This artist and song came up in conversation today, so I’ll share it here for weekend inspiration. Beautiful words. Beautiful video.
Thank you for the suggestions so far for good books about writing. Please continue to add your favorites, and I’ll post the updated list in a week or two.
This weekend I’ll be taking a short road trip to visit family—about 5-6 hours of driving each way. In preparation, I’m downloading plenty of episodes of some of my favorite writing podcasts, listed below, which can turn any travel time into a micro retreat. What are your favorite writing podcasts?
Joanna Penn’s podcast covers “interviews, inspiration and information on writing and creativity, publishing options, book marketing and creative entrepreneurship”
Each month New Yorker fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, asks an author to choose and read a favorite New Yorker story, which they then discuss. One of my all-time faves.
“[E]xcerpts from lectures given by guest writers, editors, and agents at the Odyssey Writing Workshop.” Some real gems in these short pieces.
“New Yorker fiction writers read their stories.”
“Writing Excuses is a fast-paced, educational podcast for writers, by writers… Our goal is to help our listeners become better writers. Whether they write for fun or for profit, whether they’re new to the domain or old hands, Writing Excuses has something to offer. We love to write, and our listeners do, too.”
What are your favorite books on writing?
I’ve been slowly doing some blog housekeeping, and one post I came across recently was a list of 37 favorite books on writing, culled from both my own list at the time (2011) and readers’ comments. Help me to update the list by adding your own favorites in the comments, below, and I’ll add them—and those mentioned in the “37” post comments—to a new list. Can we reach 50?
Continuing to think about what makes retreats different from ordinary life, I am reminded of the importance of simplicity and routine. During spiritual retreats, for example, participants often follow a strict schedule and eat simple meals at specific times. This is designed to free minds and hearts for greater focus and meditation.
Routine can also be good for writing and other forms of creativity. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who popularized the concept of flow) studied the lives of 100 highly creative people and found that they often streamline their daily lives to reduce the need to make mundane decisions and to allow for more uninterrupted creative thinking. In the morning they might get up at the same time every day, do the same tasks in the same order, put out clothes the night before, even eat the same breakfast every day. What is the benefit? By not having to think about when we get up, what we do next, what to fix for breakfast, or what to wear, we reduce interruptions and conserve mental energy for more creative tasks.
“Most creative individuals find out early what their best rhythms are for sleeping, eating, and working, and abide by them even when it is tempting to do otherwise. They wear clothes that are comfortable, they interact only with people they find congenial, they do only things they think are important. Of course, such idiosyncrasies are not endearing to those they have to deal with…. But personalizing patterns of action helps to free the mind from the expectations that make demands on attention and allows intense concentration on matters that count.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, p. 145 [emphasis added]
Questions for Reflection
- Do you have any routines that help to free up your mind for writing?
- In the past, have you assumed that routine is always detrimental to creativity?
- What are some ways that you can simplify and streamline your daily schedule, especially before, after, and during writing times?
Header photo: “Walden Pond in Late June” by Cbaile19 CC0
Every once in a while, I touch my phone in a certain way so that the apps move down, like this:
I usually fumble around until the icons inexplicably return to their normal position. Last week, after having done this for the umpteenth time, I wondered if the feature serves a purpose, so I googled “iPhone apps move,” which filled in the phrase “iPhone apps moved to bottom of screen.”
Ahhh. I am not the only one.
Hold that thought…
A Retreat by Any Other Name
Before we go any further in this blog series, I should explain what I mean by a DIY summer writing retreat. The idea has been percolating in my mind for several months but didn’t come to the surface until my friend Christi Craig recently attended a novel retreat in Vermont (read her thoughtful reflection here). I began to think about not just writing retreats, but retreats in general, including a handful of spiritual retreats from my college days, and why retreats are worthwhile.
Retreat: A period or place of seclusion for the purposes of prayer and meditation. (Oxford Dictionaries)
Retreat: A period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director. (Merriam-Webster)
A good retreat takes us away from what is normal and familiar. It provides quiet and simplicity and space for self-reflection. It allows us to look at ourselves and the world in new ways.
More important, a good retreat gives us the tools and support we need to carry our changes and growth and new habits back to our usual world. In this way, a retreat marks a transition, a before and after, not just a respite or break.
For myself, I enter this summer with no grand plans or false expectations of sudden renewal, but with the goal of—as much as possible—adopting an attitude of retreat in the midst of everyday life, so that I can make small but real changes in how I approach and practice my writing going forward. This means paying closer attention to choices I make throughout the day, simplifying life as much as possible even in the midst of work and appointments and socializing, pausing before reacting, making time for meditation and focused writing. It also means gathering and reflecting on wisdom from those who have gone before me, other writers I admire. This blog is my way of keeping myself honest and recording those reflections.
Back to My iPhone (or “I’m Not the Only One”)
My internet search revealed that when one double taps the home button of an iPhone (without pressing in the button), the apps move down so that people with short fingers, like me, can more easily reach the upper apps if using only one hand. Who knew?
My point with this anecdote is that I’ve learned that whenever I am struggling with or searching for something, almost always I find that others share the same concern or need. Writing is no exception, perhaps especially so, as I consider myself a fairly typical, run-of-the-mill writer. My needs and questionings certainly are familiar to others, so as long as I’m embarking on this summer project, why not see who else wants to join me for the ride? And, along the way, we can help each other.
See also the New York Times review of a new Morgan Library & Museum exhibit about the quintessential American writer on retreats, Henry David Thoreau: “Thoreau: American Resister (and Kitten Rescuer).”