Effective communication about your practice comes from really understanding what I call ‘the why behind the work’. It’s all about self-awareness and self-questioning. If you know why you make, then it’s easier to explain how. But how often do you really give yourself time to consider these things? Chances are you make time when you really have to: when there is an application to fill out, or a gallery or show needs some text about your work. And in that situation, do you really spend much time asking yourself why you do it, or do you find yourself writing the same sentences, explaining things in familiar ways, or the easiest of all – sending out something you wrote a while ago?
When we are busy, running creative businesses on our own, we find ourselves without the creative practice support that most of us took for granted while we were studying. A community of interested, creative people who would regularly ask us ‘Why?’, who would listen and give helpful feedback. When you are on your own, you need to become that injection of inquiry and it’s difficult to do that for yourself. Which is where the writing routine can help.
Spending time, each day, reflecting on what you have done (whether it’s making, designing, marketing, exhibiting) and writing a little bit about it creates opportunities. It allows you to gather all your thoughts into one place, not leaving them swirling around in your head where things might get forgotten, it allows you to gradually find the right words for your work and to craft your own voice. But most importantly, it becomes a bank of ideas, and descriptions, which you can use later when people need you to communicate about what you do. Regularly re-assessing and enquiring about your own practice will give you the answers you need, whenever you need them.
Building your writing routine
Set yourself up for success
Starting a new routine or habit takes time to establish. It’s often easier not to do something (like giving up chocolate for a month) than to start to do something (like take up running). In his TED talk, Matt Cutts describes how he has opened up the possibility in his life by trying something new for 30 days. 30 days is do-able for something new, as long as the change you make is small.
small changes = sustainable
I am not suggesting that you start a writing routine with the aim of writing a novel in a month. What is more realistic is that you make time to write a few sentences or a list of words about your practice each day.
Make it fun
I realise that this writing routine could quickly become another ‘have to do’ on your list, and feel like something you are doing because it’s good for you rather than because it’s enjoyable. So, make it awesome. What will encourage you to actually do it? Are you a stationary junkie – will getting a really gorgeous notebook and pen do the trick? Or would writing on post-its that you pop onto your sketchbook, noticeboard or wall help? Consider where you will do your writing and what the environment will be like. Do you like the quiet and light of morning, or would listening to music inspire you? Choreograph your experience so that every aspect of it feels good.
Stick at it
Ah, yes. The difficult bit. We all know how this goes, you get excited about the new routine, get into it properly for a week or two and then find that slowly things slip until you haven’t worked towards your goal for a while. This will most likely happen, unless you make it easier to do the writing than not to.
In this great article 5 Scientific Ways to Build Habits That Stick on 99u.com, the piece of advice that really resonates for me is to set up ‘behaviour chains’. Find something you already do as part of your routine and link your new habit onto it. So, if you have a routine of making a cup of tea or coffee before you start work, why not use that time to also write a bit about what happened the day before? Or if you have a commute why not use the time to write? It could be the last thing you do in the workshop/studio before you leave, after you've tidied up for the day. Whatever works for you.
Whatever works for you is the key. This is your writing routine, it needs to feel right for you. If it doesn’t, you won’t do it, which is exactly what I have learned: for just over a year I have been trying to build my own writing routine using a tool from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way – the Morning Pages. Simple enough, you sit down every morning and write 3 pages in a stream-of-consciousness anything goes kind of way. The trick is not to stop writing and not to miss a day. Well, I managed that for about a week, then I didn’t, then I picked it up again with renewed focus, and then I started missing days. This has been going on for months. And then I realised why it wasn’t really working for me. Because I hadn’t chosen the details of the habit for myself (I’m stubborn like that). So, I made some changes.
I stopped calling them Morning Pages for a start. I noticed quite quickly that I couldn’t always make time in the mornings, and therefore failed on a regular basis before lunch, but if I just had the goal of doing them by the end of the day then it happened more often. Another reason I found I didn’t stick to it was that I would end up using the pages as a place to moan. Which is fine, we all need that space, but I was getting tired of hearing myself say these things everyday. So, I set up the challenge of only allowing 1 page of moaning and 2 pages of less negative stuff, and this new balance seems better. And, finally, I bought better paper. If you’re writing 3 pages a day you end up tearing through exercise books, so I started buying cheap school exercise books which snag a biro and suck ink from gel pens. My handwriting looked awful and I hated the actual experience of writing. So, now, I pick a notebook with decent quality paper and pens I enjoy using and it has made a big difference (mainly to my bank balance, but I’m sure I could drink less coffee to balance it out).
So, having constructed the terms of the habit for myself, to fit with the way I am and how my life is, I’m doing better at cultivating my writing routine. I hope you have a go for yourself and see where it leads.
Next time – you’ve set up your routine, now what on earth do you write about?