Breaking the (Writer’s) Block: Getting Meta About Writing

I’ve tried to avoid the “reading about working as substitute for actually working” trap, so I chose *not* to purchase and read Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals book this past fall. Currey did a sort of meta analysis of advice and recorded practices from writers and other “creatives” (oy), trying to identify shared habit and patterns amongst them. Or, maybe he was aiming for more of a compendium, without the summarizing. Regardless, from what I surmised from the various reviews of, and reactions to, the book that I did read, Oliver Burkeman’s six point summary of the book does pretty well. He concludes:

1. Be a morning person

2. Don’t give up the day job

3. Take lots of walks

4. Stick to a schedule

5. Practise strategic substance abuse

6. Learn to work anywhere

“Giving up the day job” isn’t really an option for me, if for no other reason than the “day job” is actually supposed to be providing me time, motivation and support to work and write! So, that’s not the problem. Walking (#3). Ok, I completely agree, and already do a fair amount of that. Walk downtown to work in a coffee shop (aka the “anywhere” of #6)….don’t mind if I do! This probably ticks off the #5 box as well (if not, dedicated mypressi action at home should do the trick).

Being a morning person does seem to be common enough to be close to universal…though there are always the exceptional cases, people who write for hours, late, each night. But with kids and a “day job”, going later doesn’t seem to be sustainable in the long run. I work in the evening already and find that this is an OK time to hammer away at focused administrativ-type tasks or email. It’s not a time for exploratory work or challenging writing. Going to bed at midnight and getting up at 7 is already on the limit. However, shifting bedtime back in order to feel OK getting up earlier (say 5:45am) might be a way to get that precious hour of directed work in, before the busy-ness of the day kicks in.

I often think of getting up early and writing/working in the morning as akin to the “pay yourself first” mantra from the personal financial management literature. Do your work first, even if it’s a small amount of it, and you will feel better during the day when you do the work for others.

This leaves, #4, perhaps the most important of the conclusions: stick to a schedule.

For that, I will need another post, in which I can talk about Paul Silvia’s book, “How to Write A Lot”.

See you then!

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Pants & the Steadfast vs. Hot-Swap Component

A few years back (turns out almost exactly 3, now that I look), a post on snarkmarket proposed a cool way of thinking about “stuff”, drawing a distinction between “components” that are steadfast and those that won’t really last. The talk in the post was about media devices and the danger of buying a “TV” that locked you in with some set of services or other tech stuff that might be quickly made obsolete. The plea was for a “dumb” screen instead – something that could just show a good picture, and be swapped in with whatever particular content device or source might become the new norm (Apple TV, Mac Mini, cable box, etc.). We were looking for our first flat panel display at the time (I think!) so it resonated.

Then, interesting design-y guy Frank Chimero dropped into the comments there with a reformulation and expansion of the original distinction, arguing that we should think of objects as “steadfast” vs. “hot-swap”. Steadfast, as you would expect, are things that last and can serve as the foundation for a system. Whereas hot-swap items come and go, and can be plugged in and removed “without shutting down the system”. I find it a useful way of thinking about the stuff you buy and own and how to prioritize where the money is spent on quality and utility. In terms of computing/tech stuff, for instance, Chimero thought of his external display, keyboard and mouse/trackpad as “steadfast” and a laptop as increasingly “hot-swap”. In the age of cloud storage, the App store and Dropbox, laptops can actually come and go without much bother (putting aside the issue of *cost*).

Chimero also used the example of clothing, thinking of shoes, pants, coats as steadfast and t-shirts, shirts and ties as hot-swap. I’m with Chimero on the shirts, socks and underwear as hot-swap (how could one be otherwise, really?). But this is the (micro) dilemma I currently face: are pants really steadfast or are they hot-swap? As part of my ongoing wardrobe renewal and simplification – broadly organized around what seems to get called the “capsule wardrobe” model (and likely the focus of another blog post) – I’ve settled on having a few pairs of grey chino-type trousers for work. Almost any dark shoes will work with these, as will black or dark socks as well (so I don’t have to buy tan/light socks), and any number of sweaters. There are now a number of interesting trouser options out there from a variety of these small-batch boutique-ish producers (e.g. Bonobos, Outlier), ranging from premium prices (~$100 retail) to crazy expensive. Outlier, for instance, makes some pants that would seem to be super durable and “steadfast”…but they are $240 a pair! My current candidate for the hot-swap pant is the Uniqlo “vintage”(?) chino, which can be had for $40. The Producer from Express is about the same….and can be had on eBay for anywhere in the $15-20 range. Even if they only last two years, it’s hard to not consider pants as a hot-swap component.

So, there you have the first post for 2014, and it’s about pants – albeit with a useful distinction about “components” and such. Again, though, if the point is to get some words (any words) out there, this will have to do for now!

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