Michael teaches yoga and meditation, practises bodywork, and does philosophy relating to the mind, body, and yoga.

how i write {or: a day in the life}

The most obvious and salient component of my creative routine is the practice of writing a thousand words a day, six days a week. This is a discipline I adopted about a year ago. It has become so vital to both my literary output and my psychological well-being that it is something I plan to maintain for the rest of my life. It is my main event, my favourite part of every day. For all its importance, it lasts a mere 45 to 75 minutes—at a pace somewhere between the keyboard equivalent of a trot and a canter. That being said, just about everything else I do during the day is in support of this intense, full-body slice of ecstasy.

Be regular and orderly in your life like a Bourgeois so that you may be violent and original in your work.
— Gustave Flaubert

Sleep.

It all starts with a good night’s sleep. Research unequivocally demonstrates that getting between 7-9 hours of sleep each night is essential for optimal physical and psychological health, which have a direct bearing on aspects of cognitive performance such as memory, mood, attention, and willpower. While I can’t claim to sleep so soundly every single night, I definitely do what I can to make it possible. I try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. I tend to avoid alcohol after 6pm (hooray for day drinking!) because of its negative effect on sleep quality. I set the screens on my phone, my tablet, and my computer to go into “night shift” mode after 8pm, which apparently benefits melatonin production.

Awakening.

I wake up around 7 and let myself lie in bed for half an hour or so, listening to a podcast that catches me up on all the latest U.S. Political gossip. Then I get up and make myself a cup of black tea or chai.

Morning Pages.

I began working The Artist’s Way on 1 January, 2008. Morning Pages have been a regular part of my life since that day. Every morning (even Sundays), I sit down at the kitchen table with my tea, a pen, and my journal, and I write literally whatever is on my mind. For half an hour (15 minutes with my left hand, fifteen minutes with my right) I get down all my worries, concerns, dream images, to-dos…and if I blank for any moment I just keep writing anyway. {My stacks of journals over the years comprise predominantly such babble as “and…yeah, I mean that’s just…I suppose what I need to think about if I really think about it is...”} This practice allows me to indulge whatever stupidity needs my attention for a set period of time. Thereafter, I can mostly let it go for the rest of the day.

Yoga and Meditation.

11 years or so ago, I determined that practising yoga and meditation on a daily basis was so necessary for my mental health that I couldn’t afford not to do it. I do exactly the same sequence of the same poses, held for the same number of breaths, every day. A little bit after I turned 30, my slightly older body needed a day off, so I reduced my āsana practice to 6 days a week, while maintaining my meditation practice day in, day out. I doubt I have skipped more than 10 days of meditation.

While doing the yoga poses, I sometimes answer texts or, if someone else is around, engage in some light chat with them. This takes no more that 30 minutes. I then practice alternate nostril breathing and sit in silence for twenty minutes. I don’t mind so much whether or not everybody else around is silent. It’s just that they aren’t likely to get a response if they try to talk to me.

Pull-Ups.

Three days a week, I do three sets of pull-ups after my meditation. {I have an expandable pull-up bar that I can squeeze into my bedroom door frame.} I started doing it because I have a fair amount of hypermobility in my shoulder joints, which was likely exacerbated by the constant pushing action that yoga entails (e.g., chatturanga to upward-facing dog) without any form of pulling to balance it out. As a result I was building up muscle on only one side of the shoulder joint. Since starting the pull-ups four years ago, dislocation has not been an issue. This regimen has also served as a tremendous boon to my willpower. Along with…

The James Bond Shower.

Each day after my exercises, followed by breakfast, I have a quick shower that starts out warm—and finishes with a cold rinse. As cold as possible. And in northern Europe, that means ice cold. For at least 30 seconds—longer if I can stand it. Over the last two years, I've noticed some amazing benefits. I used to suffer from chronically poor circulation, which has improved tremendously since I started employing this wintry rinse two years ago. That being said, it’s god-awful. Each day, there is a battle in my conscience as my shower is about to come to a close. Every single day, without exception, I ask myself: “Am I really going to do this to myself again?” And each day, the answer to that question is the action of my hand turning the water lever all the way to the right. At which point I curse the day I was born. But within 5 seconds of shutting that water off, I begin feeling like the world is my fucking oyster.

The Main Event: 1000 Words.

After the shower, I get dressed, pack up my materials, and take the 15 minute walk to törnqvist: the beautiful Scandinavian café that is my home-away-from-home. This aesthetically pleasing establishment has a highly respectable nerdiness about coffee and make the best flat white in the business. {I'm quite sensitive to substances, so I allow myself only one coffee a day.} törnqvist also boasts what I would consider amongst the most important affordances for my writing practice: an elbow-high table at which I can stand to do my work. For those familiar with my philosophy, it will probably not be surprising that I consider writing a full-body activity. I genuinely feel that my output is flat, dull, and tedious if I have to do it sitting down. Having a platform at which I can stand means I can have a height-appropriate place for my bluetooth keyboard, and I can set up my laptop on a stand that allows the screen to be at eye-level. This saves me a lot of stress on my neck and shoulders, and I love feeling the activation in my leg muscles and the firm connection between my feet and the floor.

 The legendary törnqvist flattie!

The legendary törnqvist flattie!

Also. I dance. I dance constantly as I am writing. This brings a whole lot more life to my words than they would have if I were simply in a chair, hunched over my machine. This means, of course, that I listen to music while I write. My silent time comes when I sleep and when I meditate, when dust can settle and reveal, with astounding clarity, the things theretofore hidden within me. When I am writing, I need rhythm to drum those ideas up again, to put order to them, and to inject them with vitality. My writing music almost exclusively consists of SoundCloud sets from a number of European and South American DJs. This one from uji is probably my all-time fave. Noise cancelling headphones are a must when functioning coffee-grinders and espresso makers share one’s office space.

As write and dance, I keep my fingers connected to the keyboard at almost all times. I do not stop and think. I’ve been thinking all day and night. Now is the time to write. In all likelihood, I haven’t jotted any ideas down since my last writing session. My thoughts’ repetitive frequency lends itself rather handily to the probability that any given idea that comes to me won’t come along only once. I simply rock up to the page and look at the last thing I’ve written (or, if I am starting a new project, whatever is in my head at that very moment). Whatever the phrase may be, it invariably brings to mind something else that I have been reading or thinking about recently, so I simply type out whatever transpires from that moment of connection. And thus I continue, writing phrase upon phrase, sentence upon sentence, until Scrivener tells me that I have reached my target word count. I finish whatever thought I’m on. Then I stop. I always try to stop with a little bit left in the tank, so to speak, pretty much knowing what I’m going to start with tomorrow.

The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerise myself to reach a deeper state of mind.
— Haruki Murakami

{Editing is not something I do daily. I do not make corrections, or even look back on what I have written, until at least the end of the week. In general, I tend to edit en bloc, perhaps once every week or two, perhaps on a Friday afternoon/evening. I tend to do this more serious craftwork in a seated position. There’s always a lot to fix, quotations and citations to add, and plenty of unusable crap to throw away. With whatever meagre offerings I have left, I do a fair amount of sentence-shuffling, thesaurus-plumbing, and polishing. It’s rather obsessive work, which I enjoy thoroughly.}

Midday Break.

When I leave the café, I walk for at least half an hour. I’ll have either pre-arranged to meet a friend or I’ll happily spend a couple of hours cooking, eating, and listening to a podcast on my own. {My favourites at the moment are The Partially Examined Life and, of course, No Such Thing as a Fish.} I’m still high from my coffee, and my mind is still feeling lively. If it is a social affair, I often end up spending a lot of time talking about whatever I’ve been reading recently, in addition to asking the other person’s opinions about the deep questions of life.

Mediterranean Yoga.

By the end of lunchtime, I am usually quite relaxed and more than a little knackered, so I’ll retreat to my bedroom and have a nap. This takes five to ten minutes, and is the most refreshing experience imaginable. Often upon awaking, I exclaim audibly (though no-one is within earshot) “Wow! That was amazing.” {Just this week, I’ve learned that Catalan painter Juan Miró had this very practice as well. He referred to it as his “Mediterranean yoga.” I’m going to steal this. He’s dead, so I don’t think he’ll mind.}

I like to leave the late afternoons and evenings less structured than the first half of my day usually is. This week has been relatively regular, and my post-nap periods have proceeded in the following order:

Language training. 

I’m always trying to improve one of my languages. Yet for the last few of months, I’ve been stubbornly avoiding the move toward full linguistic integration into my adopted country. {“Now that I’m living in Germany, it’s the perfect time to revisit my French!”} But after making my way through all of the available French lessons on Duolingo (including the bonus lessons on idioms and flirting), and after furthering my procrastinatory efforts by spending a couple of weeks brushing up my Russian, I finally capitulated and have returned to that morbid task of attempting to acquire what Mark Twain famously referred to as “The Awful German Language.” {“…you want to take it in small doses, or first thing you know your brains all run together, and you feel them flapping around in your head the same as so much drawn butter.} Knocking twenty minutes of that out of the park directly after my nap has actually been putting me into a rather good mood this week, so I may keep that up.

One Hundred Pages.

Next on the list is my daily research quota. Depending on the difficulty of the text, reading through a hundred pages can take anywhere from three to four hours. Sometimes, if I’ve been reading for four hours and I still haven’t quite hit a hundred pages, I’m happy to call it a day. At other times, I’m so engrossed in what I’m reading that two hundred pages and six hours will have elapsed completely unmarked. Although the research portion of my routine is often the most time-consuming and sometimes the most tedious, it is nevertheless essential. My mind’s chewing over the material is precisely what fuels my inspiration, helps me to build connections amongst ideas from various fields, and gives me the certainty that I will always have something to write or talk about. It also gives my inner life a delectable sense of richness, upon which I have become absolutely dependent. The daily exercise of reading this much every day also makes it more likely that I’ll sleep well each night. Like a border collie who’s been sufficiently entertained and challenged during the day, my mind is no longer restless after my research hours. 

Dinner.

This is generally a rather simple affair. I like it to be lighter than lunch, although my housemates can tell you that I certainly have my weeks when I seem to eat a pizza every single night.

Dual N-Back.

Usually, the last thing I do at night (five nights a week, anyway) is a brain-training app called Dual N-Back. I first heard about this system back in 2012, when it turned up in a New York Times article (which, vainly, I was reading only because I had received a mention in that issue) citing research that it could improve working memory and even IQ. Curious, I gave it a try for a few weeks. What makes Dual N-Back problematic is that it is the most boring thing you’ll ever do in your life. It is therefore difficult to maintain as a routine, which is precisely why I stopped using it all those years ago. In recent months, however, I have been regularly playing the recommended 20 sessions a night for 4-5 nights a week. I don’t know if I can accurately describe the effect this has had on my mind, but I’ll try.

Because the task requires a genuinely and increasingly demanding strain on working (short-term) memory and attention, both of these faculties get a noticeable boost. In what way is it noticeable? Well, for one, the degree to which I can both comprehend and maintain an interest in the hardcore philosophical texts I sometimes read is off-the-charts better than it was before I began this regimen. Similarly, my mind doesn’t wander away nearly as often when I am having conversations with people or watching films. Also, the amount of time it takes to produce my daily word count has shrunk considerably, which I imagine is due to the fact that my attention is not so easily distracted from the multiple threads I am usually trying to weave together. I’ve noticed similar benefits in my meditation practice. Because of all of this, I’ve fully embraced the game. And I’ve even begun enjoying it. {As for the IQ improvement claim, I can’t say one way or the other. I’ve always refused to take such a test. Learning the results would surely only be trouble, whatever the number might be.}

Sunday is the Lord’s Day.


The Exquisite Life.

So does it get boring, doing the same shit every day? No. Not at all. My life is wonderful, I feel that each moment is still spontaneous, and I am grateful each and every day. You know what is boring, though? Being depressed. Thinking about the things I wish I were doing instead of actually doing them. Not feeling inspired because I’m not going out of my way to seek inspiration. I’ve done way too much of that boring shit, for way too much of my life. My routine lets me live exquisitely. 

...only when habits of order are formed can we advance to really interesting fields of action...
— William James

Fin.


Please feel free to share your routine in the comments section below!

an important message from a depressed man (myself, a handful of months ago)

yoga, cultism, and quackery

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