"Everything you need to know about life can be learned from a genuine and ongoing attempt to write."
I don’t crush on celebrities – I crush on writers. Maybe it’s their mysterious nature or the way they build routine and discipline into their lives. Or maybe it’s the fact that they seem to get life and they slow down enough to observe the world instead of zooming through it like I tend to do.
Whatever it is, I dig writers and I believe we can learn a lot from their lifestyles and creative processes. In Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, author Dani Shapiro shares a collection of stories, meditations and advice about her own creative life, providing exceptional insight for all creative folks (like you!), not just writers.
Together, we’ll follow Dani’s guide and extract a layer of technology from our own creative lifestyles.
The Big Idea
Flossing can enhance creativity
"It would be many years before I began to understand that all of life is practice: writing, driving, hiking, brushing teeth, packing lunch boxes, making beds, cooking dinner, making love, walking dogs, even sleeping. We are always practicing. Only practicing."
If you want to deepen your creativity and produce great work, you should start by changing a habit or two. As you know, this is not easy. I’m embarrassed to say it took me years to start flossing regularly. Once I finally started massaging my gums nightly, I was reminded that developing a new habit – whether big or small or even as unsexy as flossing – is possible and it can be an incredibly empowering breakthrough that can lead to other new habits.
I’ll warn you now – I’m going to ask you to make a few big changes in your daily routine. These changes will pull you away from the screens in your life – iPhone, TV, and laptop – and may even feel a bit archaic. Who actually writes on paper with ink nowadays?
When it comes to our creativity, I think experimenting with your own habits is integral to the process. So let’s view this as a lil’ game and see what happens, eh?
Wake up to words, not your iPhone
"Fill your ears with the music of good sentences, and when you finally approach the page yourself, that music will carry you."
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up every morning?
Many of us – barely awake – reach out desperately to grab our iPhones and check email, Facebook, the news, etc. All fires must be put out before we brush our teeth!
This routine may feel normal and it may even make you feel like you’re at the top of your game. But is it healthy?
Dani Shapiro strongly recommends you view your first few minutes awake in the morning as sacred time, setting the tone for the rest of the day. Instead of grabbing your iPhone immediately, pull out a paperback book and read. Think of it as breakfast for your mind.
Here are 3 simple rules that may help you change this habit:
- Don’t sleep with your iPhone. It’s pretty simple. Give Siri a bedroom of her own, somewhere far away from your bed. If you use your phone as an alarm, buy a new alarm clock on Amazon. They cost ten dollars – you can afford it.
- Strategically place a few of your favorite books near your bed, within arms reach. Dani Shapiro keeps the following books in a pile next to her: Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary and Thomas Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude. Blogs and magazines do not count for this exercise. Devour a delicious book, something that will give you the fuel you need for the day.
Read for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. If you need to set your alarm slightly earlier, do it. Allow yourself to linger in bed with your books and avoid running through your checklist for the day. Stay present and gently ease into your day.
Make a mess
"Just as we need to feel our feet on the earth, smell and taste the world around us, the pen scratching against the page, sensory and slow, is the different between looking at a high-definition picture of a flower and holding that very same flower in your palm…"
Writing longhand in a notebook and typing on your laptop are two very different experiences.
When you sit down to create – whether you’re writing a novel or developing a new strategy for your sales team – do you choose keys over ink? I usually do.
Typing makes me feel fast, efficient and unstoppable as I slam the keys. When I write in my notebook, I slow down. My mind travels to new places. I cross out words, I doodle, I underline. The page becomes messy very quickly. Maybe that’s why I’ve avoided it.
I challenge you (and myself) to learn to love the beautiful, complicated mess and the playful process of creating with pen and paper. The notebook allows you “to see a road map of your progress as you build the architecture of your story”. The screen’s white space may put your mind at ease – so neat and tidy! – but you lose the fever. And the fever carries you forward, deeper into your work.
Here’s how to experiment with longhand:
- Pick a notebook – choose one that lights you up. A notebook that you actually want to carry.
- Choose a pen that feels good – one that makes you want to doodle for days at a time.
Start your next project here, with the notebook and pen. Allow yourself time for discovery amid the chaos.
I believe technology is a beautiful thing, when we control its role in our lives. I’ve noticed it has a way of creeping, uninvited, into sacred areas of my life like dinnertime, bedtime and my own creative time.
It’s important for all of us to audit our own relationship with technology and truly understand the ways in which it is improving our lives and alternatively, the ways in which it is damaging our lives.
And by all means, kick Siri out of the bedroom.
“If I dismiss the ordinary – waiting for the special, the extreme, the extraordinary to happen – I may just miss my life.”