I’m working on the followup to Steal Like An Artist, my book about how to be more creative in the digital age. It’s been a real pain in the ass. Here are five things that have helped:
1. Shut up and write the book.
I’m an extreme extrovert, which is really great after I write a book and I have to go out into the world and talk to people about it, but not so great when I need to sequester myself long enough to actually get some real writing done.
I do most of my thinking “out loud,” which means that ideas don’t really come to me until I’ve expressed them. If I express them through speech, I’m less likely to turn around and say them in writing.
2. Use the bathroom.
I get a lot of good ideas getting ready in the morning. If I have an idea in the shower, I write it down on my Aqua Notes pad, and if I have one after I step out of the shower, I’ll use a dry-erase marker to write it on the bathroom mirror.
3. Fix that mise en place.
Mise en place is a French cooking term that means “everything in place.” It’s used to refer to the way chefs have all of their ingredients organized and ready to go before they start cooking. For writers, I think it’s equally important to have your workspace organized and ready to go, with nothing in your way.
I made a slight adjustment to my desk recently that made a world of difference. I raised my external monitor up slightly, so I could set my laptop in front of it, and got rid of my external keyboard. Now, when I sit down, I can just open up my laptop and get to work. If I need the extra monitor for research or design work, I can plug it in, but most of the time I don’t even use it.
4. Less notification, more meditation.
It might be an obvious point, but it’s crazy how many of my devices tout their ability to distract me as an intelligent feature. The dumber I make my devices, the smarter I feel. Notifications I’ve killed:
- All notifications on my iPhone.
- Tweetdeck on my laptop.
- Gmail Notifier.
As for meditation, it’s pretty simple: I put my kid down for a nap, sit at the top of the stairs, set my iPhone timer for 10 minutes, and close my eyes. That’s it. I’ve been doing it on and off for about a month and a half and I’ve felt less angry, less stressed, lighter.
More about meditation here.
5. Stop researching.
I’ll let Steven Johnson take this one:
Email and social media and games are obvious distractions. In my experience, the more subtle threat — particularly for non-fiction writers — comes via the eminently reasonable belief that you’re not ready to start writing, because you haven’t finished your research yet.
David McCullough agrees:
There’s an awful temptation to just keep on researching. There comes a point where you just have to stop, and start writing. When I began, I thought that the way one should work was to do all the research and then write the book. In time I began to understand that it’s when you start writing that you really find out what you don’t know and need to know.
Okay! Back to writing.