Travel is the great discombobulator.
We are taken out of our normal environment, sundered from our daily routines. Our habits, we find, are no longer easy. This can make us grumpy: we go to put our coffee cup in its usual place but the usual place isn’t there. Not to mention that our favourite coffee mug isn’t there either. Cue: disgruntlement.
When you’re a writer it can be even worse because our writing routines – our creative processes – are often synched with our habits to the point where we think they are utterly entwined and meant to stay that way. We sit in the same spot; we have our desk set up in a certain way, facing a special direction; yes, we put our favourite coffee cup (and all the other coffee cups in the grand hierarchy of coffee cups) on the same coaster at a particular point on said desk for maximum grabability and minimum chance of spillage on the keyboard. Habits are comforting, reliable, but they can also become guards in a prison of our own making.
“I cannot write unless I’ve got my: favourite cup, coffee, tea blend, am facing nor-nor-east, wearing my lucky undies, my blue sweater, a hat made from the wings of angels, using this specific pen or pencil on this particular kind of paper/in this especial notebook, after turning widdershins around my desk.”
Sound familiar? Your habits have become rules, obstacles, fetishes. Those of you of the right vintage will recall an episode of The Young Ones (young people, go to the Tube of You), where Neil is sitting an exam, but spends all of his time setting up the things he “needs”: lucky pens and pencils, secondary lucky pens and pencils, favourite notepad, packet of lollies, back-up packet of lollies, lucky gonk, spare lucky gonk … he spends so much time doing this that he runs out of exam time. When you’re indulging in that kind of ritual behaviour with your writing, you’re committing a Neil.
Moreover, you’re giving yourself excuses not to write. You’re able to claim that “circumstances beyond your control” derailed you. It’s not your fault.
It is, you know.
Jeff VanderMeer in Booklife says that we must free ourselves from writing fetishes. You must be able to write anywhere, anytime, using anything. Don’t make your ability to write depend on such silly obstacles: that particular pen doesn’t make your writing better. You and your skill and talent, you stubborn determination, you willingness to commit to starting AND finishing are what make you better. Not using the Mont Blanc pen that cost so much you could have purchased a jet ski for the same amount of money.
My point? When you travel you can be grumpy about the loss of habit or you can embrace it and learn from it. You can choose to view everything that happens on your trip through a filter of irritation or you can look at everything as a useful opportunity. You can choose to ruin an adventure or look around at the new space and realise it’s something new for you to play with, to adapt to your needs. It’s your new space, you can make it work for you, it is a tabula rasa untainted by all your old habits.
I woke this morning and moved a few things around in my KSP cottage (nothing major, don’t panic!): but the microwave is now on top of the wheelie-shelf-unit-thingy, and the printer is on top of the fridge. As a result my desk has more space (I have more space than I have at home!) and I can spread out my paperwork. I’ve created new habits – those habits are temporary because they are a reaction to a new workspace, but they don’t affect whether I write or not. If I hadn’t been able to move things it wouldn’t have changed whether I wrote or not. I’m able to fit in with a changed environment and work with it. In managements terms I guess I’m “agile” despite my tendency to fall over my own feet.
Habits are hard to break, whether on our home ground or out in the big wide world. The important thing is not to let them break you. Don’t let them stop you from writing. Your creative process depends on you, your motivation, your determination, not the location of your lucky gonk.