When I’m having a hard time writing, when I’m feeling stuck or distracted or like I’m the world’s biggest imposter, I force myself to step away from the screen. I work from home, so I’ll grab a mini notebook and pen, and relocate my body—I might stretch out on the floor, or go outside and sit on my rocking chair, or walk in circles around the house. I’ve written before about how movement unlocks my brain.
It might make sense for me to eventually do what author Austin Kleon does and set up two desks: one “analogue” and one “digital”. In his book Steal Like an Artist, Kleon explains:
I have two desks in my office—one is “analogue” and one is “digital.” The analogue desk has nothing but markers, pens, pencils, paper, index cards, and newspaper. Nothing electronic is allowed on that desk. This is where most of my work is born, and all over the desk are physical traces, scraps, and residue from my process. (Unlike a hard drive, paper doesn’t crash.) The digital desk has my laptop, my monitor, my scanner, and my drawing tablet. This is where I edit and publish my work.
He writes that “sitting in front of a computer all day is killing you, and killing your work.” I believe it. For me, having the internet at my fingertips is not only a distraction (I have a tab problem), but also a crutch. When I first started writing again with pen and paper, I would feel jittery, like I needed to be reading 10 more articles on the topic or searching for better synonyms on Thesaurus.com. What I really needed to do was put some damn words on the page. Stepping away from the digital taught me how to be more comfortable with my own brain, and let it do the thing it already knows how to do.
If you’re feeling stuck in your creative work, having a dedicated analogue workplace can help you find joy again in your craft, whether you make films or books or PowerPoint presentations. Here are some tips to get started:
Set up your analogue desk in a way where you won’t be looking at your digital tools. It’s been shown that the mere presence of a smartphone can adversely affect your ability to think and problem-solve, even when it’s turned off.
Bring in some analogue tools that require you to use your hands. When I’m writing long stories, I like to pen the main ideas on index cards and shuffle them around my desk to visualise different ways of structuring the narrative.
At your analogue desk, let yourself play. This is where you’re supposed to try crazy ideas, even if they’re terrible. When you feel some sense of completeness in your work, that’s when you can go back to your digital desk to execute and refine what you’ve just created. If you get stuck again, return to the analogue. Then repeat. Your body will be moving all day long—and the ideas will keep flowing.