What Does Wandering Look Like?

How do you know if something is a waste of time?

A common definition of “waste” is “to use or expend carelessly, extravagantly, or to no purpose. “ Synonyms for waste include squander, misspend, misuse, fritter away, or throw away. No one wants to squander or fritter away time.

But, ask a creative person how she spends her time, and if she’s being honest, she’ll describe work sessions punctuated by time spent in activities which are more difficult to define. Oddly, this time outside work sessions often creates a leap-frogging effect, vaulting work forward in a way that doesn’t happen when one is sitting down at a computer or with pencil and paper.

Unfortunately, the effect doesn’t work if you cut out the work sessions altogether. I’m not arguing that one should wander rather than work. But, there is something to the art of letting go and wandering.

For me, the wandering is literal.

I need to walk around in interesting environments. I need to touch contrasting textures of fabric and smell a variety of loose leaf teas. I need to see interesting patterns and shapes, and listen for contrasting tones of laughter. From the outside, I’m sure this wandering looks like a supreme waste of time. Why am I walking aimlessly, poking into stores, looking through baskets of random antiques, and heading home without buying anything?

I’m collecting. I’m filling up my sensory toolkit so that when I sit down to write, I have words and images and access to the feel of things. Too much time spent at my desk, and my senses dull. Fog settles over my brain and I might stare at my computer screen for ten minutes before coming up with a lackluster sentence. After puzzling over this fog, and how it showed up every now and then, I started to see the pattern.

And I started getting intentional about wandering.

What might speak to your senses?

Don’t be afraid to carve out time to wander. If you need more encouragement, you’ll definitely enjoy Keri Smith’s intriguing invitation to the art of wandering: The Wander Society.

I’d love to know where you choose to wander! Share your ideas below, or tag me on Twitter or Facebook and let me know what you’re up to. I’m always collecting new ideas for where to wander next.

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What Keeps Us From Paying Attention?

Too often
On my morning run
The neighborhood blurs
My mind far away

I stumble over
Unseen cracks in the sidewalk
Run straight into
Low-hanging branches

My mind circles
Rehearsing how I’ll do what’s next
Or reviewing what I did before
I’m in a tug of war—
Pulled forward
Tugged back

Or, my mind tumbles from request to request
Commitment to commitment
The way it was at summer camp
With campers in costumes
Set pieces scattered across the stage
Everyone calling, “Naomi, Naomi, Naomi!”
Between the words of one response
Another question is shoved
I can’t hear myself think
And no one gets their hoped for answer

We’re reminded about Deep Work
About The One Thing
About deleting, delegating and automating
But too often these spaces of clear and calm
Feel as impossible to reach as the Island of Long Ago and Far Away
Rather than a possible reality in the here and now

What keeps us from paying attention?
Our hearts.
They’re lured and captured and ransomed
By ideas of who we should be
Of what we feel responsible for
And where we wish we could be
(Anywhere but here)

In order to take back our attention
We have to take back our hearts
And hold them gently
Whispering the story
Of who we are
Untangling the true story
From the knots of should and ought to
Until we’re free

The Art of Paying Attention

“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.”

– Pablo Picasso

“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.”

– Dorothea Lange

“Every human is an artist. And this is the main art that we have: the creation of our story.”

– Don Miguel Ruiz

 

I’m collecting other quotes and images as I continue to investigate the art of paying attention. Check out my collection on Pinterest.

On Paying Attention: Questions to Take You Deeper

I find it interesting that when we speak about the art of paying attention, we use financial words: paying attention, spending time.

What is your time worth?

This question often sends us down the road of calculation. How much do we make annually? How much does that work out to as an hourly wage? These are helpful time-management questions, but they fall short when it comes to attention management. Here’s another question for you.

How do we make our time count?

Again, this is a quantitative question. The line of thinking sends me down the rabbit hole of a “quantified life.” How many hours did I spend writing? How many minutes running? How about working? Playing? Commuting? Suddenly, I feel like a bean counter in my own life. My attention is spent on counting, not on being present.

Articles like this one explain that negative experiences imprint more deeply on our minds than positive ones do. Understanding this tendency is important not only for mental health, but also as insight into the art of paying attention. What if we were able to treasure each moment as the pearl it truly is, rather than counting or weighing or measuring it?

  • How might we notice our lives more fully?
  • How might we open, unlock, unleash our attention?
  • What might be possible if we noticed just ten percent more of the world around us?

Paying attention isn’t a separate activity.

Like most creative habits, it’s more a way of being than an item on a to-do list. No matter what we’re physically doing—eating, working, playing—our life’s moment can be treasures, or they can blur past, lost in fog. It’s a practice, a muscle we can build, and though it seems simple and possibly even unimportant in the larger scheme of life, the fact is, it IS life.

Your day awaits. How might you bring your attention more fully into its moments?

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Keep Learning and Growing

 
 
“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”
 
― Abigail Adams
 
“The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you.”
 
― B.B. King
 
Would you like more learning inspiration? Check out the images, quotes, ideas and more on my developing Pinterest board.

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Three Superpowers You Might Have Misplaced

It’s terrifying. You arrive at home after having commuted for a half hour (or more, ugh!) only to realize you don’t remember the drive. Auto-pilot happens to everyone sometimes. Too often, it settles in, a thick fog settling over our entire lives.

What’s going on here?

Our brains, in their complex way, are kicking in to save us calories and time. Why waste precious energy noticing something we saw yesterday and the day before? As far as survival goes, these instincts are absolutely helpful.

For living fully, not so much.

One of the reasons I love spending regular time with young writers is because kids are a constant reminder of what is possible. Kids have superpowers. Actually, we all have these superpowers, but as adults, we often misplace ours.

Have you misplaced any of these superpowers?

Imagination:

Recently, I’ve been watching Anne with an E on Netflix. Among other things, the show is reminding me about Anne’s singular perspective on the world. Time spent outside offers any number of “What if…?” possibilities. What if we coined names that fit the beauty of our local redwood grove or nearby flowering meadow? What if we looked for hints of magic in our everyday lives?

Imagination is a superpower because it turns the mundane into an adventure. All it takes to tap into the imagination is a choice. We choose to ask “What if…?” And while imagination can be silly and whimsical, its power reaches far beyond bringing happiness. Imagination is what allows us to see what’s possible, to imagine innovation and solutions to complex problems and opportunities beyond our current situation.

Belief:

Imagination allows us to dream up possibilities. Belief invites us to roll up our sleeves and bring our vision to life. We’ve all seen a child tugging on an adult’s sleeve asking “Can I …?” (or if they are grammatically savvy, “May I …?”) Adults are so quick to say no, to give reasons why not. We’ve learned through experience that the world can be full of danger, and disappointment is always a possibility.

When kids ask, “Why not?” it can be difficult to hold back the list of reasons that spring to mind. Too often, those same reasons cause us to not try. Last weekend, I hopped on my bicycle for the first time in years. I hadn’t ridden for a litany of reasons: cars, the possibility of crashing, looking silly. We rode 22 miles, to a local town I’d never visited, and the whole trip was a grand adventure. Why not? Exactly.

Laughter:

There’s a widely quoted myth that children laugh 300-400 times a day, while adults only laugh 17.5 times per day on average. While research doesn’t back this wide discrepancy, in general, most of us know that we laugh less as adults than we did as children. Why? Like imagination and belief, laughter is also a choice. And it’s a third superpower that we all can access anytime we choose.

Laughter changes everything. Just try staying gloomy after a belly-laugh. It’s nearly impossible. Finding laughter when we feel gloomy can be a challenge, but once we start laughing, the impact is immediate and powerful. Hopefully you don’t need any more convincing that laughter is good for you, but if you’d like to study quotes from scientists on the topic, you can find eight here.

If you had a superpower, would you forget about it?

Would you forget to use your super-speed, for instance, or your invisibility? Why, then, do we forget to use our actual superpowers? Maybe all we need is a tiny reminder every once in a while. Hey, there, Naomi. Don’t forget … You have a superpower. You have at least three, in fact.

I’ll be using mine today. How about you? 

If you dust off those superpowers, I’d love to hear what adventures ensue. And I’d also love to hear: What other superpowers would you say that we all have, and often misplace? I’m sure these three aren’t the only ones.

Feel free to comment below, or, as always, connect with me on Facebook or Twitter. Your stories are an inspiration!

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Cultivate a Sense of Wonder

Creativity often shows up at the intersection of various thoughts. Here are three on a sense of wonder … what do they spark for you?

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.”
Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie

“Believing takes practice.”
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

“The ability to retain a child’s view of the world with at the same time a mature understanding of what it means to retain it, is extremely rare – and a person who has these qualities is likely to be able to contribute something really important to our thinking.”
― How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading, Mortimer J. Adler

 

I’m collecting other quotes and images as I continue to spot wonder in our world. Check out my collection on Pinterest.

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Play to Your Strengths

Play to your Strengths
One of the first questions I ask writers as they develop a story character is “What are your character’s strengths?” After identifying strengths, we also think about weaknesses. However, we start by looking for those places where a character shines.
 
If a character has only weaknesses or is overwhelmed by life’s challenges, she doesn’t have the confidence to begin taking action. Characters who can’t take action quickly lose a reader’s interest. We want to shake them by the shoulders and say, “DO something!” 
 

But in our own lives, we tend to focus on the problems.

What isn’t working? What do we need to fix? Maybe this approach is due to the overwhelming amount of marketing messages we encounter. These messages are craftily designed to remind us of who we are not and what we do not yet have. Savvy marketers know that when they sell a transformation, buyers buy. And yet, when we spend most of our time identifying how we ought to be transforming: personally, professionally, creatively, socially, and so on, we lose our footing. Or to be more specific, we lose our confidence.
 

Starting with a win is a sure way to keep winning.

I’m not talking about fooling ourselves with overly sunny self-talk. We know when we’re telling ourselves a lie. The trick is to start with a win we’ve already achieved, or one that isn’t a long shot from where we currently stand. 
 
Research shows that a key factor to achieving a goal is belief. We must believe we are capable of success. Until we have actually conquered a challenge, we might hope we can overcome the odds, but we don’t know for sure. On the other hand, each real success adds to a track record that builds our confidence. Sounds obvious, right? Yet, we still struggle. 
 

Why? We don’t play to our strengths.

Think about the last time you did something new. Did you first review any current skills or successes on which you might build? Or did you focus on the gap between your skills and your goals? Chances are high you focused on the gap. You’re definitely not alone!
 
When we consider a child who doesn’t know how to play guitar or draw or speak Spanish, we give the child the benefit of the doubt. They need time to learn this new skill set. As adults, we don’t give ourselves that grace. We look around at peers and we see their expertise. Without questioning our assumptions, we berate ourselves for what we have yet to learn. Rather than playing to our strengths, we start from our weaknesses. In most cases, this negative beginning leads to false starts, slow learning curves, and more often than not, we give up.
 
What if, instead, you played to your strengths?
 

What if your approach to learning something new went like this?

  1. Find a point of connection between what you currently do well and what you want to learn. 
  2. Start with that connection point, and give yourself a small challenge. Choose a challenge you are sure you can tackle.
  3. When you achieve your goal, celebrate! Tiny mid-journey celebrations help us enjoy the learning process.
  4. Next, choose a new challenge that stretches you one step further.
  5. Move forward in this way, small challenge to small challenge.
  6. If you fail to reach a challenge, don’t fret! Return to your most recent success and analyze what you can learn from the failure. What adjustments will give you a better chance of success the next time around?
  7. After a few weeks or a month, look back over your progress and note how far you’ve come. Chances are high that you’ll be amazed!
 
Try it out, and then come on back and share the story of how it went. I’d love to hear about your journey. You can comment below, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.
 
Here’s to you and your creative growth!
 

Three Thoughts on Character

Creativity often shows up at the intersection of various thoughts. Here are three on character … what do they spark for you?

 

“A diamond gemstone is made up of facets—defined surfaces, sides which each face a particular direction and yet are all connected to one another: distinct aspects of the whole.”

― Marianne Roccaforte, Ph.D., Bridges in the Mind: An Artist’s Handbook for Everyday Living 

“Meg, when people don’t know who they are, they are open either to being Xed, or Named.”

― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wind in the Door

“We’re afraid of writing characters different from ourselves because we’re afraid of getting it wrong. We’re afraid of what the Internet might say.”

― Gene Luen Yang

 

Inspired and want more? Check out my growing collection of pins on the many facets of character.

The Shape of an Idea

Have you heard of the Napkin Academy? It’s a visual thinking online course by Dan Roam, author of The Back of the Napkin and other insightful books. If you’re interested in significantly raising the quality of your thinking and learning life, you should check it out.
 
Among the many insights explored in his course, Dan highlights the fact that we remember ideas that have form. If ideas are vague or abstract, they slip out of our minds. For instance, when Google 2-Step Verification was introduced, it was a technical idea. Then, the idea of two-step security was explained with a drawing containing two steps:
 
  1. Getting past a bear
  2. Escaping a snake pit
 
Yep! Now, with the image, we get it. Visual thinking isn’t about dumbing down concepts. It’s about making an idea memorable enough to stick.
 
Similarly, when I tried to better understand the creative process, and encountered abstract, scientific explanations and piles of activities, I was lost. When I finally shaped the process into a form—creativity as a ramble through five mental rooms filled with distinct thinking tools—everything came clear. Naming this creative hideout “Writerly Play” gave further form to the idea. Each of the rooms has a different purpose, but together, they are all about story and a playful approach. 
 
Creativity is messy, to be sure. However, if we allow ourselves to think of the process as formless, we can’t help but become lost along the way. When we make something new, we need handholds and footholds. We need structure that gives us room to experiment and make discoveries.
 
Finding the shape of an idea is harder than it appears. Once the challenging intellectual work has been done, the results seem simple, even obvious. However, in order to boil a complex idea down to its core, you have to wrestle through the complexity. You must break the concept into what is essential and what is secondary, down and down. You’re finished when you’ve found a shape for your idea that is simple, but still comprehensive. 
 
What ideas are you trying to communicate right now? Consider your personal life, your creative work, your relationships, and your job. Are there thoughts you’re repeating over and over, with little result? Choose one concept you’ve tried to share recently. How might you give that concept shape?
 
Even if drawing isn’t your thing, when you’re shaping an idea, don’t be afraid to take out a pencil and doodle. Let your mind play with images and see what fits. Finding an idea’s shape is much more like solving a puzzle than it is like writing a definition. When you’re putting a puzzle together, you need to pick up pieces and try them out. Here, too, experimentation is your friend.
 
Once you’ve experimented, come on back and share! I’d love to hear the insights you gain by exploring the shape of your ideas. You can also connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.
 
Here’s to you and your creativity!