Over the past few months, I’ve thought a lot about how artists manage their productivity without becoming overwhelmed by pressure and stifling their creativity. Part of this thinking came about from conversations with friends, some who are “artists” or working in the creative realm with or without much structure in their work life. Some of these friends imposed rigid structures in their lives to ensure creative time in their schedule, and others blocked out time for creative work day-of as they felt necessary and without any regularity or discipline. And part of this thinking came about from reading John Freeman’s How to Read a Novelist and learning about the process of my favorite authors.
One approach to being productive without external structure that seems to hold great promise, especially for someone with my (generally) structure-loving personality, is that of establishing a routine. But contrarians argue that constantly sticking to a routine (it doesn’t help that “routine” often implies ordinary, monotonous, and dull) can require a level of discipline and self-restraint that contradicts openness and freedom that fosters creativity, right? Such is the dilemma.
As it applies to everyday life and creative practices of artists, I am beginning to believe that some regular structure can boost creativity; just as a bedtime routine can prepare your mind and body to go to sleep, a “creative” routine in everyday life can serve to similarly prime your mind to apply your creative energies with direction and focus. Or so artists (including some of my friends) who embrace this life structure approach would argue.
One of the more prominent proponents of discipline cultivating creativity who immediately comes to mind is Haruki Murakami. I’ve long been a fan of his writing but–perhaps since I’m not a runner–I’ve had trouble identifying with his causal linkage of the extreme discipline of marathon training to his creative productivity. Running in relation to his work and personal life is the basis of his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which I have not read. But his determined rituals and the prominent role of exercise in how he structures his work life emerges in many articles on the celebrated author.
Murakami has written about his path to writing, professing that he came to writing later in life and had not expected to be a novelist before a pivotal moment. In these pieces about his background before he starting writing, he seems relatable, and perhaps this is why I think that his attitude towards structuring your time to maximize productivity could work for me.
This is especially relevant for me as I embark on my next chapter, a year-long fellowship and “new life” essentially, in Bogotá, Colombia, where I can structure it all as much or as little as I please. Although I was in Mexico City for several months with my last fellowship that also required that I determine my work and life structure, the settling in took longer than I expected, and I was constantly trying new things, so I never fully established a routine. Without a predictable structure, I did feel more relaxed about doing things spontaneously, but I also missed regularity in my life and often felt unproductive. So here’s to finding a balance between structure and unstructured time in my life for my projects in Colombia!
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