I was a book nerd from the start.
Never needed any encouragement to read. Mostly, other stuff I had to do, like go to school, was an impediment to that.
Yet, the distractions of the world get in my way and stop me from reading, far too often.
I’ll lose an hour looking at cute/funny posts about lurchers in the Lurcher Appreciation Society (Facebook).
I’ll spend 45 minutes advancing my Spanish score on Duolingo. Or disappear down the rabbit hole, reading articles online.
I suppose that’s still reading… but it doesn’t feed the same part of my mind as reading a book.
Have you noticed how different it feels?
That’s how I know: it’s not the same.
The book is the sustenance my creative brain requires. If I don’t keep up that practice, my ability to write suffers.
Truthfully, I get a little bit nostalgic for the end of the 20th century. That time when reading was still almost entirely the province of books…. And by extension, bookshops and libraries.
See, we have access to everything at the tip of our fingers, now.
In 1998, the library was my Google.
I was working on my dissertation for my degree, that year. Every day, I got up and walked from my student house in Selly Oak to the main library on campus, with a bag full of heavy books, notebooks and pens.
It was an imposing building with the main entrance raised high off the ground and stone steps leading up to it. The steps were a central meeting place on campus and where we would breakout to eat our sweaty sandwiches, during heavy study days.
I remember one or two glorious days, in my 3 years at Brum, when the sun actually shone and the pale cement of the library steps and the concrete dais were a shimmering sun trap.
Most of my memories of Brum are of grey.
But when I was ensconced deep in the most isolated stacks of the great library, I didn’t care about the weather.
I was a detective, always following a lead, from text to text. Scribbling pages of evidence by hand. A reference in one book would lead to searching for another.
Can you believe I often had to go down two flights of stairs to a computer where I could check the library catalogue, to find the location of a particular book?
The search was so manual, physical.
You could access the internet, but the infrastructure to find this kind of information online hadn’t been created yet.
So I spent many a happy day, buried in the corners of the second floor of that great building. The daylight barely reached the desks between the stacks in those strange zones where the most esoteric books were hidden.
It was introvert’s heaven.
I didn’t speak to another soul for hours.
And all the creative synapses of my brain would be firing together, making new connections, synthesizing new ideas.
5 keys to sustain your writing habit
My writing is most effective when I treat it like I did in those days. And I can break it down to these key factors that will help sustain your writing practice:
- Keep a daily notebook of sources, ideas and inspiration. Always have it close by. Develop systems for organizing the way you make your notes. Use highlighters and stickers to help you navigate. This will become such a valuable tool.
- Follow up every worthwhile lead and be open to new directions. This is how you start to make the mental leaps that lead to new connections and creative syntheses, which is really what creativity is all about.
- Make a habit of going to the same place to work. Sit at the same desk or mark out a daily schedule at your computer. Your brain forms strong associations between the place and the kind of mental work you’re going to do.
- Be curious and fascinated about the subjects you’re exploring in your writing and research! This is how you build and maintain momentum. Curiosity is the cure for boredom and the source of all creativity. If you’re not feeling it, take a break. Do something else for a while. It’s an early sign of burnout so be alert to when you need to stop and fill your own well.
- Be committed. Keep turning up. Own that desk in the library, or your favourite coffee shop. When you show up regularly, the Muse knows where you are. Make her your bitch, not the other way around.