(Also published on the EarlyWords blog.)

What we put in, we get out.

According to the Greek poet Archilochus, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

This resonates with me. As an artist, I continuously remind myself that craft is not magic. Craft is the consequence of disciplined practice. In other words, habit. I am what I habitually do.

For example, in 2019, I finally formed a very solid habit of working out at the gym. My local YMCA. They have a pool and everything. I was regularly going about five times a week. The beautiful thing about a daily habit is that it becomes more psychologically straining to not do the thing than to do it. The human mind loves patterns and what are habits if not behavioral patterns?

Because of this gym habit, I became a new and improved person. I became fit. I became more athletic. I became stronger. I increased the scope of my physical abilities. I became more disciplined.

Then 2020 struck and the pandemic shut down our YMCA. Habit squashed. But that’s ok! I had learned the principle and had already begun to apply it to my creative life. During this pandemic, I have formed a number of habits that are reshaping my life.

My primary art is music composition. Rather than dream of the next phase of my career, I do things that a person with that career does. I know that if I have the habits of that person, I am that person, or at least I will be in time. For example, I work on increasing my skill in my craft. I do ear training every day using some smart phone apps. I practice my instrument (piano) every day—scales, exercises, sight reading, and repertoire practice. I improvise. And finally, I compose. Composing is actually the easy part. Once I have the musical juices flowing, I could compose continuously. I can’t physically write fast enough to capture all of my ideas. But getting to that flow is the result of habit, of discipline.

For all of us, regardless of our creative medium or outlet, we need to get our minds going. The best tool I’ve found for doing this is the habit of writing ‘morning pages’, an exercise described by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. And that’s what EarlyWords is about—writing daily, private, stream-of-consciousness journal entries. We write, write, write until we reach the target and then save it away, usually without another thought.

And then we come back tomorrow and the next day and write, write, write again. Pretty soon, we are that person that can consistently attack the day with clarity and flow.

— Rob