I get by with a little help from haiku

Why reorganize,
categorize, file old, when
there’s new to create?

A habit I get into (sometimes) is writing a daily haiku. I write “haiku” in the sense that I distill something on my mind into a 3-line stanza with 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third. This dramatically simplified version of a traditional Japanese haiku does not do that art form justice, but it does use one of the basic structures, and “haiku” rolls off the tongue a whole lot easier than “3-line limited-syllable semi-poetry stanza,” so I’m going to keep using it.

My mind is almost always teeming with words, but when I kindly request that it mold some of those words into something worth another person’s attention, my mind finds something else for me to do. Today I cleaned my kitchen, vacuumed, mopped, and folded laundry before even writing the journal entry that led to the haiku that led to this post. Everyone knows it’s better to write when your floors are clean, but I’ve come to realize that a lot of my “good” habits are really avoidance behaviors keeping me from doing things I fear. It would be a fairly efficient defense mechanism… if those weren’t also things I desperately wanted more of in my life.

As important as writing and being “a writer” are to me, they come with scary things like feeling inadequate and – god forbid – boring. A clean sink, on the other hand, has never made me feel that way.

This is where writing haiku comes in. Where a freeform piece of writing can always be added to, tightened up, improved upon, cried over…, a 3-line haiku has clear limits. It’s so short that you can’t really attack more than one big idea at a time, and once you’ve written your three lines, you’re done.

You’ve accomplished something.

Sure, no matter how few syllables you’re working with, you can always find a more concise or interesting way to use them; but for me, the 17-syllable limit is the miracle that allows me to craft something, direct my creative energy at it for a few minutes, and move on. Writing haiku is not the epitome of my creative calling, but rather the crack in the doorway that lets me sneak past the self-criticism, doubt, and plain old self-abuse that would sooner have me scrub 1,000 toilets than type a single sentence.

I do scrub a mean toilet, but that’s not what makes me jump out of bed just before I fall asleep with a must-write-down idea. I’ve started to see that cleaning and organizing have become excuses – really clever ones, but excuses nonetheless- to avoid the emotionally vulnerable activities that are also most fulfilling to me. I have a long way to go before my mind stops rushing to stifle all creative urges, but the door is ajar, and I’m squeezing through it.

Do you have any habits that seem helpful but are really standing in the way of your dreams?


7 thoughts on “I get by with a little help from haiku

    1. What a good idea! I usually listen to audio books or podcasts while cleaning, but it would be a good time to do some mental prep before sitting down to write.

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