Rituals help keep us sane, they help keep us on track, and they make us who we are. Many of these rituals are shared across the masses—we can’t start the day without a cup of coffee, we eat the same breakfast and read the same newspaper every day. There’s comfort there. Regularity. The hand of expectedness resting on our shoulder.
The true test of routine is when you feel inconsolably off without doing something. When you feel guilty about it, even. If you’ve been jogging every morning for three weeks and then one day you don’t jog, it messes with you a bit. Everything else that day feels off. And then the next day, when you go out for your morning jog, the sweet relief hits you like that first sip of morning coffee. Again, that reassuring hand of expectedness and routine.
So when you create a routine of productivity, there’s great power in that. It’s almost more powerful than discipline—its dependency. We depend on our routines to keep us in the right frame of mind, so if a component of your routine is to, say, write for an hour every morning, and you become dependent on that hour of writing to feel at ease and yourself for the rest of the day.
I’m not saying that routine is entirely unrelated to discipline—it takes discipline to formulate a routine, certain aspects of a routine, at least. A morning jog, a healthier breakfast, getting to work fifteen minutes early, writing for an hour at a specific time each day—all these things aren’t as easy as just having a cup of coffee or reading through the New York Times. But what I’m trying to get at here is that once you get past the point of discipline and to the point of dependency--when you’re dependent on productivity—that is a very good place to be. Particularly for writers.
Writing is fun. Anybody who wants to be a writer definitely enjoys sitting and writing. But writing is also work. Hard work. Thankless work, a lot of the time. Work that people sort of cock their heads at when you tell them “I’m a writer.” It’s easy to skip a day, and then three, and then a week, and then months. And when you’re skipping all that time, you're forming a counter-productive routine. One where part of your ritual is “not writing.” And it’s a comfortable place to be. There’s a whole bunch of shit to do in this world that beats sitting at a desk by yourself and writing something that has a higher chance of failing than succeeding. Why sit and edit a draft of something for four hours when you could just plop down on a couch and watch a football game?
What starts as a chore becomes a habit. Habit then becomes routine. And once something is a routine, you become dependent on it.
In a nutshell, what I’m saying is that it is important to write every day until you feel like you’ve let yourself down when you don’t. Grow dependent on the habit for your own peace of mind, and good work will come out of it. It’s bound to.