Twyla Tharp wrote that in order to think outside the box, you first need to start with a box. For every creative project, that’s how she begins. Literally. With a box. And she fills it with the bits and pieces until they begin to meld into something whole. Every dance, every show, every work of art she’s created is then filed away inside its boxes. The boxes that allow her to step outside the box.
I love that.
As a writer, I do my own version of the box with every project. It’s not a box like hers, but I put away my own collection of bits and pieces as I build characters and story, research fact and fiction. Screenplays and other long form writing fills a larger space, but you’d be surprised (sometimes I’m surprised) at how many random scraps of paper with ideas and opening lines and other inspiration can accompany notes for an article, too. Writing is creative even when it seems anything but.
We are creatures of habit, aren’t we? Often so much so we don’t even realize it. Realize how many habits make up a day in the life.
There are some habits we need to break or they’ll break us. And sometimes a break from good habits can lead to nasty withdrawals.
I’ve never known much job stability, but I never expected it, so in a sense the instability has always felt perfectly stable. Welcome to my world: when I’m working, I’m working. When I’m not working, I’m still working. It’s only when my creative habits are interrupted, that I realize how much I depend on them to make sense of my work – my days, my purpose, my life.
But every so many years, something will happen that sends my collection of creative habits into the air like a handful of confetti. And then I find myself totally frustrated, and sometimes crippled with fear, because the ideas aren’t flowing and the inspiration is lacking. Absolutely nothing is happening.
And then I remind myself that I have to go back to basics. Habituate.
Like Tharp’s box, I start each project in a similar way. But sometimes, as stupid as it may sound, I need to remind myself to go get my damn box. Start at the beginning. Pull out the bag of tricks, which are far more utilitarian than magical. And once I do, everything starts to fall into place. I start to write and soon I’m on my way again. Because they do come back.
Old habits die hard. The worst ones and the best ones.
Especially the best ones.