How to make thinking more exciting

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a Cal Newport blog post about the frustration of thinking…

Even though I have no interest in math or computing sciences, I’m a huge fan of Cal Newport (pictured adjacent). He’s a Georgetown University professor specializing in the theory of distributed algorithms. (I don’t even know what that means!)

I learned about Newport when I discovered his Study Hacks blog about four years ago. I found his advice about work to be refreshing, sometimes contrarian (it’s okay to be bad at email), and often actionable for writers. I particularly appreciated the way he introduced me to deliberate practice, and I developed my own three-part series on the subject, explaining how writers can make best use of the concept.

Newport raised another issue useful for writers in his Dec. 30/14 blog post. He wrote about twentieth century classicist Eric Havelock, who said:

Thinking [is] a very special type of psychic activity, very uncomfortable, but also very exciting…

Interestingly, this is an issue I discuss repeatedly with my coaching clients. We talk about it because so many of us waste a great deal of our time sitting at our desks, staring vacantly into space, pondering what we want to write about, or how to begin. I’m sure most of us would leap on the word “uncomfortable,” to describe this process.

So, here’s my suggestion for how to make your thinking more exciting. STEP AWAY FROM YOUR DESK! Really. It’s that simple. Think while you’re doing something else: Walking. Running. Swimming. Cooking. Sewing. Grooming your dog. Washing the dishes. If your body is otherwise engaged, the process of thinking will be less uncomfortable.

When you have your great ideas — and you will, because getting away from your desk increases the likelihood of that — you’ll be excited. Sitting does not encourage thinking. It just gives your legs a rest. I’ll be writing some more about this tomorrow….

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