A couple weeks ago, I raced my first 5K since George W. Bush was in office (not counting some epic-ly un-fun 8Ks in college). I told myself I would go out conservatively for about 3K—maybe even 4K—then close hard if I had an extra gear. Well, I did the exact opposite: I went out entirely too fast then ran a very slow, apathetic, uninspiring last 3K (I did not have an “extra gear.” Cute thinking, Will) . It reminded me that I don’t miss the world of competitive running (at all). It also reminded me how crucial the warm-up is—in racing and in creativity.
If you were to make a Venn Diagram of Running Habits and Creative Habits, the tiny (tiny!) overlapping sliver would be Ritual—specifically warm-up ritual. Creatively, we need a consistent, monotonous warm-up to awaken/become in tune with our senses and begin to draw clarity and connections. There’s this funny paradox of needing routine to allow for spontaneity. Twyla Tharp, the legendary choreographer, puts it better than anyone: “Without the time and effort invested in getting ready to create, you can be hit by the thunderbolt, and it’ll just leave you stunned.” Trying to integrate new ideas into our work without “the time and effort invested in getting ready to create” is like going to IKEA: Sure, you might leave with a sweet new coffee table (maybe even at a killer price!)—but, you’ll also leave with a throbbing headache and total confusion with how to navigate the Swedish instruction manual.
When I say warming-up, I mean just about anything—anything that’s regular; anything that (gradually, gently) acclimates us to Play instead of throwing us right in the fire; anything that breeds instinctiveness and self-trust, anything that converts us from The Whig Party to The Kristen Wiig Party. Every morning before I take pictures, write, or edit videos, I give myself a whopping 60 minutes to walk (really slowly), drink some coffee, write stream-of-conscious jibber jabber (probably the most important step in warming-up), talk with strangers, listen to whatever songs are stuck in my head, and then just sit and think. Then I go. I need that time to loosen up (I’m also not a morning person, so there’s that). I need set-aside boredom and idleness to usher in madness. Two days a week, I get on the Green Line, turn off my phone, and hop off 30 minutes later to snap some pics. That works, too.
There’s certainly a brilliance in just diving in—on a macro-scale. But, in the not-so-sexy, daily grind, we need that warm-up. We need to loosen the valves in order to open the floodgates. You can’t sprint (your best, without injury) until you’ve done a million drills and dynamic stretching and easy running; you can’t create with wild enthusiasm and intricate precision until you’ve done the same.
This week’s embarrassing story:
I went to a basketball camp when I was 14. Being 14 is not a super comfortable thing. I didn’t know any other campers. I went up to one camper and said hi and asked if he was “from around here.”
He looked at me, confused, offended, weirded out. Then he asked me to repeat myself.
He, again, looked at me, confused, offended, weirded out. After about a one-minute silence, he responded.
“Well, I mean, some people think I have round ears. But some people have also told me I have pointy ears. I don’t know. Probably pointy ears if I had to pick. Why do you ask?”
I ran away and didn’t talk to him again. The end.
“In writing, habit seems to be a much stronger force than either will power or inspiration.”—John Steinbeck
“Inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly give it a little chance to start flowing prime it with a little solitude and idleness.”—Brenda Ueland