In a rare turn of events, I’ve begun watching the hit horror show “The Haunting of Hill House” while I read the book. This is normally a cardinal sin, as I’m one of those uppity “I want to read the book first” people.
I was convinced to double-dip because the show is different enough from the source material that one won’t fundamentally spoil the other.
So since this post is going up so close to Halloween, let me make a recommendation. If you haven’t found some solid horror this October, you just did.
If you need a good book, go read it. Shirley Jackson set the blueprint for the modern Gothic “haunted house” story. It is phenomenal literature, beautifully written, and oozing with dread. Plus it’s not too gory, for those non-horror folks who are turned off by that stuff.
If you need a new binge-worthy show on Netflix, watch it. Well-written, well-acted, and holy cow it’s scary! Just aces all around. Probably the best horror show to arrive on TV in the past five years.
So stop reading this and go read/watch Hill House now before your jack-o-lantern burns out and you’re left in the darkness.
This got me thinking about friends and fellow creative people who have “too many hobbies”. There are only so many hours in a day, and as creative types get older, “adulting” often assails our best efforts at output with jobs, families, and other un-creative nonsense.
So what can you do? My choice has been to limit my hobbies. If you buy into the idea of the Renaissance Soul then you’re probably shaking your head right now. In my opinion, that whole concept is just a feel good exercise for people who cannot commit to something. During the ACTUAL Renaissance people were discovering new things, these days I’d wager the majority are just intrigued about emulating those they follow on Instagram. I blame the internet, and MTV.
But I digress.
I feel like two hobbies is the right number for those who want to really excel at their passion. Why two? Because you need a secondary hobby to maintain creativity when you’re burnt out on your primary one.
Everyone gets burnt out by their passion on occasion. It’s just a part of the process. We happen to call it “writer’s block”. When burn out happens, you can always refuel your tank by relaxing and enjoying different media. But if you’re the kind of person who recharges their batteries by doing something creative, then a second hobby can do the trick.
Photography can get expensive (just like writing), but it doesn’t have to (just like writing). Learning to use a decent point & shoot digital camera in Manual mode, along with an instant film cam force me to re-learn fundamentals like composition, lighting, and the “exposure triangle”. It can also be a fairly quick hobby, snapping some photos and slowly improving my editing. Taking a few days off from writing to explore another hobby that requires different creative muscles makes me feel refreshed when I sit back down at the old manuscript.
I don’t really know where I’m going with this post, other than saying it’s good for writers to have additional creative outlets, but not so many that you’re distracted and unable to put the time needed into your writing.
Do you have other hobbies besides writing? Do they help when you’re blocked? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
Something happened last month that has profoundly affected my creativity.
My smartphone broke.
Yellow jackets get pretty ornery around late summer (they sense their collective impending doom), and as luck would have it, I got stung in the hand while scrolling Twitter. My phone hit the sidewalk and even a fancy $3 case and screen protector couldn’t save it.
What does this have to do with writing? Everything, as it would turn out.
Enter the flip phone.
I’ve contemplated how much I relied on my smartphone for a while now. I used it too much, and research is showing the negative effects of technology overload, especially on creativity. I decided to switch back to a flip phone as an experiment, and the results were almost immediate.
This is what I found:
I’m perfectly OK without a smartphone. I have other computers/devices (GPS, laptop, etc) to access maps and information when I need it. It’s freeing to not feel “connected” at all times.
I AM BORED AGAIN. I realized just how long it had been since I felt boredom. I was literally programmed to grab my phone to “fill in the spaces”. Now that the flip phone only serves very intentional functions (calls, texts, email) my body and brain are literally retraining themselves to accept true downtime again. Walking around, standing in lines, all those things that prompted smartphone use are filled with contemplative thought and observations.
I realize how pervasive smartphones are. I’ve joked that I’m “awake” now, but being more present has allowed me to see just how often other people are on their devices. It is nearly constant. Kind of scary, but this experiment is about me, not about what others are doing.
My attention span is slowly returning. Deliberate, focused consumption of books, movies, and television (even a newspaper!) without the risk of distraction has made me realize the strange cognitive dissonance that “two screening” had caused. For the first few days I felt randomly distracted and jittery sitting through an entire movie. That is slowly fading, and I find myself contemplating what I give my attention to more deeply.
I have gotten so many more story ideas in these bored moments. Creativity appears to be expanding to fill those gaps.
I have more time to write. Those little (and not so little) pockets of free time are spent writing instead of mindlessly scrolling on a screen.
This endeavor is still burgeoning, but so far I’ve seen mostly positives for the trade offs in convenience. Will I ever get a smartphone again? I’m not sure. But for now I’m enjoying a newfound well of creativity, and only paying $20 a month for something that won’t break if it bounces off a sidewalk.