The Joys and Horrors of a Routine

“If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please.” – Epictetus

“In things a moderation keep; Kings ought to shear, not skin, their sheep.” – Robert Herrick

One of the things I find hard to do is be moderate. I feel passionately, and I get passionate, loud, sometimes angry at people who don’t share my opinion. I don’t know why, but that’s the way I’m built. The same goes for, say, ice cream. If there’s real ice cream in the fridge, I must eat it. It calls to me, and preys upon my mind until it’s gone. But I often go long stretches without ice cream in my freezer.Eye_Clock.jpg_thumb

So far in my writing career, I’ve been much the same way: Fixated on a project to the exclusion of all others, but when that project is done, I move on to another obsession. And yet I face the dilemma of routine. I am against it in many ways, not the least of which is, apparently, my basic nature. But those writers who have come before me – Lawrence Block, Orson Scott Card, Stephen King – all teach that a writer must have a routine.


Ugh. I hate the word about as much as I hate the word tradition, and for the same reasons. Routine, to me, conjures up images of accountants and bland, middle-aged people living in the suburbs. They go on vacation to Ocean City or Venice Beach or wherever they go, because that is where they go on vacation. And I imagine they always go at the same time, say the first week of August, because that’s when they go. They do the dishes completely every night, they watch the same TV shows, they eat pasta on Monday nights, because Monday night is pasta night. They do the same thing over and over and over and over because that’s what they do, and when they do it. Tradition is basically the same, but having to do with holidays and religion.

And yet, people far smarter and more talented than I have argued the virtues of routine. So, what am I to do?

I have a book to finish editing, another to write, short stories to clean up, and various household tasks I need to attend to. All of this would be easier if I did original writing from 10 am to noon, revising from noon to 2:30 and household chores from 3:30 to 6 pm. But I don’t. But I should. But I don’t.

Well, ok, sometimes I do. I do follow a routine, but I don’t do it routinely. I think that’s missing the point.

So I struggle to find a way to be consistent with my days; to use my time wisely, because sooner or later I’ll run out of it. Perhaps you struggle with this too. I think we all do to some extent. But other people have faced the same dilemma and made the best possible use of their time, and thus changed the world. I can only hope I learn the lessons they knew, and I’m happy to learn anyway I need to. Even if it hurts me. Because my days are numbered, and every one I waste is another story I can never tell the world.

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.” H. Jackson Brown


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