On Overstimulation (and writing longhand)

“The worst thing for me is overstimulation. Checking e-mail manically can do it. Getting on the phone really can do it. I have learned that I must protect myself from that overstimulation and get to the page…” ~ Dani Shapiro

The words above are by author Dani Shapiro from “How I Write” in The Writer (Feb. 2011). Some distractions are just that: momentary detours from our main focus. But others are sources of overstimulation. They not only lead the mind astray, they also rev it up in unproductive ways.

My guess is that what is overstimulating for one person (a phone call, for example) may be just what is needed for someone else to get motivated, so it is useful to pay attention to our energy highs and lows throughout the day, to see what precedes them, what is overstimulating.

Writing that has “no business looking neat”

Here’s another quotation from the same piece:

“In recent years, I have started writing longhand when I’m embarking on something. There’s something about writing longhand in spiral-bound notebooks where you have to allow it to be messy. You have to cross something out as opposed to cut and paste it. There’s something about writing on the computer that can make something look neat when it has no business looking neat. I like the process of writing longhand. There’s a freedom to it…”

You can learn more about Dani Shapiro at her website (loaded with essays and interviews) and on her blog, Moments of Being.

Questions for Reflection

  • What is your experience with being under- or overstimulated in terms of writing and creativity?
  • Do you find the experience of writing longhand to be different from writing on a computer?
  • Do you ever suffer from wanting writing to be or look neat when it has no business being so?

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.

Some of My Favorite Writing Podcasts

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?

The Creative Penn

Joanna Penn’s podcast covers “interviews, inspiration and information on writing and creativity, publishing options, book marketing and creative entrepreneurship”

New Yorker Fiction Podcast

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.

Odyssey Writing Workshop Podcast

“[E]xcerpts from lectures given by guest writers, editors, and agents at the Odyssey Writing Workshop.” Some real gems in these short pieces.

The Writer’s Voice

“New Yorker fiction writers read their stories.”

Writing Excuses

“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.”


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.

Writing Retreat Reading Material

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?


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.

Retreat II: Simplicity and Routine

Header photo “03 Tea and Breakfast” by Louis du Mont via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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?

See also 


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.