Lately I have been spreading myself too thin, and my writing has suffered as a result. What used to come easy and flow right out of me and onto the screen now takes hours of effort to squeeze into something that makes sense.
I have a secret reserve of good writers I turn to when that happens, and a few ideas on how to return to a productive and happier self.
Tapping into a reservoir of ideas
Rule # 1 — read better, and read more of it.
A dip in my creativity is a leading indicator that I am not reading enough of the right things — books, preferably in paper format and in a quiet place with no distractions. I've been long an avid reader of fiction, yet I have gone from 100+ books a year to barely 10.
Technical and business reading does not provide the same type of experience. The best writers are and continue to be great storytellers, as I outlined in what fiction writing can help you learn about interaction.
Rule # 2 — get into flow by putting pen to paper.
I do most of my writing using a keyboard, and while that is convenient, it deprives me of the sensory experience of actually putting skin in the game. We build a certain distance between our thoughts and our expression when we mediate the process via a keyboard and screen. The sensory input and output are not the same.
The New York Times published a story recently about what is lost as writing fades#:
[…] psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.
Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.
It turns out that being able to decipher messiness and variance in our own output greatly enhances our ability to connect information and learn.
Having worked for more than six years in early child development, I can attest to the neurological value of that tactile experience. Which explains why I retain information better when I hand write it on a pad. On a spectrum from most to least remembered, I tend to retain more of what I created physically by adding manual ability the best, and what I just shared after reading the least.
This tells me something about where I should focus to rebalance my creativity.
Rule # 3 — write more frequently without worrying about quality.
Wanting to achieve perfection is the enemy of done, and I fall into that trap when I place more pressure to deliver something. This kind of constraint does not work for me. It is counter intuitive, yet the more I publish, the less frequently I tend to write.
Instead, I block time to work on what I need to deliver and work hard on quality. Because there is little margin for rewrites, I tend to measure every word and sentence to be as close as possible to final copy.
Ironically, if I gave myself more space and more drafts to get there, I would have a better final product. Some of my best writing is in my head, conceived during my daily 6-mile runs.
Rule # 4 — write about the very thing that bothers you.
The best way to get over a challenge I found is to work through it; writing about being stuck eventually leads to some form of understanding or at least awareness of what is going on/what bothers or blocks you.
Keeping good company with inspiration
Since resistance to the convenience of new tools is futile, especially due to having only so much time in a day, I manage my reading habits carefully by selecting sites and blogs that deliver beyond information and news.
My go-to resources for inspiration have one thing in common: they are good storytellers and pros who share the trials and tribulations of their trade themselves.
- working in the cracks
- only think big
- refuse to work in sequence (I also found not reading in sequence useful)
- chaos can be healthy (by upsetting our normal course, it opens a new way)
- chaos is what we have (and yes, some weeks we can deal with it better than others)
- showing up is sometimes more important that having it all figured out
Ann Handley has a magnificent way with stories, and recently wrote about 14 stages of writing a book or finishing a big project# that sounds a lot like what it feels when working on an important client deliverable or presentation.
You see the end of it, feel happy and sapped at the same time. The best ways to describe this part are the two steps on the list under:
- bargaining — when you trade with yourself to stay motivated
- consciousness — when you do realize you still need to sell the project/talk, etc.
Twyla Tharp is my third source of inspiration. In 7 ways to make writing your creative habit, I highlighted how creativity is the product of discipline — and we can all work on building capacity for that.
First, you need to learn how to prepare to be creative, says Tharp. It’s about much more than quality of presentation, it’s about being able to bridge between what you see in your mind and what you present to the world — skill is how you build that bridge.
Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.