Thursday, September 01, 2011

Fill the Well Friday: Revisit the Structure

Harlequin Historical Author Michelle Styles takes a look at how knowing your routine can benefit your creativity in this month's column of Fill the Well Friday.
As my eldest pointed out to me when he came home from a summer working in one of Washington DC's hottest new restaurants --Virtue Feed and Grain, the reason a restaurant works is that everyone knows their job. There is a routine to follow. The same is true with creativity. It works better if you have an established routine, if the muse knows when to show up or what causes the muse to show up. The girls in the basement can be a lazy lot. If you wait for them, you can miss your deadline. Or feeling like you are permanently out to lunch.
In The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp points out that she has an established ritual before she gets down to work.  Bob Mayer in Write It Forward also extols the virtues the virtues of Standard Operating Procedures to encourage maximum performance.
It is not what you do, but how  you get ready to do it that help alert the muse that it is time to preform. Sometimes, if you are feeling stuck or like the girls in the basement are on off on a spa day, it can be time to revisit your routine.
So how to revisit your structure.
1. Keep an activity diary for several days without comment, but note down what you do and how many words you write. Now put it away in a drawer. Don't look at it.
2. Figure out when you are most productive. Are you a morning person or a night person? What time do you need?
3. Look at your props and prompts. Remember they are your props and prompts. Some people might need to check their email. Other people might need a cup of something warm by their side, or others still like historical author Blythe Gifford might need to light candles.  Some people like a timer. Other people freeze with such things.Some people need 1k1hr on twitter. Other people slow down. Has your ritual become extreme or does it not seem to exist?
4. Write down all the things you think you need.
5. Look back at your activity diary. When were you most productive? Did you follow your routine then? If not, what did you do? How did the muse know to show up? Can that be repeated?
6. Write down a list of things you did just before your most productive surge.
7. Write down a list of things you did just before your least productive surge. What was different?
8. Compare them with the earlier list. Are your prompts and props different than what you thought? If so, see if you can change your routine. Has something become a crutch? Is something sucking out creativity rather than adding to it?
You can now forget about it, except when you start to get stuck and feel like you are wasting time. Get out the list. Look at your routine and follow it. You will be sending a signal to the girls in the basement to stop filing their nails and get a move on.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance in a wide variety of periods. Visit her website at Her latest book To Marry A Matchmaker is out now (September 2011) in Australia and New Zealand as part of a Three in One. It is also available as an ebook wherever UK released ebooks are sold.


  1. Thanks Michelle. This is exactly what I need to help me get more organised.

  2. Thanks for the shout out, Michelle. I am a great believer in establishing writing habits. A good routine is worth at least a thousand words a day! What do you do as your routine?