A version of this story appeared in Total Annarchy, my fortnightly newsletter that helps you be a better writer, storyteller, marketer. Get it in your inbox; you’ll love it.
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I’m typing this with one hand—let’s call it Lefty, because it’s my left hand.
Righty hangs by my side, injured but itching to get in on the action, like a sidelined Olympian in Tokyo 2021.
I had shoulder surgery two Thursdays ago for rotator cuff tears—four of them. (Caused over a year ago when I slipped and went down hard on a slushy Boston street. My right arm shot out and tried to be the hero.)
I thought my cuff and I would bounce right back. I thought my arm would spend the weekend lounging in the summer sun like a lizard. And within a week—tops!—she’d be good to go.
Maybe not quite ready for the batting cages. But at least capable of… I don’t know… chopping a tomato?
But no. Here I am, 2 weeks later—right arm strapped across my stomach, housed in a hot nylon sling for another month. (Hot like sweaty; not hot like sexy.)
A few times a day I wrap a Cryo Cuff onto my shoulder. It’s a cold pack that swaddles my arm like a burrito, and then sticks that burrito inside a walk-in freezer.
It’s supposed to keep the swelling down. It makes me look like a lopsided linebacker.
* * *
I’ve worked hard to create a daily writing habit. Usually every morning—before I crack open the spine of my laptop or scroll through Instagram—for 15 minutes I capture things that happened the previous day: stories I heard, things I experienced, whatever I connected with or found inspiring.
In the back of my notebook, I keep a random list of things like half-baked blog post ideas, speech fragments, book ideas. It’s like an Amazon wish list of things I might buy from the Content Store if such a thing as a Content Store existed.
I call my daily ritual 15 Minutes of Sunday because it’s a slow-like-Sunday-morning start to my day.
A daily habit like this is important if you want to become a better writer.
It tunes you into your life. It documents things too easily lost. (The world comes at you fast.)
And it builds creative muscle: “Habits practiced once a week aren’t habits at all. They’re obligations.” (Jeff Goins)
But what happens when you lapse a little? Because you’re uninspired. Bored. Worn down by a global pandemic.
Or when your right arm is furloughed, unable to perform her job responsibilities on the right side of the keyboard, leaving Lefty to struggle on her own?
What happens then?
* * *
I’ll tell you: You lose motivation. Your daily journal entries read:
“What’s the point?”
The Practice becomes The Plod. It’s not fun anymore.
Time to get our groove back. Time to call on the genius of artist, author, professor (UW—Madison) Lynda Barry.
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Lynda’s book What It Is: Do You Wish You Could Write? is part memoir, part trippy picture book, part guide to capturing your creativity. It’s weird and fantastic. (You’ll either love it or completely hate it.) She also wrote Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor.
Lynda references a four-square technique to give structure and inspiration and a bit of whimsy to a daily habit.
It works like this:
Divide a journal page into four sections, titled as in the header image above. Every day, fill in each section. Bullet points help—because they give you permission to use sentence fragments and partial thoughts.
▶️ Did—How did you spend your day?
▶️ Saw—What did you see? Notice? (Me = my couch. LOL)
▶️ Heard—What did you overhear? Snippets of conversation overheard from strangers, neighbors, unsuspecting spouses on a Zoom call, kids?
▶️ Draw a related doodle or sketch. Important point: Just draw. Do not judge your talent or its artistic mettle. Your objective is just to loosen up/have fun—not judge the quality of your art.
After a few days, you’ll start to notice the world a little differently. You’ll start to act like a hunter-gatherer, collecting things inside your noggin so you can record them later. And you’ll get your groove back—almost by default.
You aren’t “writing.” You’re “just making a list.”
* * *
There are other techniques that can inspire your daily writing habit when you’re stuck and rut-ified. (Not a word? Is now.)
But I like the Lynda Barry Four-Square Method because I can pop in and out of the structure if I need to.