Clearing Out the Clutter
A creative prompt for getting through the weeds.
Welcome to the weekend edition Creative Fuel! These weekend missives are for creative inspiration, sometimes through prompts, sometimes through other means. If you’re getting this it’s because you’re a paid subscriber, and you have full access to the archive of weekend prompts + inspiration.
Earlier this week I found myself in the Seattle Library for a few hours. It was an afternoon in between a work-related event in the morning and an evening early birthday surprise. In other circumstances, I might have been tempted to bring my laptop to the city knowing I would have this afternoon chunk. There’s always some work to be done.
But the laptop had been shipped off a few days prior in need of a new battery—because apparently even computers experience burnout—so I was armed with nothing but my notebook.
I walked up and down the many aisles of books, in the hopes that some idea would jump out at me. I found one called GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human1. I flipped through some pages of obscure literary journals in the extensively stocked magazine section.
Finally I made my way over to a desk and sat down. I had no laptop, but there were a few things that I wanted to write down a notebook was all that was required. I actively had to work at shaking the annoyance that arose when I thought about all the work related things that I could and should be doing if only I had my computer. If I’m honest, I felt very fidgety. I reminded myself, “isn’t this what you always want, a little unobstructed space to just sit and write and play with some ideas?”
Well, yes, of course. But in our distracted modern era where the mind is constantly jumping from to-do list to new project idea to newsfeed to “what if someone has emailed me about something important?” (they have not), it’s sometimes difficult to just settle.
With the notebook in front of me, I started where it made sense: I made a list of what work things needed to be done by the end of the week. This led to a list of what I needed to send to the printer next week. Which led to mapping out a newsletter calendar. Which led to a bullet point about a project launch in November I had entirely forgotten about. Which led to an asterisk about an idea for an essay and who I should interview for it. Which led to a tiny sketch of a composition I wanted to test out in a papercut. Which led to me putting down the pen, looking back up and out over the other people quietly working away and thinking, “I really love libraries.”
I hadn’t finished any big projects, written a grandiose essay, or checked off any tasks, but somewhere in putting pen to paper I had started to work my way through the cobwebs. My mind felt a little more open, a little less cluttered.
So when my friend Brendan yesterday linked to an article about the power of a to-do list, of course I clicked on it. “I come bearing but one life hack: the humble to-do list, written out on actual paper, with actual pen,” writes Amanda Mull, offering up a simple yet somehow radical response to the variety of optimization and time management tools that abound all around us.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial