The Blank Pages
This post is a set of guidelines for myself, reference points for my own creative output. It’s similar to Vi’s post on output here, and his should be read too.
Recently I’ve had a difficult time with my writing. I haven’t been making enough time to write, & when I did, it has been hard for me to get my ideas down on paper. I think this has been compounded each time I chose not to write my thoughts down in the moment, even if only scribbled on my pocket notebook.
Writing is like a muscle, it’s something that needs to be worked on, with intent, to get better at it. Or even just to be able to do it. I’ve had too many cheat days.
Last week, I decided to head to a coffee shop to do some writing. I’m back at this same one writing this post now. I thought that if I were to go somewhere with the intent to write, it would help me to do so. This helped part of the problem, but hasn’t completely solved it. It will take a while to get back to where I was, & until then I’ll have to keep plugging away at it.
I’m a very methodical person. I need to put myself into a good mindset to produce the kind of work I want to. This has a number of steps, most of which have only become apparent to me lately. If you’ve been having a creative roadblock lately, maybe these will be helpful to you too.
My Steps for Better Creative Output
- Follow a routine (as best as you can)
For me, my best work comes through deliberate practice, & that means following a routine to ensure consistency within your days. Right now, it’s running 4 days a week, showering, eating breakfast, meditating, & then getting to work. I take a break for lunch, usually read for a while, then shift gears or relax. This means my afternoons are either personal projects — in development or photography or another project — or focused on input — reading, playing video games, watching a movie, listening to music etc. In the evenings, I often bike to the grocery store to buy dinner supplies, cook while listening to music or lectures or podcasts, work on my Japanese practice, & go to bed.
- Compartmentalize; literally & figuratively
I live in a studio apartment, which I like, but has some downsides. It’s 400 sq/ft of me, all the time. That can be very stifling. I’m a firm believe in designating spaces to specific activities. A bed for sleeping, a couch for enjoyment, a kitchen for cooking, etc. But in a studio, those lines get blurred almost immediately, & there’s little you can do about it. Out of necessity, you’re going to read in bed sometimes, or eat on your couch. That’s not a problem inherently, but is something I need to be aware of.
My desk hasn’t been as productive for me lately, because it’s not only where I do work now. Recently, as stated in the intro, I’ve been going to a coffee shop to write from. This has been very beneficial so far, & a practice I intent to continue. If you’re stuck on something, try a change of scenery.
- Write all the time.
It took a lot of effort NOT to call this heading, “Write every day”. That’s a great practice, one I’ve done for a while, & if you can keep it up, you should. But I find there’s days I take off, & I don’t think that’s something to be hard on yourself for. What is important is keeping up a writing practice & routine. I don’t think setting big goals for yourself, of a certain word count per-day is the best practice, at least, not for me.
What I need to remind myself is to continue jotting down ideas, sketches, scraps of work in my notebooks, in my daily journals at the end of the day, as well as working on bigger essays & my novel. This helps me stay in the practice of writing, & helps ideas flow when I want to jot them down, or posts like this start more effectively.
You have to be used to going to the well if you want to get water. You can’t write only when you’re inspired, at least, not if you want to be a novelist. Just have to keep working the muscle.
These next two points are sort of an extension of the previous point. I’ve kept a journal for the past two years (this is the second), & have found it to be an extremely effective tool in my output. Here’s how I use it. At the end of each day, I go to the day’s page & write out a reflection on what happened, what I want to remember, what I saw or did, & how I feel about it.
This isn’t always the case, as I’ve used pages to write a minimal piece of short fiction, or a few poems, or capture a vignette like I outlined in 'Vignettes'.
I’ve found that a sense of reflection helps me collect my thoughts, & practice getting them down on paper. Also, it’s fun to write in ink, & offers an easy way to write something every day.
- The blank pages are part of the book, too. (THE BIG ONE!)
I write my journals in a Hobonichi Techo, which I’ve written about before. In this notebook, there are quotes on the bottom of each two-day spread. One such quote was from the creator of the notebook & the “almost daily” website that goes along with it, Shigesato Itoi. He says:
"Each techo becomes an extension of its user. All pages become who you are as a person: pages with simple, jotted in plans, scraps taped to a page, (…) and of course, the blank pages. These all show who you are, and together they form your true Life Book." - Shigesato Itoi
I used to set dramatic goals for myself, at a pace I expected to be able to keep up with. When I missed these goals, big or small, I was hard on myself, which lead to even worse output. What’s the point? You can only do as good as you can, & there’s no need to be hard on yourself for missing or making an arbitrary goal. By setting goals you aspire to in the first place, you’re doing better than a large portion of the population.
In the end, the blank pages are yours too. Maybe there was something important going on that day, or you had a big commitment. Or something came up out of the blue. Either way, not making a log is a log of its own. And that’s important too. You’ll have good days and bad days, days where you hit your goals & days where you don’t even start. But it’s all part of the journey.