Digital space is endless. Our canvasses are endless. Our papers are endless and our pens never run out of ink. Digital space is a wonderful space. Digital tools are multifunctional. Digital files are easy to share. Digital ideas are exploring the deepest corners in the repositories of human creativity.
Analog space is scarce. Our canvasses come in stacks of handfuls. Our papers are sized only so large. Our pens need ink refilled and nibs cleaned. Analog space fills up quickly and is hard to maintain. It’s never enough and it’s harder and harder to acquire. Analog tools are meant for a single use. Analog files are cumbersome and vulnerable. Analog ideas are limited and shaped by the physical realities of the tools they’re made with and the space they occupy.
Digital is efficient where analog is wasteful.
Digital is flexible where analog is static.
Digital is free where analog is costly.
screen flickers awake —
window to the world; missing
the sill flower
I love physical tools. I love writing longhand with a good fountain pen. (Or on my iPad. I'm not scoffing at digital.) I love the feel of paper under the nib, the sound of metal scratching the fibers, the way the ink drops seep into the texture of the page.
I also love small, clever tools I can use to focus my creativity.
A creative person’s biggest challenge isn’t a lack of ideas. It’s the abundance of them. Or maybe it’s just me. But a single, simple idea quickly unravels into an intimidating web of endless possibilities. A core expertise turns into an anxiety-inducing, insurmountable challenge. Paralysis sets in, and nothing gets done.
That’s where analog tools help.
Filling up the digital space using analog tools
Digital space is amazing, but can get overwhelming. Distractions shuffle in, ideas grow wild and uncontrolled. Constant comparison with others fuel impostor syndrome. Progress, instead of being a joyful journey under the sun, becomes a tortuous slog in a cold fog.
I'm not dissing digital. Digital spaces is where my creativity lives and where I want it to live. It gives me reach and equalizes the playing field for individual creators like myself.
But I do think that filling up a digital space can not only benefit from analog tools, but even need it.
Or maybe I need it.
Simplifying down helps me. When I feel drowned in trying to find the words to write, I slow down by switching to longhand. When I feel flooded with the endless possibilities of ever-expanding ideas, I cut the branches and get back to the core of it. When I feel stuck in bringing my vision to life, I take a step back and use a random new perspective to approach it.
I like random, when nothing else seems to work. My brain can be caught in a spiral around the same problem, with no way to solve it; bringing in a fresh perspective, one that I wouldn't have been able to conjure from within the spiral, always helps. It doesn't always solve the issue, but it always breaks the cycle so I can step out.
Some years ago I bought John August’s Writer Emergency Pack. To this day it’s one of my favorite items that goes with me everywhere. It’s a pack of cards, doesn’t take up much space, but can use it endlessly whenever I feel stuck. (Or whenever I just fancy it. I love getting random ideas from flipping through the cards.)
When Chris Hau announced his Unblock card pack, it was out of the question whether I’d buy it. I can go overboard with things I buy that would end up unused, but this one I knew wouldn’t.
Unblock is a pack of 50 cards, each with a question, prompt, or affirmation on it. It comes in a stylish package, perfect for slipping into my everyday bag.
What I'm excited about is that while Writer Emergency was made specifically for addressing story problems and writing issues, Unblock was made for creativity in general. Chris explains in his video how they worked hard to make it accessible to all creatives, regardless of discipline.
I really couldn't wait for the deck to arrive, checking in on the shipping updates multiple times every day.
cold November fog
mists a package traveled long;
my high hopes inside
My own personal 'Unblock Challenge'
Even without actively engaging with something, I like the physical feel of possibilities in my hand. Even if I’m not actively writing, I like to fiddle with my pen. Even if I’m not actively reading, I like flipping the pages of a book.
Shuffling through the Unblock cards similarly opened up a bunch of ideas. Simply holding the deck in my hand, and spinning the cards between my fingers and contemplating the text on them gave an almost tactile feeling of creativity. A jolt of inspiration.
And then I realized that maybe these cards aren’t just meant to unblock specific projects that are stuck. These can be the way to unblock my creativity en bloc.
My Unblock Challenge is to draw a new card from the shuffled deck every morning, and create a piece of creative work every day for at least 30 days. No substitutions, no skips, no delays, no excuses.
Every morning I draw a card, and let it tell me what to do. Whether that will be a blog, haiku, haibun/haiblog, haiga, a short story, photography, or something touching on all (or none) of those – I'll see.
The format doesn't matter.
Completing it does.
I hope by Day 30 I will have built a stream of creativity I can then sustain for another 30 (60, 90, 365...) days. I hope I can change the way I think about my ideas, the way I treat my ideas, and learn the art of finishing a creative work in a single day with no option for procrastinating.
Where's your roadblock?
My biggest roadblock is discipline. Building it, and learning to enjoy the process is the challenge. To show up. To do the work. To accept done over perfect. To learn to finish and move on.
Such an appropriate first day prompt. Can't wait to see what tomorrow's card says!
creating — a map
is revealed slowly for me
from a deck of cards
Cheers, Chris, I love the deck!