I recently took a class with the famous thriller writer Dan Brown! A lot of things he said stood out, but I particularly thought he had a unique approach to staying fresh during his writing time. He has an app–I don’t know what it’s called–that forces you to take a break every hour by literally shutting down your computer. You’re working along and *poof* the screen goes blank. That sounds like a nightmare to most of us, but there’s a method to the madness. Here’s another way of phrasing his writing advice. Try chunking.
More Writing Advice to Keep Your Mind Fresh!
Any writing advice that tells you to push through “writer’s block” with sheer force of effort disregards the essential fact that creative work is usually not very good when it’s forced. For Brown, even when he’s inspired, he takes breaks, during which he does some sit-ups, goes for a walk, or literally anything that gets his body up and moving. If you’ve read his work, you know the characters are always in motion, so he never wants to bring a sluggish vibe to the work. I concur. Writing in spurts, with physical activity between the spurts, is the way to go.
Writing Advice for Creative Obsessives
As for me, I never cottoned on to the whole “taking a walk in the middle of my workday” thing. Largely because walks are kind of old-womanish, and also because I have a shit ton to do besides walking around aimlessly. Unlike so-called healthy people, whenever I have a spare minute, I work on some creative idea. I try to stay organized about it all, though. Usually I’m inventing things like a bed that goes up to the ceiling on pulleys, or building things like a kitchen island with a three-hundred-pound travertine counter (long story). Basically, the idea of just working when I work and then sort of socializing or something when I’m not working is pretty boring to me. So, I take my writing breaks by working on renovating my house, then returning to the writing.
I Love me Some Creative Destruction
I started renovating my house a year and a half ago now, and I’m not talking about a new floor. I’m talking about ripping out walls, changing the entire architecture, opening up spaces, removing chimneys–the works. It ruined my life for a while until I figured out what I had suspected all along–there’s nothing like serious hard labor to get you in the mood to sit back down at your computer and be grateful for a sedentary job. Also, renovations are hard, but they’re easier to do when, like any tough job, you break them into chunks.
Chunking: Advice for Writers and Others
Currently, I’m replacing my ceiling. That’s partly because of a heating issue I had to solve and partly because it was full of stinky squirrel droppings from this house’s previous life as a wildlife sanctuary. In any case, this is a lengthy, multi-step process, which makes it perfect for me as a writer. So, to the extent that this is writing advice, here it is: every morning I write a thousand words, then I do the next step on the ceiling. Then I work on my social media stuff, then do the next step on the ceiling. Then I write some more on the project, then I go shopping for hardware. On and on it goes. Working on the house helps my writing in a different way than going on a walk would. When I work on house renovations, I’m thinking about something completely different. That means when I return to writing–no matter what the theme or assignment–my brain is utterly fresh. New ideas pop up that otherwise wouldn’t. By the same token, my work on the house gets the same benefit: sometimes this kind of hard labor can get tedious, but breaking it down into pieces like this enables me to continue to see it as a creative enterprise rather than drudgery. They call it chunking: breaking your work into small chunks. I recommend it as both writing advice and a general lifestyle choice. I think Dan Brown (when he gets back from one of his walks) would agree!