On the embarrassingly slow process of starting a work routine

My earlier contentment with “composting” — sitting at my parents’ house, seeing friends, eating summer fruit, and decluttering my room while I let the experiences of my travels move through me at their own pace — has given way to frustration at being stuck in one place and doing nothing. Actually I’ve been visiting in several cities, and in between I haven’t been idle, but I know this angsty feeling. It is the feeling of things are not moving fast enough and there’s something I should be doing, and this is not it

This morning when Erik was getting ready, as usual, to go to the library (his preferred workspace these days), I felt especially irritated that he could go off and work while I felt tied to the house. In fact, there is no reason I have to stay here, but somehow I feel it’s my responsibility to continue tidying my room, to hand wash the two dozen or so woolens and delicates we brought on our trip, and to use the workspace I recently cleared out of the chaotic, clunky mess that was my childhood desk.

It makes me crazy that I forgot to take a “before” photo before dismantling the desk.
This one is from the early 2000s, before we changed the carpet and paint.
Imagine a similar setup but with tons more clutter on every available surface, including the floor.

Lisa's room from bed

The desk now. Still a work in progress, but a million times better.


The thing is, though the hand washing does need to be done, most of the tasks I’ve set for myself will keep for… well, months, really. Years, even. The bottom line is that I am, as ever, quite bad at setting aside non-urgent tasks so I can focus on creative work.

Why do I always allow myself to let household duties, social obligations, or even crafting take precedence over the writing or painting I really want to be doing? I can tell from my crabby, restless, dissatisfied mood that I am done with the decluttering and totally ready to get working, so why am I so reluctant to do it?

First, obviously, it’s hardCreating something from nothing — or even from scribbled notes and journal entries — is not easy, especially when I’m not sure what I’m creating or how long it will take. (I think, at least, I have finally gotten over worrying whether it will be worthwhile.) I am trying to minimize exertion — a reasonable human instinct, and one to which I am only too willing to acquiesce.

Second, it’s unfamiliar. That’s another natural human aversion: striking out into new territory. I am starting to get back my morning pages routine, but aside from that — unlike Erik — I do not have a regular work habit. I do have regular habits of (sigh, the things I admit publicly) web surfing, game playing, romance-novel reading, and house tidying. Which is why I typically spend so much of my time doing those activities. So, clearly, if I want to build an equal momentum behind my creative activities, I need to make them as comfortable, easy, and mindless as falling into any of these others.

Speaking of these other activities, they’re unfortunately much more alluring than writing or painting, at least in the short run. They’re easier, they promise a real (if superficial) level of enjoyment, and they feel productive in a tangible way. It’s no wonder I lean on them to give some sense of purpose to my days. In the long run, I won’t want to look back on my life and see that I spent most of it reading indulgent fiction and moving my stuff around, but in the short term, those pursuits are very, very seductive.

Anyway, it’s time to break the cycle. I have a clear desk and a clear schedule. Let’s build some new habits.