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.

Social Media: The New Common Sitting Room

In 1928, Virginia Woolf wrote in her extended essay “A Room of One’s Own” of the conditions common to nineteenth-century novelists:

“If a woman wrote, she would have to write in the common sitting-room. And, as Miss Nightingale was so vehemently to complain,—’women never have an half hour . . . that they can call their own’— she was always interrupted. Still it would be easier to write prose and fiction there than to write poetry or a play. Less concentration is required. Jane Austen wrote like that to the end of her days. ‘How she was able to effect all this’, her nephew writes in his Memoir, ‘is surprising, for she had no separate study to repair to, and most of the work must have been done in the general sitting-room, subject to all kinds of casual interruptions.”

Jane Austen's Writing Table
Jane Austen’s Writing Table (Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton)

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to visit the last house in which Jane Austen wrote. Her writing table (which is featured on the DIY Summer Writing Retreat graphic) was in the middle of a dining parlor, and although Jane did have more time and space and family support to write than we might presume, it is easy to imagine how easily and often she was interrupted whenever anyone visited or simply moved through the house.

Writers still search for that half hour to call our own and for the private space—both physical and psychological—where we can both work on and leave our works in progress.

However, we face an additional source of “casual interruptions” unknown to Ms. Austen and Ms. Woolf, one over which we have complete control: online connectivity and social media. In this new virtual common sitting room, as soon as we step foot inside, there is a nearly endless supply of people to keep us company.

When I can remember to think of social media as a social space, similar to a physical gathering or sitting room, I can more easily compartmentalize and save it for non-writing blocks of time, allowing me to focus more effectively on the work of writing. When I mistakenly think I can keep one eye on tweets and status updates and other people’s photos—as enjoyable and interesting as they are—and write effectively, I nearly always feel disappointed in myself.

This summer, I’m experimenting with the best way to stay on social media while also upping my writing game. The past two summers I deactivated Facebook and, for 30 days last summer, Twitter (Twitter can be deactivated for only a month until it is permanently deleted)—something I highly recommend once in a while—but right now, for a variety of reasons, I don’t want to disengage for more than a few days at a time.

After giving it some thought, I plan tomorrow to set aside schedule social media time twice during the day, probably morning and late afternoon, about 10 minutes each, during which time I’m deliberately focusing on online socializing rather than stepping in and out of the virtual sitting room continually throughout the day. Will that be enough? Will I be able to stick to my plan? I’ll let you know.

Do you have any tips for balancing online social networks and writing? Does social media ever feel like a virtual sitting room?

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.

Declawing Social Media

I just returned from a delightful trip to my childhood home in South Dakota. The days were filled with sunshine and family…

farm sculpture…


and more than a little history:

While at the farm, I forced myself to disconnect as much as possible, even though my dad’s house has WiFi and I did bring my phone, iPad, and laptop. I resisted the urge to post photos or updates, to scroll and like and comment, to check for the latest political news (admittedly I was less successful at that).

Now that I’m back in Milwaukee, it’s hard to get back into the swing of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Is that good or bad?

The answer is yes.

Beginning tomorrow, this blog series will focus for a few days on ways to declaw social media, especially in a life of writing. I’d love to hear your ideas, successes, and challenges along the way.

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.