Daily routines can be productive, even if they’re weird

Lonny Cain

Well, hello procrastination, my old friend.

Pull up a chair. Join me and let’s waste some time together.

Ahhh, welcome to my daily ritual. Me searching for ways to dodge and weave through the day.

I am writing this column on Tuesday. That is my weekly routine. I have made it a habit, which by the way, is the best method to getting done what needs to be done. Turn your goals into a routine.

This struggle to produce and create is not uncommon with writers or artistic types. Writing gurus spout pages and pages of great advice on how to be more productive. It works. If you do it.

This can get amusing – the various ways creatives go about forcing or tricking themselves into being productive. I know this because I have fascinating proof.

Author Mason Curry did a lot of research and put together this book I keep nearby: “Daily Rituals, How Artists Work.”

I read it as needed, like medication, digesting a few chapters when certain symptoms pop up. Like I can’t force myself off the couch.

The short chapters focus on 161 individual artists and the routines they use to produce. I am quickly reminded that a little shove or tug now and then is helpful.

Eighteenth century biographer James Boswell had to fight the urge to stay in bed. He even considered rigging his bed.

“I would have it so that when I pulled a cord, the middle of the bed would be immediately raised and me raised with it and gradually set up on the floor. Thus I should be gently forced into what is good for me.”

Poet W. H. Auden had a daily routine timed to the minute.

“Decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble,” he wrote, noting he also lived a “chemical life.”

He took Benzedrine each morning for energy and focus and took sedatives at night to sleep. I’m finding many artists partnered with coffee, booze and more to cope with daily rigors

The flip side of the rigid routine would be author James Joyce who left his bed late morning after being out the night before drinking and singing Irish songs at the bar.

Psychologist B.F. Skinner wrote every morning using a timer with a buzzer for starting and stopping. He monitored the hours he wrote and words he produced on a graph. He always awoke for an hour or so each night so he used that time to write also. It became part of his routine.

The book praises author Joyce Carol Oates as prolific. She writes many hours each day but says she just works harder than others – and it’s not easy.

“Getting that first draft finished,” she says, “is like pushing a peanut with your nose across a very dirty floor.”

So you see, it is not easy being a creative genius.

I envy William Faulkner who said, “I write when the spirit moves me, and the spirit moves me every day.”

Now I should frame those words to hang on my writing wall.

That and some rope and pulleys might help move my spirit every day.

Lonny Cain, retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, also was a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet in the 1970s. His PaperWork email is lonnyjcain@gmail.com. Or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.