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Five ways to stop all-or-nothing thinking

When Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein,” he was talking about the vulnerability a writer must bring to the page.

Writers struggle with this vulnerability. How much of their lives should be on the page? How do they stay present and immediate with their writing, and live a normal, functional life?

I’ve found five simple steps that work well to create balance, keep the “creative juice” flowing, and break up any lingering writer’s block.

1. Embrace Creative Multitasking
Multitasking has gotten a pretty bad rap. Legions of burned-out high achievers of the eighties and nineties lived on the adrenaline high of multitasking, and it will certainly wear out anyone if it becomes a habit. But I discovered it brings welcome stimulation and perspective and lets me avoid the all-or-nothing syndrome. I just train myself to jump subjects.

I learned this in one of my painting classes, when I was struggling with a still life I wanted to kill. Nothing was working; everyone else in the class seemed to be doing beautifully. I happened to be standing next to an empty easel, so I moved my still life in progress to it and started a new painting.

When I took a break, the abandoned still life caught my eye. Suddenly, because I hadn’t been glaring at it for hours, I saw what it needed.

I spent the rest of the class toggling between the paintings and produced two good pieces. When I paint at home now, I often set up two canvases at once. My two easels, side by side, let me get unstuck. I switch often. When I come back to the other canvas, the break has refreshed my eye. I see with new enthusiasm for the subject that bored or frustrated me minutes before. I now do this with my writing.

I open two documents on my computer and work back and forth. While my mind’s solving one problem, an idea comes for the other piece. Toggling from a freewrite to a revision keeps me engaged, surprisingly alert, and free of magical thinking.

Read the rest of The Loft Literary Center’s article here.

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