One day, I was in a coworking space, here in Colombia, writing in my Moleskine notebook. One of the other co-workers came up to me and asked me a question.
He said, in Spanish, and with a sense of earnest curiosity, “Why are you writing in your notebook? Your computer is right in front of you. You can write much faster on your computer. Why aren’t you writing on your computer?”
That question really stuck with me, because I thought the answer was obvious -- though I guess it wasn’t.
And it got me thinking about the tools we use to create, and why we use them.
Creativity is hard You already know, from listening to episode 218 about the Four Stages of Creativity, that we don’t solve creative problems all at once. We need to go through stages. We need to go through Preparation, learning about the problem. From there, the problem goes through Incubation. Our subconscious works on it while we do something else. Only then can we reach Illumination -- our “aha” moment. Finally, to get it ready to ship, we need to go through Verification.
And you also know, from being a human being, that when you’re up against a really tough problem, anything in the world suddenly becomes more appealing than that problem.
You’ll get “shiny object syndrome,” and want to escape to another project. Or you’ll check social media. I even find that I sometimes procrastinate on a really tough project by working on a slightly less tough project, that I have been procrastinating on until now.
Ayn Rand called it “white tennis shoes syndrome.” That if she came up against a tough problem while writing, she’d suddenly remember that there were some white tennis shoes in the closet that had smudges on them, and needed to be cleaned. Distractions, it seems, are nothing new.
Choose the tool for the creative job But, I’ve found, depending upon where you are in the Four Stages of Creativity, the tool you use can make all of the difference in whether you keep moving forward, or fall off the tracks.
Through lots of trial and error, I have collected for myself the perfect arsenal of different tools for different situations. Here are some of them.
First thing in the morning, I write, with my eyes still closed, while still in bed, on my AlphaSmart. It’s a portable word processor. Discontinued. Available used on Amazon for about forty bucks.
I do my morning writing session on an iPad, with a wired external keyboard.
I have multiple 9” x 12” whiteboards lying around the house. I jot down ideas when they come to me. Sometimes I’ll even take a whiteboard to a cafe and write on it in long form.
Then, I have my 6” x 9” Moleskine Classic notebook. I also carry with me everywhere the tiniest notebook I could find: the Moleskine Volant, which is 2.5” x 4”.
And, of course, I have an iPhone SE, on which I occasionally brainstorm, if there’s no better tool around.
Sometimes, I even find it useful to simply pace around and talk out loud.
Finally, there’s plain, old-fashioned thinking. Just sitting in the park or swinging in my hammock, trying to navigate the twists and turns of a problem in my own mind.
Oops, I almost forgot. I also have a laptop. I try to avoid using it, but sometimes I simply need to be on a full-blown computer.
Some tools are slippy, some tools are grippy Some of these tools are “slippy.” Some of these tools are “grippy.”
Slippy tools are tools are efficient. There’s little friction. You can create your final product quickly with a slippy tool.
Grippy tools are inefficient. There’s lots of friction. You can’t create your final product quickly with a grippy tool. Often, you can’t create your final product at all with a grippy tool.
Slippy tools sound great, but they have a drawback: Because slippy tools are so powerful, you can more easily get distracted. Yes, I can type fast and sw