You are a writer. You read voraciously. You’ve studied your craft. You’ve read the books on writing. You’ve applied yourself, integrated writing into your life. Established a routine, a special time dedicated to you and your words.
Good for you. But remember that routine means the usual course of action, the customary way, the beaten path. The well-trodden route down a trail that has been marked and navigated before.
While there’s comfort in routine and powerful productivity can result from helpful habits, there’s also the possibility of complacency and even a sense confinement. Of willfully wandering only in what becomes your comfort zone.
And while humans often innately seek to establish comfort zones in their real lives, much of the fodder of great fiction is about those wayward wanderings beyond the confines of our comfort zones. Those challenges to our own belief systems, that straying away from what we know and are familiar with.
Hemingway is often hailed as a paragon of a writer dedicated to his craft and his routine, lauded for his commitment to his craft and his dedication to writing 250 words each and every morning.
But remember that before there was the iconic myth of Hemingway the writer and his “write one true sentence,” there was the young Hemingway who left the safety and security of a job as a young reporter in the US and volunteered as a Red Cross Ambulance driver in World War I. The young wounded Hemingway who returned home, married, and then rather than settling down, opted as an unknown 22-year old, to leave the security of the States and move to Europe. And because Italy was the country in Europe that he knew and was familiar with, Italy is where he originally planned to move. But it was his chance encounter with Sherwood Anderson in Chicago that changed his mind and inspired him to go to Paris, armed with little else but ambition and some part-time work as a stringer and a letter of introduction. Who rented a small and dingy two-room flat on the Left Bank with no running water, no toilet and where he and Hadley slept on a mattress on the floor.
He wrote to Anderson from Paris, “Your letters of introduction were like launching a boat into water.” Into new and unexplored waters.
Comfort zone? Not much. But Hemingway was still writing about this experience years later in his famous short story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,”
“From the apartment you could only see the wood and coal man’s place. He sold wine too, bad wine. The golden horse’s head outside the Boucherie Chevaline where the carcasses hung yellow gold and red in the open window, and the green painted co-operative where they bought their wine; good wine and cheap.”
Even his breakthrough novel, The Sun Also Rises, was based on many of the experiences he had that were comprised of foolhardy decisions: trips made down to see the bullfights in Spain that he could ill-afford but nonetheless felt compelled to make.
And he was still writing about these wayward wanderings decades later in his posthumously published A Moveable Feast:
“Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing I knew about. I was trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipline.”
Discipline and commitment? Yes. But his oeuvre is not comprised of writings about his discipline and his comfort zone. His historic stories were about chronicling what happened away from the confines of his comfort zone.
Of course we’re not all Hemingway — nor do we all wish to be. But nevertheless, when you’re questioning your dedication to your writing, when you’re working on establishing your own writing routine, it’s worth remembering that the stories we tell are often fueled most strongly by the surprising things we witness and experience. The wayward wanderings far away from the mundanity of the everyday.
So don’t beat yourself up too much if you don’t always adhere to the comfortable confines of a regular writing routine.
Stray away from the everyday; stride far forward into places you’ve never stepped before. Embrace breaking out of your routine. Take a different route to work. Turn down the wrong road. Try the unusual instead of the usual. Taste foods you’ve never tried before. Go places you’ve never been and talk to people you’d never otherwise engage with. Do things you haven’t done.
Allow yourself the joy of making missteps, of savoring the unseen and unnoticed. Embrace the unexpected and unusual.
And then when you do sit down to stare at the stark white screen that is the page with no words on it, you’ll have more of the magic of the unexpected at your fingertips to add to your writing. More experiences of the unusual that will enlighten your experience and imagination and add volume to your voice.
Don’t get too comfortable in your own comfort zone or too confined by the quotidian everyday.
Routines can always be established but make sure that when you’re ready to commit to them that the list of interesting and unusual things you’ve seen, done, and experienced is there ready and waiting to flee from your fingertips into your fiction.
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