Out of the Rut

This weekend, I took a twenty-four hour vacation. My husband and I dropped our two children at their cousins’ house and checked into a nearby hotel. We sat for hours by the inn’s fireplace, haunted a local café where we drank coffee and paged through real-estate listings for our cross-country destination this summer, and browsed nearby stores (it is possible that my activities stepped outside the bounds of “browsing” when I accidentally purchased a lime-green racer-back braided-silk itty-bitty little slip of a dress for an upcoming Mardi Gras evening event).

In the scheme of things, my little departure from the grind was nothing. Twenty-four stolen hours, a few activities I do all the time—only the slightest respite from real life.

It was huge.

Monday morning, I reported for jury duty. Instead of getting up, eating, writing, swimming, writing, and greeting the are-you-serious-you-can’t-be-home-already kindergarten bus in the late morning, I drove twenty minutes to the courthouse and installed myself in an overheated room with twenty-five other citizens who were either elated to be sprung from their lives or grumbling about the inconvenience. I watched a movie about the importance of serving on a jury, spent ten minutes in a courtroom but never occupied a jury box seat, and was returned to the jury pool room to await empanelment on the next case. Meanwhile, that defendant fled the courthouse—oops!—and we all got sent home.

You couldn’t even call it a departure from routine, not really. It lasted only long enough to keep me from writing, but not long enough to keep me from meeting the kindergarten bus. All I did was read my book and witness the slimmest slice of the judicial system in action. Meet the defendant—he’s accused of assault and battery of a police officer. Do you think you’d be more likely or less likely to believe a police officer was telling the truth than any other person? No?

It was huge.

My moments out of real life, my departures from routine, they woke me up. I had to watch where I put my feet on the marble steps of the courthouse. I had to read signs and listen to instructions. I had to check in and check out, I had to read a menu I’d never seen before. I saw a new set of faces, considered an uncontemplated set of trespasses from the beaten path. I touched silky fabrics and people watched college students with unusual hair styles and disturbing piercings.

I had loads and loads of story ideas.

Breaking routine makes you pay attention, and if there’s one thing a writer can’t afford, it’s not paying attention. It’s way too easy to get into a rut when you’re writing day in and day out, especially when you’re devoted and dedicated and full of willpower and you’re determined to wrestle every last drop of writing time out of every day. Do you have time to go someplace new or try something unusual? I don’t. I’ve got to get those thousand or fifteen hundred words today.

My twenty-four hour furlough and my trip through justice’s maw made me remember that breaking the routine isn’t just a nice luxury for a writer, it’s a necessity. I have to make myself do it, and I have to make myself do it often. It almost doesn’t matter what it is, but it has to be different enough to shake me up and make me alive. Otherwise, I really am just writing about what’s inside my head, while what’s inside my head is a world that gets smaller and smaller instead of bigger and bigger.

What about you? Do you get in ruts? Do you have a way you make yourself break out? When was the last time you did something totally new, even if it wasn’t very big?