Like many of us right now, I’ve been struggling to be creative and disciplined with my writing. It feels hard, and I‘ve been dreading creating new content for my own practice and enjoyment, despite recently getting my first freelance client. My own writing has been stubbornly, dare I say it, blocked.
It has been especially frustrating this past week, so it would seem that the Universe decided to take pity on me and intervene.
Yesterday, I listed to an interview with Medium’s own very popular, kick-your-ass motivational writer, Ayodeji Awosika, in which he briefly discussed his own writing process. He mentioned that his writing is mainly “old school,” done with pen and paper until it’s time to publish.
It was almost a throwaway comment, an answer to a question at the end of the interview, so he didn’t elaborate beyond that. But it stuck in my brain.
Then, this morning, I was reading Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist, a book that has been on my list for months until I finally got around to it, ironically, as a digital copy borrowed from my temporarily closed local library. And he too talks about the importance of creating away from the laptop screen, because “sitting in front of a computer all day is killing you, and killing your work.”
We create, he explains, not just with our heads, but with our bodies as well.
Your hands are the original digital devices. Use them. — Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist
Historically, it’s taken me longer than most to get advice from the Universe through my thick skull, but even I can’t ignore straightforward, actionable advice from two high-performing authors in two days.
So I grabbed the very “old school” notebook on my desk (literally a relic from my college years that I had lying around), and I began writing this out this very article.
And wouldn’t you know, the words started tumbling out.
It was messy, it was scribbly, and it was so much easier than sitting in front of my laptop screen, trying to force the words from my brain to my fingers. It was simple.
The more I wrote, the more I realized I had been craving this brain-to-hand, hand-to-page connection. As soon as I started, it felt amazing. Natural. Connected.
Austin Kleon says about “analog” creative work:
“You need to find a way to bring your body into your work… the motion kickstarts our brain into thinking.”
Technically, the only thing that was moving as I wrote was my hand across the page. Yet it felt like more of a whole body action than writing had for months.
We know that writing handwritten notes instead of typing in a computer increases memory and comprehension of the learning material. We might think of this as a logical, scientific process, but it is just as much a creative one.
The brain-to-hand connection is a two-way street that is just as effective at absorbing information as it is communicating information. Ideas flow in, through the writing hand to the brain, as well as out, from the brain to the writing hand.
So if your writing is “blocked,” you need to open that physical channel in your body from your brain to the page and write with a pen and paper.
Give it a try.
If you’re in the same dead space with writing that I was, what have you got to lose? Grab a pen or pencil and whatever scrap paper you have lying around. Physically write out the ideas that have been bouncing around in your head.
A few tips:
Use the bullet point to your advantage. I found myself using bullet points to separate my thoughts as I wrote. I helped me feel like I was getting my ideas out in some logical framework — which can later be rearranged to actually make sense.
This is the beauty of using the computer as a tool for finalizing your work rather than creating your work; it’s much easier to reorganize sentences and paragraphs electronically, once they are all out on paper for you to see. Use technology as a tool to help you edit and share your work, but not to actually do the work.
Then, when you do transfer those scribbles to the screen, make the process as analog as possible. Turn off your Wi-Fi and put your phone in airplane mode, or better yet, leave it in another room. If you’re writing on Medium, leaving the Wi-Fi off still allows you to write and use all of the formatting functions without any of the potential distraction. Use the “Tk” function to note where you’ll have to go back and add sources, or clean up a paragraph.
Constantly refer back to your written first draft, and don’t be afraid to completely walk away from the screen if you need to think through a new idea.
I can speak from personal experience, not only will you have actual work to show for your effort at the end of this analog to digital process, you’ll feel better. I feel lighter than I have in days, with the satisfaction that comes with creativity and productivity well-combined. I’ve written more in less than an hour than I have in the last week. Analog works.
My thanks to Ayodeji Awosika and Austin Kleon for kicking me off my laptop and reintroducing me to good old-fashioned pen and paper.
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