A Little Story
“What’s this?” came out of his mouth before he could control himself. The young warrior looked around. There was nobody to answer his question. There were trees to his left, and trees to his right, and if he looked back far enough he could still see some houses. This place felt familiar, but he hadn’t seen it before. It was a warm summer evening, and the sun would soon go down. This was not the route he used to walk. On a whim, he had decided to deviate from his path and wander a bit around. He had challenged himself to choose the road he was the least familiar with at every intersection. Eventually, he reached a street with a dead end. He had always thought “dead end” was a weird expression. Because if you observe carefully, it is often where all the interesting stuff begins, not where it dies. This particular dead end transformed into a path through the forest. The warrior was curious and had playfully followed this path until he stumbled upon a weird shade of gray.
When he got closer, he saw it was a concrete mound. The forest isn’t exactly the natural habitat of a concrete mound. Nature seemed to know that too, she was embarrassed and tried to hide it with ivy and lichens. Seeing this reminded him of when he played hide and seek with his sister as little kids. His sister thought she would be invisible by hiding under the blanket, even though the hump was clearly visible. “If I can’t see you, you can’t see me”, she said—beautiful naive children’s thoughts.
He pulled the ivy away and underneath was a door with something written above it. Small pieces of leaf litter obstructed his view, so he swept them away. Now he could read some letters:
T.. MPLE, that must be temple! The other words were still a mystery, despite his expert level at the game hangman. “Come look at this, Curiosity!”, the warrior yelled full of excitement. Curiosity, his pet origami red bird, flew down to look at the temple. She inspected the door and landed on the warrior’s shoulder. She stared at him with eyes that begged: please go in. “No, I’m not going inside! It’s way too scary! What if there is a clown on the other side? Or even worse, a random stranger! Mom always told me not to talk to strangers. And besides, the door is probably locked!” Curiosity changed her shape into an origami cat (her way of saying pussy) and after that into a hand to open the door. It wasn’t locked at all. He was astonished by how easily this folded piece of paper could open such a heavy door. “I didn’t know you could change shapes!” the warrior cried out with surprise. Curiosity was again in her bird form and seemed to shrug her shoulders. The door led to a staircase going deep down into the dark. Curiosity was already flying into the dark while literally lighting up. “This bird is full of surprises,” the warrior thought. He followed her, and the cracking leaves were soon replaced by the echo of his footsteps.
The staircase seemed to go on infinitely. The warrior’s foot soles hurt, but Curiosity kept going further down. Suddenly she stopped. When the warrior caught up, he could see why. It was a dead end. All these stairs for nothing. But then he remembered what he had thought earlier: a dead end is where the interesting stuff starts. So he looked more carefully. But he couldn’t see directly what might be so special about this dead end. He looked with a questioning face at Curiosity, but she didn’t seem to know what to do either. He gave up and was very disappointed. Then he turned around and headed back to the light coming from the surface. Some steps later, he realized Curiosity wasn’t with him anymore. “Curiosity?!” he asked with a little voice, looking back into the dark. But his illuminating bird wasn’t there anymore. He was frightened. He had grown close to this weird bird over the last months. So he headed back again to the dead end. He didn’t want to lose his Curiosity.
Once again at the dead end, he noticed something new. The smell of an old carpet. He touched the dead end and felt embarrassed immediately. This wasn’t a dead end at all, there was just hanging a very dark curtain before the entrance. He went in.
There were torches everywhere burning with suiting pink fire, with here and there one that was green. In the middle, Curiosity was hovering. “Oh, my dear little bird, give me a hug”, the warrior said while running towards Curiosity. But right before he could grab her, she changed shape again. This time she was an unfolded sheet of paper with a mix of beautifully written calligraphy and plain Calibri. As if the writer couldn’t choose between writing analog or digital. “DEAR READ MORE WARRIOR” resonated throughout the temple while he read the first line. It was like his reading voice had grown from a little chicken into a roaring T-REX. The warrior jumped back. But he wasn’t afraid of this voice, unlike those so-called “speed readers”. So he kept on reading.
“WELCOME TO THE TEMPLE OF WRITERS” now his hangman was solved “IN THIS TEMPLE YOU’LL DETERMINE WHAT TYPE OF WRITER YOU WILL BE, OR EVEN, WHAT TYPE OF PERSON” sounds interesting “TO YOUR LEFT YOU SEE AN ALTAR WITH A PENCIL AND AN ERASER ON IT, TO YOUR RIGHT YOU HAVE A TABLE WITH A BLACK MARKER IN IT” he looked to the table and saw the black marker stuck into the table like the sword of King Arthur was stuck in a rock. “CHOOSE ONE”
First, he walked to the table with the black marker. He was afraid of it. It seemed so hard, so decisive, so limiting. There was a pile of postcard-sized paper next to it, together with a description: “This is the black marker. Choose me. You know why.” The warrior thought, “Actually, I don’t know why”. He didn’t dare to touch the marker. Pulling the marker out of the table looked like an impossible mission anyway.
Then he went over to the altar with the pencil. The pencil was beautifully decorated, and he was drawn to its smell of graphite. There was one big sheet of paper on it. The description said: “This is the Magical Pencil. Once you use it, you’ll have an infinite source of creativity. You’ll be able to write and draw whatever you want. The best thing is, if you make a mistake, you can easily correct it and move on.” He was enchanted and reached out to grab the pencil… until a hand stopped him.
“Learn More Wizard? What do you do here?” the warrior asked. “That doesn’t matter, you should not choose the pencil. Because if you do, you’ll be cursed!”
All of a sudden, the warrior saw himself sitting behind the altar, scribbling away with the pencil in his hand. The sentences he wrote were inspiring and the drawings gorgeous. This was the life he wanted! But then he noticed something. The sentences and drawings were short-lived. He was convinced the sentences could be even more inspiring and his drawings even more gorgeous. So he erased everything once in a while and started over, losing all those beautiful ideas. This cycle kept going and going. He stayed forever in the temple of writers in search of perfect sentences and drawings without ever going back to the surface.
The warrior woke up from this vision. “Is this really what you want? You should choose the black marker!” said the wizard. “You’re right. That’s not the life I want, but choosing the black marker is just impossible.” the warrior responded. “You haven’t even tried! How can you know it is impossible?” “I just know, you know? Besides, those little cards are way too small to write my big ideas on”, the warrior responded again. “What do you prefer? One big idea that never sees existence or a lot of little clear ideas that might really make a difference?” said the wizard wisely.
“I’m just scared,” the warrior confessed, “I’m scared of using the black marker because then I can’t remove my mistakes.” The wizard waited for a moment. He looked at the table and said, “Your mistakes are what make you special, and by looking at the pile of paper, I know you can make a lot of them”. The warrior sighed, “You’re right”. He walked to the table, pulled the black marker out of the table with great force, and wrote down:
The Creativity System Ctd.
In a previous post. I wrote about the first three parts of the creativity system I use. I covered books, notebooks, and blog books. Today we will start with the second part. We will talk about drawings, trackers, and bookshelves.
As you probably have already seen on this blog, I use a lot of drawings. I like to explain ideas visually, because then, for me, they are clearer and easier to remember. I even make drawings in the books I read. As you could read in the previous post about the creativity system, I’ve always liked drawing. Now I try to draw whenever I’m stuck with my writing. It counters writer’s block.
Facing Fear with Black Markers
Almost all the drawings you see on this blog are drawn with a black marker on some small paper cards. It is scary you know because when I put the marker on the paper there is no way back anymore. I can’t use an eraser as I would do with a pencil, and I can’t let my laptop do a check. It is for real now. I’m afraid of making mistakes. So for me, using black markers is a sort of exposure therapy.
What happens when I make a mistake? Well, there are a number of ways I try to cope with it:
- I try to incorporate the mistake creatively so that it is not obvious anymore
- I just live with the mistake, and I am fine with posting an imperfect drawing
- I discard it and start over
I also try to apply these concepts to life in general. When I make a mistake, I first try to see if it really is a mistake. Maybe it isn’t, and it makes life even better or funnier. If it is a real mistake, maybe I can still live with it and I try to resist the lure of perfectionism. And if it is a big mistake, I try to undo it, start over, and prevent it from happening again.
5. Trackers: rubber bands and others
I really like to use trackers to keep myself writing daily. They can also be used for other habits you’re trying to build. Good trackers 1) visualize progress, 2) remind you of the habit, and 3) are simple to use and rewarding. I like trackers so much I’m using nowadays three at the same time.
I already wrote more details about using rubber bands in an earlier post. The concept is simple. You have two containers, one without rubber bands (your progress container) and one with rubber bands (your supply container). Every day, when you see these containers, you’re reminded of your (writing) habit. Then you put one rubber band on your wrist, and you can’t put it off until you did your daily minimum effort (DME) for your habit. For me, this DME is writing one paragraph. I like it very much because the act of putting the rubber band around my wrist is immensely easier than starting to write right away. *Puts rubber band in container*
Do you have a guilty pleasure? Of course you do! It is a very strong power that can be used. For me, this guilty pleasure is buying books. If you see me living on the street one day, it probably is because I bought too many books (or too little 😉).
The star system is like a little game. I can explain the star system best by showing it:
For buying books, I need money. But I don’t want to spend all my money on books just for fun. I want to feel like I earned it. So I have a balance which I can use to buy books. In the beginning, the balance contains zero money. However, I can raise this balance by making progress in the three areas in which I would like to improve: reading, writing, and public speaking. When I reach a little star (for every 5 books I read and summarize, 5 posts I write, or 5 times I faced my fear of public speaking* I get 10 euros on my balance). Bigger stars are worth more. Then every time I buy a book, the price of the book gets subtracted from the balance of course. This star system is also a fun way to visualize progress.
*I know this “times I faced my fear of public speaking” is a bit vague, and I would also recommend using more concrete units of progress like books read or posts written.
Crossed calendar aka streaks
Snapchat uses it. Duolingo uses it. That’s part of the explanation for why these apps are so addictive. What if we could make our daily habits addictive? Every day you perform your habit (e.g. 10 min of rope-skipping) you can cross out that day on your paper calendar. I prefer paper calendars over digital ones because I see them more often, which reminds me more of the habit.
For most readers, a bookshelf serves to show off to visitors: “Look how many books I read! I must be very smart, isn’t it?” Some might fall into the trap of wanting to speed read in order to read more books and have more books on their bookshelves. Others might fill their bookshelves with books they will never read. As you might already feel, I’m not such a big fan of both kinds of people. Earlier, I vigorously devoured e-books, but no physical books. However, I must confess that after a while I also got enchanted by the beauty and usefulness of physical books. It is way easier to write notes in them and draw in them. So I needed a bookshelf too.
Nevertheless, I was still convinced books weren’t supposed to be objects to flex with. They exist to learn from them. So in order to prevent myself to fall into those traps, I made some rules. I wanted my bookshelves to be special. Here are the rules:
Rule 1: You can only put the books you’ve actually read and finished on the bookshelves.
Rule 2: The unread books are placed on a pile in a less visible place.
As I explained in my very first post on this blog. By doing this, you will have a pull factor (the visible bookshelf you want to fill) and a push factor (the invisible place where your unread books are located).
Rule 3: You divide the books you’ve read into two groups: the ones you want to re-read and the ones you don’t want to read again.
Here you see the physical books I’ve read, which I definitely want to re-read one day:
Grab a piece of paper and a black marker. Now write down “Silenzio Bruno” on it and say it out loud. You can even shout it out loud if you are a real pro. Every time you’re not sure if you should take the leap, repeat it again. “Silenzio Bruno”. I say it for example every time I step into my daily cold shower.