"It's the habits you develop over your lifetime
—that will make you or break you—as a writer."
Years ago, I read Gordon MacDonald’s classic Ordering Your Private World. In it he deftly illustrated how the chaos in our lives often comes from the misuse of time or lack of discipline and routine. As a young woman I recognized my own struggles in that area. Which made me feel empathy, and sorrow, for Samuel Taylor Coleridge when I read how he squandered his gifts for lack of discipline and his inability to seize control of his time. MacDonald quoted William Barclay’s pointed commentary about the English poet:
"Coleridge is the supreme tragedy of indiscipline. Never did so great a mind produce so little. He left Cambridge University to join the army; he left the army because he could not rub down a horse; he returned to Oxford and left without a degree. He began a paper called The Watchman which lived for ten numbers and then died. It has been said of him: 'he lost himself in visions of work to be done, that always remained to be done. Coleridge had every poetic gift but one—the gift of sustained and concentrated effort.' In his head and in his mind he had all kinds of books, as he said, himself, 'completed save for transcription'. . . . But the books were never composed outside Coleridge's head, because he would not face the discipline of sitting down to write them out." from The Gospel of Matthew by William Barclay (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), p. 280I felt such a pang in my heart when I first read this, especially the bolded line above. I understood my own inability to follow through on many projects. I imagined for a moment. . . what if Mozart never sat down to write out all that glorious music inside his head? Or Shakespeare left Hamlet, MacBeth, and King Lear unfinished? Or, even more tragic, what if Peter, James, and Paul never got around to writing those letters that millions still rely on for guidance? The very thought gave me a sick feeling inside. If I wanted to fulfill God's dream for my life and my own personal dreams, I needed to change. And, thankfully, with the help of this book and many others, the journey began.
As a young woman, I loved to flow in the creative moment. To be spontaneous, a free spirit. And I still love it, but I came to see that didn't always work out. I could not forget Barclay's pronouncement on that young English poet. I needed boundaries that weren’t restrictive but created room for both spontaneity (blowing as the wind listeth) and routine (parking myself in the chair and getting the work done).
All these years later, now as a senior in a new season of life, I still fall back on habits and routines long grooved into place. With fewer outside influences vying for my attention and energy, my life is simple and easy to maintain, giving me time and space to write.
Mornings work best for me. In my quiet solitude while hubby snoozes, I pull out my Morning Pages notebook, scribble the requisite three pages dumping out the niggles and frets of my mind. Because I give myself complete freedom to be honest with myself—the notebook gets shredded when full—I'm always surprised at what sneaks out of the dark into the light. The good, bad, and ugly. It’s like having a therapist, only cheaper. The best part? With my mind free, creativity now has a chance to flow unhindered. From there, I turn to my journal that's a bit of a diary what with noting weather and to-do lists. Mostly, it’s where I process my life; ask and listen for guidance; write down quotes and extracts from books I'm reading. A quick scroll through my Twitter feed connects me to creatives everywhere—poets, writers, artists, photographers, and lovers of nature and beauty. By this time, hubby is brewing the coffee. And my mind is a-whirl with possibilities... all in preparation for the new day.
After a simple breakfast, with small house chores already underway, I come into my favourite room in the house. My study. I sit at my desk and look out the window into the garden. I need that connection to nature, whether it’s going outside for a walk or catching it through my open window. I notice the light and shadows changing with the season, listen to flocks flying overhead, and smell the scent of autumn's drying leaves. My window perch creates that perfect zone in, zone out space where I wait, listen, write.
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