day’s writing (or anything else in the routine) done? Do you beat yourself up? Chastise yourself for “not making writing the priority?” How do you cope and correct? And where do new experiences fit into your routine?
Say you need to learn something new before your character can do it in your story. I don’t know, skydiving perhaps. Where do you fit that into your routine? My bet is that you add skydiving lessons to your iPhone calendar in the color designated for research then mentally flagellate yourself for how it messes with your routine.
I challenge you to ease off your routine fetish and focus on consistency. Consistency is bigger, broader, and allows more wiggle room for life to go freestyle.
Say you want to produce a book per year. You do your research. You pick a release date (give or take a week). That gives you a rough idea about cover reveals and pre-orders and promotions. You know your genre and the word count you’re shooting for.
And so, you write.
You write mornings. You write when everyone’s in bed. You write at coffee shops. You dictate while driving. You write. You edit. You meet your deadlines. You get your book out when you planned.
Along the way you hiked three fourteeners, drove cross-country with a high-school friend, enrolled in a new martial arts school, and learned to play the ukulele alongside your spouse. You also got your kid to the ER when they woke up at two-thirty with a massive bloody nose, you replaced the bathroom flooring after the toilet went tango-uniform, and you dropped everything for a month when your grandparent died.
And you never regretted violating a routine.
Consistency equals freedom.
Freeing oneself from the handcuffs of routine and embracing the true goal of consistency is the path to creative freedom (damn, that sounded evangelical). Like routine, consistency takes discipline and commitment. Unlike routine, consistency gives you the freedom to live without checking the planner first.
Consistency is a life spent open to possibilities while keeping eyes on the prize. It’s okay with stretches of no writing. It embraces those days when five thousand words get added to the work in progress as well as the days when a friend invites you to coffee and you’re only three paragraphs in. Consistency is a mindset of “I will write” versus routine’s rigid dogma of “I must write right now.”
Focusing on consistent production (big picture) provides for a healthier writing life. Routines stagnate or worse, trap you in their familiar, comfortable clutches. Break the shackles of routine. Free yourself from your patterned behavior before your writing life goes kablooey.
Bowen Gillings is an award-winning author featured in PPW’s first anthology, Fresh Starts, Allegory e-zine, and the Stories Live!, Voices and Views, and Rocky Mountain Writers podcasts. He is an active member and former president of Pikes Peak Writers and a member of both Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and The League of Utah Writers. Bowen loves travel, cooking, martial-arts, and a fine adult beverage. He lives in Colorado with his wife and daughter. Learn more about him and his fun, quirky writing at storiesbybowen.com and be sure to follow the author on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.