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How Minimalism Killed My Mojo


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In the past, all of my books were written in longhand during the initial drafting process. I’ve never discussed it here because printouts and handwritten documents run counter to the minimalist mindset and made me feel like a fraud.

Last winter I resolved to become more in sync with my minimalist lifestyle and I eliminated paper from my writing process. I forced myself to use my computer for all of my writing and drafting.

If I wasn’t staring at a blank screen, I was spewing garbage. I found myself unable to think of anything to write down, or duplicating stuff I had already written.

Initially I thought this was writer’s block so I decided to cut myself some slack but as time went on I started to get worried.

All of my life I’ve had a surplus of stuff to write about. Was I finally out of gas?

I started researching different ways to overcome this challenge. One common thread kept popping up in all of my research: paper.

I discovered that many writers dealt with writer’s block through the use of index cards. Desperate for a solution, I grabbed a pack and started to work.

It was like the floodgates opened! I found myself writing so much that my whole arm would go numb but I couldn’t stop. I switched hands and kept writing.

In a matter of days I finished one whole draft (“How to Survive the Death of Windows XP”), partially completed another and began the outlining process on several more.

xp book

That was when I realized that minimalism had killed my mojo. All of those months, instead of working with my natural creative tendencies I had eliminated the very methods I needed to be a productive writer.

This has taught me a valuable lesson.

Just because something can be minimized doesn’t mean that it should.

While minimalism can be a good thing it can easily be taken too far. While I liked the thought of eliminating paper from my creative process, it simply isn’t worth the cost to my creativity. Minimalism or no, I have went back to my old ways of writing books with a vengeance and in this instance I am not ashamed to set minimalism aside.

While minimalism is a worthwhile goal, it is very important to pay attention to your needs during the process. Some areas of your life may not benefit from the “less is more” philosophy, so don’t be afraid to go back to your old ways if minimalism doesn’t benefit you.

And, most importantly, don’t worry about what others will think regardless of your decision.

Do you have an area of your life where minimalism ended up being counterproductive? Please share your stories in the comments below.

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16 Comments

  1. Chris wrote:

    I am one of those people who need to write things down also. I have tried using my smartphone to keep lists & appts., to no avail. So I use a steno pad to keep a running list, crossing things off as they get done, as well as a calendar: one small one in my purse & a big one on my wall. Annie, there must be something connecting the brain to the hand that makes writing necessary!

    Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Permalink
  2. Lana B. wrote:

    I still use an old-school daily planner and have no intentions of giving it up.

    Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 9:24 pm | Permalink
  3. Kavita Joshi wrote:

    Hi Annie,

    I like this article of yours as I myself have experienced this how the minimalistic approac can hamper the creativity whereas when we don’t think much before using the required resources, our creativity is not restricted by any means. Nice article dear.

    Regards,
    Kavita
    Author of the blog – http://talkingexperience.wordpress.com

    Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 10:24 pm | Permalink
  4. Belinda wrote:

    I am a literacy coordinator at a middle school. Part of my job is to help English teachers to improve their teaching of writing. One thing we know is what you have demonstrated — pen or pencil to paper can help with the thought process — often far more effectively than fingers to keyboards. Students are trained to plan and to draft in notebooks, even in this digital age.

    We have learned what you have learned, Annie, something magical can happen with the act of writing that does not come through for many people with keyboarding.

    Just compost the drafts :)

    Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 10:31 pm | Permalink
  5. meg wrote:

    This one resonates with me, too. I do 99% of my writing on the computer, and in fact have done my direct writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, on a typewriter, word processor, or computer since I was 12. But I also kept handwritten journals until a few years ago, and I keep a notebook and pen handy at all times to get ideas down immediately without worrying about a keyboard, electricity, or location. I also have a steno pad next to my computer to write down notes to myself as I go, to-do lists, and grocery lists, since various digital methods haven’t worked out as well.

    For the novel-writing process, there’s a dry-erase calendar on the wall in front of my computer with the time line for my novel. Always having it in view as I write keeps me from wandering all over the place as I write each chapter. I also have printouts of my writing, as I find I read and edit differently/better with paper than on a screen. This means I also have fat grippy pens for writing, red felt tip pens for editing, and several small dry erase pens in different colors for the time line board. A rather lot of objects and paper, but every bit of it is necessary, or I’d get lost in the process, not know what to do next.

    Minimalism is about what’s essential, not numbers. The paper related to your work flow and writing process are as essential as paints and brushes to an artist. Maybe it’s messy, but it’s essential. Good on you for going back to what works best!

    Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink
  6. Linda Sand wrote:

    Minimalism is about having the RIGHT things. For you paper and pencils are a need and that is fine.

    Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink
  7. bio filo wrote:

    great idea!

    Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
  8. Michele Messier wrote:

    Nice article. I minimized my bills as low as I could go. I paid off all my debt cancelled a few memberships and cut back on my food spending but I reached a point where I dont want to cut anymore. I know when enough is enough for my lifestyle and when I want to have a good time spending on certain things so it worked for me my bills are paid but I still spend on what I really want. I guess the best thing I got out of this is that I am fully aware of what I spend my money on. Another thought is my brain doesnt have to be minimal. I can have all the most wonderful ideas in my head and transferred to paper or the computer without having a house full of stuff.

    Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  9. A-ha! You have found the happy median. Congratulations! +10,000 Internets to you! :D

    Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
  10. Jodi wrote:

    I tried to use a calendar on my laptop and then went back to a traditional calendar hanging in my kitchen. It may not be as minimalistic as I would like, but I am more successful at staying organized with it there. This was a good blog!

    Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  11. John Grege wrote:

    Annie, I’d say that using paper to write your early drafts is more minimal than a computer because it is simpler. I always write out my early drafts and outlines on paper as I find it easier to rethink, expand and revise what I wrote when I type it into the computer. I do not think it is anything to be ashamed of as unless you are going to be a radical living out of a single bag minimalist the use of paper just makes sense. If anything being open about your use of paper is more helpful to others, lest they feel guilty about doing what works best for them.

    Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Permalink
  12. LindaMay wrote:

    I aim to create and store words and pictures digitally where that works, which is usually for linear of factual materials. However I do keep a handwritten journal for thoughts, feelings and ideas. Every so often I break out into a picture, diagram, flow chart or table in the journal and it would take too long to work out how to do that on the computer. I also have a paper diary that acts as a To Do List and Week Planner. However I make sure In enter info I need to keep in my online diary or address book so that I can throw out the diary when the year is out.

    Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 8:49 pm | Permalink
  13. Karen wrote:

    Annie, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted a comment to you but I still read your blog faithfully. I have to vehemently disagree that using paper to do your writing is counter to minimalism. I’m glad you gave in to your needs, but I’m sorry you wasted a minute’s worry about not being “minimalist enough.” I daresay Thoreau didn’t think writing on paper wasn’t minimalist enough when he took to his cabin at Walden Pond. In fact, he might have considered using some newfangled writing machine to be the height of consumerism! Just because we can reduce something (use of paper in this case), doesn’t mean we should. If it really bothered you enough, you could find recycled paper to write on. In my office they throw out/recycle tons of paper regularly. Paper that’s got a back side that’s unprinted on. Imagine how wonderful it would be if someone took that paper and wrote their next book on it. Talk about ultimate recycling! Perhaps you could find an office that would let you use their used paper.

    Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 12:00 am | Permalink
  14. Jana wrote:

    I have been moving to a more simplified or minimalist life. I think I can live without most everything except my composition books and a pack of pens or pencils for writing!!

    Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink
  15. Alexandra wrote:

    Minimalism is creatively using what you have to the utmost efficiency. This will look different for everyone because we all have different priorities..interests, etc. Sure you can do without paper, but it doesn’t work for YOU, so it is not practical. I love what Meg said…it is the same as an artist’s brush and ink.

    Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 5:01 pm | Permalink
  16. C wrote:

    Yes, sometimes I need to just drive far out into nowhere just to get my spirit free again. It is expensive on gas and not a minimalist adventure, but it is occasionally quite important to my spiritual and mental health :)

    Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

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