writing

Okay, okay. I was wrong. I need a portfolio, and here it is.

Admissions of error are easier swallowed with a donut.

Admissions of error are easier swallowed with a donut.

After writing an entire post about not needing a portfolio, I made one. It’s a bit sparse right now, but it will grow as things get pushed out over the next few months.

There you go, haters. Now I’m off to smell the rain that has gloriously touched down in California today, curl up with a cup of tea, and forget all of you.

(Except those of you who need a writer. I’ll listen to anything you say.)

On another note, I’m currently enamored with this artist. Suits the rain quite well, or a drive at night on a lonely road.

2 ways to be more creative right now

I gave this as a speech recently.

I’m a freelance copywriter and every day, I work on projects that require me to think creatively. Creative thinking is a big theme right now in the world of work, and sometimes we have a hard time finding creative juice when we need it. So today I’ll share a few ideas on how to get unstuck.

Both of these have helped me in a slump:

  1. Messing up my desk.
  2. Wasting time going for a walk.

Let’s start with the first one:

  1.  Messing up my desk.

I’ll confess: my desk is always a mess. (Maybe my entire house actually, but we won’t discuss that.) I wrote this piece on a desk so messy that I had to carve out space for the keyboard. For me, a messy desk makes it easier for me to jump from lily to lily in the creative pond. Ideas don’t hide in boxes, but sit tucked away in jagged corners. A mess on my desk keeps my brain from becoming too comfortable with its surroundings.

And there’s a scientific basis for you logical thinkers out there. In one study, people were given 2 environments to complete a creative project. The first was a messy room–jagged lines, stuff strewn all over–and the second was a neat and tidy room–straight, clean lines, everything in its right place. The two groups sat in these rooms and collected ideas based on a theme.

When all of the ideas were submitted to an independent panel, who do you think had the better ideas?

The ideas from the messy room. They were rated as much more creative and innovative than the ones from the tidy room. That’s because we work more freely in an environment that encourages messy thought. We don’t restrict ourselves.

And a fun fact: Even Einstein seemed to know this trick.

  1. Wasting time going for a walk.

I’ve had some humdingers of delicious problems handed down to me from clients lately. One afternoon I was working through something so intensely that I realized I hadn’t taken the dog out for 8 hours. (Whoops.) To atone for my sin, I took him to the dog park. It takes about 20 minutes to walk there.

To be honest, that kind of break is a big waste of time for me when I’ve got a big push. But something happened to me on that walk: As I walked, I felt my brain relaxing. The structure of the problem in my head began to rearrange itself. Thoughts and ideas started coming faster and faster–so fast that I started talking to myself out loud about what was going on in my head.

(At this point, I put headphones on so I looked like I was on a call. I couldn’t be “that crazy lady” at the park.)

When I got back to my desk, my brain had somehow worked out the problem I had been struggling with for the past three hours. I looked it up and found that my experience is backed up by science:

This year, a Stanford University study found that the simple act of walking can boost your creativity up to 60 percent.

That means if you are working on a specific problem, you are measurably more creative while you are walking and for a short period of time after you finish walking. It doesn’t matter where you walk – people experienced the same effect when they walked around a drab office and when they walked on a green, tree-lined street.

So next time you’re on a desperate deadline, throw a few papers around the room and then waste some time by taking a walk. What happens in your brain might surprise you.

Creativity is a state of mind you can choose. Last year I had another big breakthrough in creativity, and you can read about that one here.

If war poetry can be beautiful, then Kevin Powers is your poet. Here’s a short poem for Memorial Day.

There are so many war stories and so few that make us stop and think what war actually is.

I recently heard writer Kevin Powers on NPR’s To The Best of Our Knowledge. Powers spent 2 years in Iraq as a machine gunner, and recently published a book of poetry about his experiences. It’s elegant, casual, jarring poetry that makes you stop what you’re doing and be quiet. I’ve posted his title poem below. When I read this poem (and his others, which are also fantastic) I realize:

Death is not the most shocking thing about war; it is often the life that comes after.

For Memorial Day.

Image

Find more of his poetry here. Or here. Or just buy the damn book already.

A few downtempo songs to listen to while writing

My partner calls this “coding” music. He’s a software engineer. To me, it’s “writing” music. You say tomato.

If you have any to add… I’m listening.

 

Every writer’s life story, in one image

I imagine this is what books do when we aren’t looking. This is “Literature” by James Koehnline.

How a sandwich changed my life, or: Why we avoid making big decisions

You know the mistrust of heights is the mistrust of self, you don’t know whether you’re going to jump.

Janet Fitch, White Oleander

The other day, I was spreading mayonnaise on a slice of wheat when I realized something: Sometimes you have to jump.

Nearly everyone (except maybe very, very rich people) has something that makes us unhappy. An unfulfilling job, stale relationship, strained family dynamic. If it has bothered us for a long time, we may convince ourselves that The Thing is unchangeable. Some people even go so far as to say The Thing is this way for a reason.

This way, we avoid doing anything about it. We stay comfortable in our discontent.

In my life, one such issue has bothered me daily for months. Every day I’ve tried to calm myself by saying that The Thing is “this way” for “those reasons,” and I just have to deal with it. (It didn’t make me any happier though.) The other day, I was talking to myself while packing my lunch. I picked up a slice of my homemade wheat bread and plopped some mayonnaise on it.

“It’s going to be this way for awhile,” I said. (Yes, I talk to myself out loud.) “I can’t do anything about it right now.” I dipped my knife into the mustard, lifted it out—

And stopped. I was lecturing myself. I hadn’t given myself permission to make a conscious decision. I hadn’t allowed myself to climb up and see whether I would jump.

As I stood there, mustard dripping onto the table, I started a different conversation.

“What if I stopped telling myself what to think?”

I dipped my knife into the mustard again. “I would say: then it won’t be this way anymore. I’m going to change it.” I finished packing my sandwich and went to work. As I bit into the sandwich at lunchtime, I realized that the only reason why my life hadn’t changed was because I hadn’t changed it. And very soon, that’s what I’m going to do. 

Sometimes the best thing to do is jump–I’m about to do it myself. Best sandwich I ever made.

As Harriet Lerner put it:

It is not fear that stops you from doing the brave and true thing in your daily life. Rather, the problem is avoidance. You want to feel comfortable so you avoid doing or saying the thing that will evoke fear and other difficult emotions. Avoidance will make you feel less vulnerable in the short run, but it will never make you less afraid.

PS – I’d love to get an email if you have had this experience.

The music inside my head

I don’t have time to polish the posts I’m writing, so I’ll post the music I’m listening to while writing them. We all need more creative fodder.