We provided the lamb for the kabobs we shared with friends on New Year’s Eve. After trimming kabob-sized pieces from the chops, there was a lot of meat left that I didn’t want to waste and that our dogs would love. So I put the bones in a roasting pan and slow cooked it for a couple of hours, then cooled it and spent about 45 minutes on New Year’s Day trimming the meat from all the fiddly little bones.
While my hands and my surface mind were occupied, my deeper mind was free to ponder a situation that had been bothering me for a week. I had one of those delightful lightbulb moments of insight just as I finished carving the last two chops. Just like taking the time to cut close gets you to the sweetest meat next to the bone, going deep and slow with your thinking allows you to discover the deeper understanding found only in the marrow of an idea.
Now I certainly don’t want to spend an hour fixing dog food every day. Our labor-saving gadgets (and opportunities to buy food that needs minimal prep) saves us a lot of drudgery. But it occurs to me that we have gadgeted ourselves out of any opportunity to do simple tasks with our hands and let our minds ponder bigger issues. We’ve convenienced ourselves out of opportunities to think creatively.
I used to feel both impressed by and sorry for writers of earlier ages who pounded out their manuscripts on typewriters or with pen and paper. Melville, for example, created Moby Dick with a quill pen. And while modern readers might justifiably suggest that Moby Dick might have benefited from Melville using cut-and-paste (emphasis on the cut), the novel is a classic and writing it in longhand is an impressive feat.
I wonder if writing wasn’t actually easier for earlier writers who had certain manual tasks to perform (trimming a quill, mixing ink, changing typewriter ribbons, cutting a manuscript with scissors and piecing it back together). Those manual tasks distracted their surface minds and allowed their deeper minds to ponder and manipulate big ideas. Maybe Hemingway’s routine of sharpening twenty pencils a day before he started writing was how he got to the marrow of his writing.
When our minds slow down, we can find our entry point to the flow state of creative consciousness.
Do you have a routine that incorporates some kind of manual activity that helps you into the writing state? If so, please share it with the rest of us. If not, think about how you might bring a bit of manual labor to your writing process.