Writerly Play: Exploring the Attic

It’s time to make things practical.

Over the past two days, we’ve explored the big-picture value of crafting a story as a way to think about and track our creative growth. Specifically, we’ve considered the collection of Writerly Play rooms as a helpful setting in which that story plays out. If you haven’t read the previous posts in this series, you may want to read those before you dive into this one. Here, we’ll turn our attention specifically to one room: The Attic.

To start, put yourself back into that hideout you imagined yesterday. Most of the time, mine is a rambling treehouse with rope ladders and swinging bridges. What does yours look like? Picture it in detail, taking time to notice the specifics that make it your own. Once you’re ready, let’s make our way up to the Attic. Climb the circular stairs two at a time, scale the climbing wall or take the path of your choosing.

The Primary Work of the attic is collecting.

Our ideas grow from the raw material we collect in our minds, through experiences—our own and those told to us—and what we watch, read and hear. Collecting happens whether or not we think about it, but some people are more naturally gifted in this space than others. When you enter your Attic, you might find a well-ordered, easy-to-access set of material. Or, it’s possible you’ll find towering piles of assorted mess that are anything but inviting to your creative mind.

Let’s do a quick self-assessment of the state of your Attic.

  1. Do you have a regular way to capture impressions of your day-to-day life? (i.e. a regular journaling practice, a sketchbook, a daily photography habit, a physical or digital place to collect ideas as they pop into your mind)
  2. Do you have a simple strategy for collecting and reviewing source material that may be useful for your current and future creative projects? (i.e. images, articles, audio material, videos, quotes, anecdotes)
  3. Do you have tools to help you regularly remove information clutter from your physical, digital, and mental world?
  4. When facing creative challenges, is it easy for you to frame questions in a way that move you toward step-by-step solutions?
  5. Do you have a regular practice that allows you to reflect on your experiences and explore your unique perspective on the world around you?

Developing Invisible Muscles

I’m guessing your answers are a mixed bag. If you said a hearty “yes” to every question, your Attic may not be in need of additional attention. However, for most people, the Attic is an ongoing project. Many creative blocks result from Attics that are under-developed or disorganized. Still, it’s all too easy to dismiss everything that goes on in the Attic as nice, but not necessary. Asking better questions, reflecting, and noticing the details of daily life aren’t tasks that fit neatly into a to-do list. They’re habits that weave into the fabric of day-to-day life. These habits build invisible muscles that make an enormous difference in our creative output and potential. The bottom line is, whether you’re creative for a living or looking to live more creatively, the state of your Attic matters.

So, how do we work on muscles that are largely invisible? Take a look at those questions again. Notice the words “way, strategy, tools, and practice.” Those are practical words that point us toward proactive solutions.

A First Step

Studies show that the best way to create lasting change is to set a goal, write it down, and break it into manageable steps. (If you’d like to hear Science Mike on the topic, check out this podcast). However, if you’re like me, you might try to overhaul your Attic in one wave of the magic wand only to end up exhausted and discouraged. So, as we wrap up, I’d like to suggest a practical first step.

Ask yourself: which portable item are you most likely to carry and use? Is it a journal? A sketchbook? Your phone? Choose one and on a blank page or note in the app of your choice, write a one-week goal. What would you like to intentionally collect? For instance, you might collect one picture per day of the places you go, or snippets of overheard dialogue, or physical items such as leaves or fabric swatches. What you collect is not nearly as important as the collecting itself. You’re training your mind to hone in on items of focus while discarding what is not as important. You’re building the habit of compiling your collection in one place, and increasing the value of that place as a trusted source of creative inspiration. If you’re looking for a new app or tool to aid your collection process, below are a couple I suggest. That said, I encourage you to keep this first step as simple as possible. Use the tool that is most accessible and appealing to you. Give yourself a quick win.

What’s next?

Tomorrow, we’ll move on to the next room, The Studio. But keep in mind the science of starting small. For some people, having the 100,000-foot view of the entire landscape helps. If that’s you, by all means let’s keep up our momentum. Read on …

However, if you’re likely to be distracted by a peek into another room, you may want to pause here to follow through with setting and keeping your one-week goal. Then, come on back. The entire Nuts and Bolts of Writerly Play series will be ready and waiting for you. 

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