Tell yourself the audacious thing: that what you notice matters

Header photo by maegen02 via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“[N]otice what you noticed. No, go further: tell yourself the audacious thing that because you noticed, it matters.” ~ Linda LaPlante

Back when I was a classroom teacher, I overheard a conversation during those minutes before class when students wait with varying degrees of patience for the clock to signal the time to begin.

“I think parts of my brain are missing.” This came from a tousle-haired, thoughtful young man in the second row. I said something about that being more true for me all the time, thinking he was talking about poor memory or lack of attention.

“I don’t feel envy. Not ever. I don’t think I ever have. That’s not normal.”

This was not what I expected to hear. The students in front of him were silent, as was I.

“You’re lucky,” another student told him. “It’s not a good feeling.”

The second hand struck twelve.

Why did those 30 seconds or so stay with me to the point that I’ve remembered the scene and the words and the faces long after I’ve forgotten the topic of the class that day or even the names of the students involved?

Alice LaPlante offers an answer in The Making of a Story:

“[C]reative work comes from noticing. You are being given a warning, an intimation of something, and that something is the creative urge, sometimes buried quite deep in your subconscious, telling you that something matters, there’s information and intelligence there to be considered, material to uncover there, memories and associations to explore.” (p. 36).

This is why many successful writers keep notebooks, to record those intimations, to write ourselves a reminder of what we’ve noticed. LaPlante tells us that, as writers, we’ve “always noticed”:

“There have always been things that caught your attention, piqued your interest, or otherwise caused you to pay closer attention to something than perhaps someone else would. Indeed, the very individual nature of noticing is your greatest strength as a writer.” (p. 35, emphasis added)

Do you ever find that you can’t explain to others why a conversation or an event or even the look in the eyes of the person crossing the street in front of you is interesting, memorable, even important? When you try to share the import of what you notice, do others look at you as though you are speaking in Klingon?

What if your drive to notice is a strength, not something that’s weird, and, what if instead of trying to talk about it, you write it down?

What have you noticed recently?

Did you tell yourself it matters, even if you don’t know why?

Did you write it down?

Perhaps one of the best, small changes we can make during a self-styled writing retreat is to begin to keep a notebook of what we notice. To be continued...


DIY Summer Writing Retreat graphicThis post is part of the DIY Summer Writing Retreat blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.

A Summer Social Media Plan

Header photo credit: magicatwork via CC BY 2.0 

After a few days of trial and error, and culling from a variety of ideas, I’ve come up with a summer social media plan that I can live with:

  • Monday through Friday: Schedule about 10 minutes twice a day (morning and late afternoon) to do quick social media checks, shares, likes, and comments.
  • Saturday: No particular social media plan or schedule—ignore or indulge as the spirit moves me. This is the day set aside for fun online socializing, catching up with family and photos and friends.
  • Sunday: Social media sabbatical. Log off.

In addition, I’ve deleted both the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone and have turned off nearly all push notifications.

Some random impressions so far: During my usual Sunday leisure reading yesterday, I was able to engage more readily with the book on my lap (The Three-Body Problem), without interrupting myself to peek at the latest political tweetstorm or look at what friends were up to on Facebook. I’m forcing myself to wait a bit longer when I get the urge to check email, to stare into space rather than open an app during moments of boredom or indecision or anxiety, and to remind myself that everything online will still be there later today or tomorrow and even beyond.

Why am I so interested in this topic? While I don’t feel necessarily addicted to social media (you can compare your screen time to the “Bored and Brilliant” baseline averages here), I definitely have allowed screens to interrupt my thinking in ways that have interfered with goals and projects and writing. Writers in particular get a lot of advice about the value of a strong internet presence and following, but it is easy for that goal to become an end in itself, or for the addictive qualities of and, yes, the pleasure inherent in social networking (not to mention “fear of missing out” and “fear of being rude”) to eat up so much time and mental space that there is precious little left for the very writing that spurred us to create social media accounts in the first place.

At the same time, I in no way want to screen shame anyone and realize that many people, including writers and other creatives, may be able to juggle their work and screens just fine. If you are one of those lucky people, you are probably more than ready to move on to other topics this summer, which we will do tomorrow.

What social media strategies work for you?

See also

  • Is Social Media Toxic to Writing? (Publisher’s Weekly): “For me, the best way to work, the only way to work, really, is to create a space for myself in which the reader’s perception of me (as a person) does not exist. It’s only after I have squashed down all awareness of myself that I’m able to access another world and explore it freely and truthfully.”
  • Quit Social Media Every Other Day (Atlantic): “Looking back on the year, or the decade, or your entire life, how much of it would you like to have spent scrolling through social/news apps? Specifically, how much of it would you like to spend reading or ranting about Donald Trump?”
  • Why Social Media Isn’t Always Social (NPR): “One surprising thing that the study did not find was that people thought that others had better lives. In fact, they weren’t fooled by all the happy vacation and anniversary pictures posted by their friends, but the constant feeling of social comparison still made people feel worse.”

DIY Summer Writing Retreat graphicThis post is part of the DIY Summer Writing Retreat blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.

Manoush Zomorodi’s Bored and Brilliant Challenge: Writers Edition

Photo credit: Ted Conference via CC BY-NC 2.0

A couple of days ago, I wrote about Manoush Zomorodi’s forthcoming book, Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self, and I’d like to describe her project more here. The book is based on the “Bored and Brilliant” project, part of Zomorodi’s Note to Self podcast.

A good introduction to her ideas is the Fast Company article “What Happened When We Spent a Week Detoxing From Our Smartphones.” Below are the daily challenges outlined there (the challenges in the book are a bit different but in essence the same), with some added ideas of my own, especially for writers

Day 1: In Your Pocket

The first daily challenge is simple but not necessarily easy. Keep your phone in your pocket (or bag) unless you need it for something specific. When you feel the itch to check it, especially when you are tired or bored or stuck, resist. Instead, allow your mind to daydream and ponder and question and pull together events of the day. Every time you overcome the urge to check your phone, you strengthen your ability to stay on track and focus.

Tip for writers: Keep a small notebook in your pocket or bag alongside or even instead of your phone at times, and train yourself to reach for that to jot ideas or notes instead of checking Instagram or Facebook.

Day 2: Photo Free Day

For a day, take and post no photos, and instead pay particular attention to what you otherwise would view through a phone camera lens.

A tweak to this challenge is to allow yourself to take photos, but not to post them, and instead to share them privately via messages or email with specific people, or not to share them at all.

Tip for writers: Choose something you would normally photograph for Instagram or Facebook, and, instead, write a paragraph describing it.

Day 3: Delete That App

What phone app do you find most addictive? It might be social media or a game or even a news source. Ready? Take a deep breath.

Delete it.

My choice for this challenge was Twitter, which I still check occasionally on my laptop, but not having that little blue bird on my phone definitely frees up time and mental space.

Tip for writers: Replace the deleted app with a writing app such as Notes, where you can dictate or type in quick thoughts about works in progress.

Day 4: Take a Fauxcation

I love this idea. Choose a day to tell the online world that you are away from your phone. Set an email vacation message. Post social media updates saying you’ll be offline for a day (or more). The kicker is that you won’t be away from home—just away from your phone.

Tip for writers: Plan a writing retreat day in which you act as though you have no internet access, and write your ass off.

Day 5: One Small Observation

Pay particular attention to something you normally would overlook. Writers are already good at this, but more practice never hurts.

Tip for writers: Sit in a public place and write for a full 15 minutes describing the scene around you.

Day 6: Dream House

The point of the final challenge is to embrace rather than run from boredom, and to use it to spark creativity. You can read the full instructions here (short version: watch a pot of water come to a boil, then empty the contents of your wallet and use the items to build a dream house).

Tip for writers: Before writing, watch a pot of water come to a boil (do nothing else, especially not check your phone). See if it makes a different in your productivity or creativity.

I’d love to hear if you try any of these challenges and how they work for you. 

Want to learn more? Below is a 20-minute audio podcast of “Bored and Brilliant Boot Camp” designed just for summer:


DIY Summer Writing Retreat graphicThis post is part of the DIY Summer Writing Retreat blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.

Why you don’t write (link to article by Laura Tong)

Nothing I can write today could be better than Write to Done‘s editor Laura Tong‘s piece “How To Find the Courage To Become an Unstoppable Writer.” (From Laura’s bio: “Learning to say ‘no’ to the unimportant things to free up time to write is one of the key elements she learned to being a successful writer.”)

Why you don’t write.

Look, I know you’re struggling just to get your butt in the chair. Struggling to find the time in between work, family, chores and life, to write.

Struggling to stop answering emails or going on Facebook. Because before you know it, it’s 2 hours later and you haven’t written a single word.

But it goes deeper than that, doesn’t it?

You’re struggling daily with that little voice in your head. The one that keeps telling you that everything you want to tell, has already been written and told.

That whatever goes down on the page won’t be good enough. That you don’t know why you’re even bothering to try writing, let alone dream of making it a proper job. That you feel like you’re playing at writing.

Read the full post


DIY Summer Writing Retreat graphicThis post is part of the DIY Summer Writing Retreat blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.

Scheduling Social Media and Deleting Phone Apps

My first day of scheduling social media time (twice a day for about ten minutes each) is nearly over, and I can already tell it will make a good difference. When I had some downtime this morning between two activities, I could feel my brain reaching for that easy and familiar digital distraction. My goal is to begin to fill those moments with thoughts about writing projects.

I admit that I did check (but not interact with) Twitter a few times today, and it made me think of one of Manoush Zomorodi’s “Bored and Brilliant” challenges: Delete That App.

Your instructions for today: delete it. Delete that app. Think about which app you use too much, one that is the bad kind of phone time. You pick what that means. Delete said time-wasting, bad habit app. Uninstall it.

This will be difficult, because app designers are pretty smart. And they are pretty good at building things we want to just keep on using, over and over and over. In this episode, Manoush breaks her cycle. She deletes the seriously addictive game Two Dots. It wasn’t easy and it followed a pretty, er, dramatic confrontation with the game designer. It might be cathartic for you. Read more…

I don’t check the Facebook app all that much on my phone, and I don’t use my phone for games (except Words with Friends, which brings far too much enjoyment to give up), but, ever since last year’s presidential campaign and election, I check the Twitter app more often than I probably want to count. By now it is more of a habit than a choice, a way to fill in-between moments.

But any breaking news will still be there if I wait until the allotted time, and I’ve begun to wonder: What if every time I had the urge to check my Twitter feed, instead I wrote on my phone a sentence or two or even an idea or phrase for a work in progress?

Bye-bye Twitter phone app, at least for the summer.


DIY Summer Writing Retreat graphicThis post is part of the DIY Summer Writing Retreat blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.