I saw the first snowflake fall a few minutes ago. Well, not the first snowflake ever, obviously. And probably not even the first snowflake to fall in my backyard today. But it was the first snowflake as far as I could see. It fell from the sky like a crumb of angel food cake. I didn’t recognize what it was at first. Only when I saw another and then another did I realize it had begun to snow, lightly, and silent like mist.
It’s rare for me to sit at my desk and gaze out the window. My “office” is in our sunroom; my desk is surrounded on three sides by floor-to-ceiling windows that open to the garden and the backyard. But I don’t spend much time actually looking. I’m too “busy” to waste that kind of time.
I typically start my work day with a quick peruse through Facebook and Twitter. I “like” a few status updates, comment here and there, click over to skim a blog post or an article, retweet a couple of things, post links to my own blog posts, if I have anything new. Once I finally get down to the business of my real work for the day, I’m usually pretty focused. Sometimes I even forget to pause for a bathroom break and find myself squirming uncomfortably in my chair.
But. When I do hit a block – grappling for the right word, frustrated with a clunky transition, unsure which direction to go or what I even want to say next – I click over to social media. I scan and scroll and click and retweet, and when I finally make it back to my own piece — the piece I’d abandoned when I hit the wall — I discover I’m just as stuck and frustrated as ever. I haven’t given my brain a chance to reset or rest or meander in a fruitful way, but instead, have filled it with noise and distraction.
One of my New Year’s resolutions this year is to make my work time more productive by pausing in a way that’s beneficial to the creative process. In other words, to “resist absentminded busyness” as Maria Popova says, paraphrasing Søren Kierkegaard. This means no quick email checks; no popping over to Facebook or Twitter; no Instagram scrolling; no blog post reading. I won’t begin my work day that way, and I won’t interrupt it that way when I get stuck. I’m sure this is not a revelation for you, but I’m finally beginning to understand that social media is detrimental to my creativity and my productivity as a writer.
Instead, I resolve to look out the window. Or use the bathroom. Or switch out a load of laundry. Or make a cup of tea. Or walk to the mailbox to slip an envelope inside and raise the flag. I resolve to do something that rests my brain so that when I return to the page (screen), my mind isn’t pinging with noise and distraction, but instead is open, quiet and refreshed.
I actually made three New Year’s resolutions this year — I love to make resolutions, you know (it’s keeping them that’s the problem…just ask me about flossing) — and each of them has something to do with stopping (I’ll talk a little more about the other two later this week and next).
On Sunday I listened to a new-to-me podcast called “This Good Word” with author Steve Wiens. The episode was entitled “Stop,” and in it, Wiens urged his listeners to “let 2016 start with stopping.”
I love that. It can be applied to so many facets of life, and in the episode, Wiens asks some great questions aimed at helping us think about how we can stop more in our daily lives. By the time I listened to “This Good Word” during my afternoon run on Sunday, I’d already made my stopping-related resolutions, but the ways Wiens talked about stopping helped to clarify what I’d been pondering since January 1.
It’s snowing harder now as I write this, thick flakes falling languidly, leisurely, straight down from the sky. They seem to be taking their time traveling from the heavens to the ground, not bent so much on arriving, but on the process of getting here instead.
I think I’ll watch them for a little while longer before moving onto my next project. It seems these snowflakes might have something important to say.