While my hands and my surface mind were occupied, my deeper mind was free to ponder a writing challenge that had been bothering me for a week. I had one of those delightful A-ha 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.
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 and gives time for what we love.
But as we’ve eliminated the need to do many simple tasks with our hands, we’ve lost time to let our minds wander and ponder. We’ve convenienced ourselves out of opportunities to think creatively.
I’m both impressed by and sympathetic for writers of earlier ages who pounded out their manuscripts on typewriters or with pen and paper. Melville created Moby Dick with a quill pen, for crying out loud. And while modern readers might justifiably suggest that Moby Dick might have benefited from Melville using less ink and more cut-and-paste (emphasis on the cut), writing a classic novel in longhand is undeniably impressive.
I wonder if writing wasn’t actually easier for earlier writers who had 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 find our entry point to the flow state of creative consciousness. Which is one of the many reasons I encourage Process play.
If you have a routine that incorporates manual activity that helps you get into a writing state of mind, 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.