The word “routine” conjures up dozens of associations, both good and bad. When it comes to work, having a routine leads to efficiency and the same goes for writing. Numerous gifted writers swear by it—like Thomas Wolfe, who wrote in the kitchen using the top of the refrigerator as his desk. Routine kills procrastination, giving us the chance to get words on the page.
The biggest negative about routine is that when things get too predictable, we become rigid or stuck. That’s why many people go wild on holiday. Humans need variety otherwise our ways of being, doing and seeing the world stagnate and we find ourselves thinking (and writing) the same old same old. Then writer’s block creeps in and I end up echoing Dorothy Parker’s sentiment: “I hate writing, but I love having written.”
Changing perspective and seeing the world with new eyes is important for getting unstuck, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. The view from the top of a towering building overlooking a dense cityscape isn’t the same as one from the congested streets below. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to shift your gaze. When you look elsewhere, you stop taking things for granted, realizing there's a wealth of things to observe in any given inch.
Like you could write about a current problem but from the perspective of your future self. Or take something as mundane as buying groceries. What does the guy stocking the shelves think about it?
I tried this exercise by using standing in line for coffee as my prompt and wrote 3 completely different fictional scenarios. It was fun and engaging, putting me in a super creative mood. I suggest you try it yourself. Shake things up and approach your writing like a tourist, you'll discover the unexpected.
Jackie stood there in line at Starbucks, failing to hide her impatience. There were five people ahead of her shifting on their feet uncomfortably as the teenaged girl serving them, all glossy curls and silky flushed cheeks, moved unhurriedly taking each order. Unlike the time-starved adults in line, the girl was dreamy, just on the edge of blossoming, and largely unaware of adult pressures.
Jackie’s cheeks were also flushed, but with growing restlessness. She was a planner, multitasker and accountant for whom every second contained a literal value. Time was money and money was time. Her smartphone app had just signaled her fertility levels were high and there was a two-hour window to inseminate. Depending on traffic and any unforeseen detours, she had a 45-minute drive home. It would take her boyfriend at least 10 minutes to get aroused and every minute counted. Every second that passed signaled a different future. The one she wanted, and the one she wanted to avoid.
She asked herself if she really need the double macchiato, but she was exhausted from work, life, the dullness of the constant commute, and a relationship reduced to baby making. She bit her nails and told herself to be patient—she could play with two more minutes.
When she was willing to admit it, Carol knew she was a judgmental, critical bitch. She preferred to call herself an intuitive observer, able to effortlessly pick up on fine details. Only it was this—her way of looking at life through a microscope—that magnified its ugliness. She could literally see people warts and all, and she often got stuck on the warts, forget about the rest of it.
The man standing in front of her in the coffee line was no exception. He was unusually tall, with a pale, greyish complexion and stiff, holding his shoulders hiked up towards his ears. She tried making eye contact, making references to the changeable weather and how awful waiting was, but he didn’t acknowledge her. Instead, he clamped his lips even tighter and closed his eyes. “This one’s autistic,” she sighed silently, turning her back to him.
Silek Selva, lieutenant of the Vulcan Galatic Tourism Board, winced as the female creature attempted contact. Silek was sent out to strictly observe, not interact with the local flora and fauna. S/he had been attracted to the structure, permeated with the smell of a brown liquid that registered energetically as high as an enraged domestic Tagir, and came to investigate. The local creatures waited for this substance sequentially, and Silek was trying to figure out why because Tagirs would have stampeded away, fighting for their lives.
The interview was going well, and he was hitting all the high notes with the young, overly made-up reporter they’d sent to discuss his upcoming movie. It’s not that he disliked promoting his work, but the 14-hour days were too much. Sometimes a hackneyed question would annoy him, and he would wonder if there was anything original left to say.
As they finished, he was feeling on form, so he offered to buy the reporter a coffee. The interview was held on a small café overlooking a still harbor. He wasn’t interested in her. Her eyebrows, painted on inches thick, were enough to put any desire to rest. It was just the decent thing to do at breakfast. He’d get her a croissant, too, come to think of it.
He took a few strides towards the counter, looking at the menu hanging above it, though it didn’t matter because he always drank expresso. The woman behind the counter asked him what he wanted. She had a raspy voice, intense green eyes and a half-smile like a Latina Mona Lisa. Then it happened and he knew that look because he had seen it for decades—it was that moment his superstar status registered in someone’s eyes. As he returned her gaze, his heart ached unexpectedly. It was as if he had never seen a woman before. He was stoned, intoxicated, dancing in her mystery and suddenly speechless. No one had given him the lines for such a moment.