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canoe jordan lake

Frog Hollow Outdoors staff managing the gear.

When you think about your writing routine, what rituals do you commit to and what habits have developed? Are you the type of writer who needs to make a cup of tea first? Do you need to sit at the same spot in the same place each time you draft a new poem or story?

Usually I’m not interested in other writers’ routines. (Authors’ favorite foods, on the other hand, is delicious research.) We know what works for ourselves. How can we learn what may work better?

The summer after I graduated college I took an improv comedy class. Throughout the summer we learned the basic rules of improv, games, and developed our skills to think of ideas outside our norm and beyond what the audience expects.

Last night my boyfriend and I went for a night paddle on Jordan Lake in Pittsboro, North Carolina. The events are coordinated by Frog Hollow Outdoors and Chapel Hill’s Morehead Planetarium. (I won’t go into the recreational details – you can read more about that in the articles I’ve written about these great events for Southern Neighbor and Blue Ridge Outdoors.)

Jordan Lake night paddle

The stars at Jordan Lake.

When the canoes and kayaks pushed off shore after dusk over the black water, it reminded me of a fun tool I learned in the improv class that involves changing our routines. When you’re out on the water at night, you have an entirely different experience and need to juggle new challenges. The most obvious challenge is that visibility is limited. You rely on other skills and tools to compensate: Increased communication with other paddlers, change in speed and direction, an added vigilance of motor boats sharing the lake. Not to mention the starry sky and shooting stars above distracting you!

The first homework lesson in the improv class was to go home and change one thing about our daily routines every day until we met the following week. This meant if we normally brushed our teeth with our right hand, we would use our left. If you eat dessert after a meal – have it first instead. Do you drive the fastest way to work? Take a different road.

Normally our days are on autopilot. We’ve fallen into habits that we feel work best for each of us and make our days move easy. By doing so we miss out on new experiences in the same places.

Although cliche, I’m sure you and every writer you know has a favorite coffee shop. Why not try a different place? You may overhear a conversation or see a unique character that could inspire something for your novel or poetry. (On a similar note, we were just watching the Inside the Actor’s Studio episode featuring Billy Joel, and the lyrics in “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” only came about because he was sitting at a restaurant in Little Italy trying to a write the song and a waiter offered him a bottle of red or a bottle of white.) What’s even more fun about mixing up your routine is that you will notice one simple change typically has a chain reaction; eventually this ripples into your writing. (Plus, new experiences may inspire article topics for you to draft impressive magazine queries.)

Simply: Have chocolate cake for breakfast. Kayak at night. Take your writing some place it hasn’t been yet.