Update on going analog…

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to eschew my electronic tasks list, calendar, and notepad in favor of a pen-and-paper system, i.e., a notebook. I was inspired by Austin Kleon’s suggestion to go analog to improve creativity. So far, it’s been working well, other than the small inconvenience that the notebook I chose is just a little too small. However, it has perforated pages, which I really like–I can tear out pages once they’re used up.

I enjoy the satisfaction of physically crossing items off in my notebook as I accomplish the goals I’ve set. I am definitely more productive. Perhaps the reward of crossing off is enough to motivate me to actually do what I set out to do.

The most surprising result, though, is that using the paper notebook really has improved my memory. I was seriously starting to get worried, because it seemed like I would forget everything. Just minutes after someone asked me to do something, it would fly out of my brain. I would walk into rooms with no idea why I was there. The act of physically writing things into my notebook and then reviewing them once or twice daily has helped cement them in my mind, though. I can now remember what I need to do without actually looking at me to-do list first, which is amazing. I think my improved memory is helping me get more done too.

Regardless, I am a convert back to paper notebooks. Is it possible that such a small change could significantly boost my happiness? Seems so.

A few recent links about writing and similar creative pursuits…

Stephen King asks: Can a novelist be too productive?

We are all artists now, though.

But if you don’t click on this story, the writer doesn’t get paid.

Notes on The Creative Habit

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp is the first of several books I’m planning to read on the creative process. Tharp’s book is a great place to start, as it contains many nuggets of useful information on fashioning a creative life that can be put into practice immediately. Although Tharp’s art is dance, her advice is general enough to apply to any creative pursuit, even cooking, yoga, or gardening, and of course, writing. I found it very inspirational and wanted to share my reading notes, which may be of interest. I hope if you are intrigued that you go ahead and read the whole book–it’s worth it.

Rituals of preparation: Begin each day the same way. Commit to a creative practice by starting with a ritual. Create a working environment that’s habit forming. Distractions and fears are the enemy!

Twyla says: “…there is no one ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself.”

That’s why following someone else’s prescription for creativity may not work!

Creative DNA: How do you see? What is your focal length: close up, medium, or long view?

Harness memory: Experiences and memories are the source of art. Find new ways to connect the memories that you’ve stored.

Twyla says: “Metaphor is the lifeblood of all art.”

Start with a box: When starting a new project, put everything about that project together into a box,* including research, notes, inspiration. (*A blog can be a “box.”)

Scratching: the process of getting started and finding ideas. Look everywhere. Read! You can’t stop with one idea–a workable idea is the combination of two separate ideas.

Accidents: Have a plan/don’t over plan. Be open to luck and happy accidents. Run with them when they occur. Limits on resources can help creativity.

Creativity as an act of defiance: Why do I have to obey the rules? Why can’t I be different? Why can’t I do it my way?

Spine*: the first strong idea/your intentions/motive for existence. Stick to your spine and your piece will work. The audience does not have to know what it is. It guides you and keeps you going. It’s a gift you give yourself to make the work easier.

*This is the key chapter in the book, the one most important piece of wisdom to take away.

Thought: Could you have a spine not only for creative projects, but for phases of your life?

Skill: You need to develop your skills to be truly great. Combine skill with passion. Learn to do for yourself to broaden your skills. Practice (diligence+habit) to keep your skills. Never take fundamentals for granted.

Inexperience erases fear–you don’t know what is not possible. Switch genres or to another skill set.

Ruts and grooves: There will come a time when creativity fails you. A rut: you’re spinning your wheels; the world is moving on while you’re standing still. Ruts are caused by bad ideas, bad timing, or bad luck. A rut is sticking to old methods without taking into account how you’ve changed (“always done it this way”). Question everything except your ability to get out of the rut.

First see the rut; second, admit you’re in a rut; third, get out of the rut. You may need to change your environment. You may need a new idea; set an aggressive quota. You may need to challenge or reverse your assumptions; practice this.

A groove: moving forward without hitches; learning, growing, stretching, being at your best. The call to a creative life is not supposed to be torture. Does it give you pain (a rut) or pleasure (a groove)?

Build a bridge to the next day. Write your intention down and read it first thing on the following day.

An A in failure: The creative act is editing out the ideas that don’t work. You do your best work after your biggest disasters. Failure is necessary, but you must be willing to learn from your failures. Build failure into the process; invite criticism and learn from it.

  • failure of skill: develop skills
  • failure of concept: move on to something else
  • failure of judgment: be a tyrant
  • failure of nerve: looking foolish is good for you
  • failure through repetition: try something new
  • failure from denial: admit when something is not working

The long run: Be in the bubble. Be willing to subtract everything that disconnects you from your work. (The most difficult advice to put into practice!)

Writing advice, distilled…

Every writer must eventually write a book about writing. It’s some sort of unspoken rule. Due to my lifelong interest in the writing process, I’ve read a fair number of these advice manuals. (Two of my favorites are Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley and Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, because both of these books say quite a lot about reading and understanding what you read, in addition to writing.) No question that books about how to write remain popular. I guess a lot of people want to be writers, and they think these books contain the secret, that one highly guarded piece of knowledge that will finally transform the person reading the book into a by-gosh for-real writer.

Here’s the real secret: All books on writing say pretty much the same things. They use a lot of words and pages to say it, too, when all the writing advice ever given can be distilled to just a few simple rules. Hang on, I’m going to tell you what they are in just a minute.

If I had to recommend just one writing book, it would be Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It’s not that she imparts any great secrets either; her book says pretty much the same thing all the other writing books do. But she says it with a lot of humor and reveals a great deal of herself in the process. Her book is really more useful for providing emotional support to writers, rather than showing them how to write. I take my copy out and read random sections from it whenever I need a little boost.

Now, on to the writing secrets. These are the three rules you need to know about writing, distilled from every writing advice book ever:

  1. If you want to be a writer, you have to write every day. You can’t wait to be in the mood or to have a great idea. Showing up is key, but the urge to procrastinate can be very powerful. Successful writers usually build a routine around this just to get their butts in front of the computer (or typewriter or notebook or what have you).
  2. If you want to be a good writer, first you have to be a bad writer. The initial struggle is just to get words on paper. Those words will never be as good as you want them to be. Once the words are there, you can work with them, revise, shape, cut, rearrange, to make them better. This rule also means that your writing, like most things you do, will get better the more you practice doing it.
  3. Writers read. I will never understand why someone who doesn’t read books would want to write books. All good writers read, a lot. They read obsessively. They read widely. Reading is how you learn to write. It’s how you figure out structure, character and plot. It’s how you find ideas and techniques to “borrow,” to play with and make your own. It’s how you realize what works and what doesn’t.

By the way, these rules also apply to pretty much any creative endeavor. Just substitute the word writer for the artistic pursuit of your choice: painter, musician, dancer, cook, whatever it is.

And that’s all you really, truly need to know. I’ve just saved you a lot of money buying all those books about writing you don’t really need. No need to thank me–just promise that when you become a successful writer, you won’t write yet another book about writing.