Learning from A.J. Jacobs.

Today’s writer has two quotes, so we’re going to take them one at a time.

My kids wake me up. I have coffee. I make my kids breakfast, take them to school, then come home and try to write. I fail at that until I force myself to turn off my Internet access so I can get a little shelter from the information storm.

I am a big fan of outlining. I write an outline. Then a slightly more detailed outline. Then another with even more detail. Sentences form, punctuation is added, and eventually it all turns into a book.

I write while walking on a treadmill. I started this practice when I was working on Drop Dead Healthy, and read all these studies about the dangers of the sedentary life. Sitting is alarmingly bad for you. One doctor told me that “sitting is the new smoking.” So I bought a treadmill and put my computer on top of it. It took me about 1,200 miles to write my book. I kind of love it — it keeps me awake, for one thing.

I love how he handles outlining. That’s how I used to write my college papers, so I wonder if I could do it for a story as well? The thought never occurred to me. Definite learning going on here.

And that whole writing on a treadmill thing? Props to him. I don’t think I could do that, even if I did have a treadmill. Exercising takes up just enough of my brain that I can’t think in anything but random little bursts. I prefer to get my exercise out of the way during those periods where I hit a wall and can’t get any more words out. Then I can usually get back to my writing with a clear enough brain for continued productivity afterward.

And now for the second quote, with advice specifically for new writers like me!

Force yourself to generate dozens of ideas. A lot of those ideas will be terrible. Most of them, in fact. But there will be some sparkling gems in there too. Try to set aside 20 minutes a day just for brainstorming.

Argh. Can’t I just run a stinking double marathon instead? That sounds easier.

But the hard stuff is the stuff we need to practice most, isn’t it? I quite literally have never tried setting aside specific time every day for generating ideas. Maybe that’s why I’m no good at it. After all, everything is a practice, even thinking.

I always assumed that being able to come up with ideas at the drop of a hat was just a gift that you either have or don’t have. My mom, for instance, can start spewing ideas like a fountain on the faintest suggestion of a topic. In fact, she can’t really turn herself off. I’ve never been like that. Tooth pulling comes to mind. So the idea that I could get better at generating ideas by practicing is massively exciting.


This post is the eleventh in a series based on this article by James Clear, featuring quotes and reflections on the routines of twelve famous authors.


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