This comes from Belle Beth Cooper at Fast Company (link here), and can most definitely be applied to writing:


Even if you’re not a fan of analog tools, you might be surprised to know there are some proven benefits to going back to basics. Although technology continues to improve, it still hurts our eyes to look at it for too long.

When compared to paper, reading or writing on a screen requires more effort and makes us tired faster. Even expert writers have been shown to write 50% slower when using a computer, compared to paper.

Lots of studies have compared reading and writing on screens and on paper over the past 30 years, looking at metrics like comprehension, speed, and accuracy. The general consensus remains that paper holds an advantage.

Writing by hand with a pen or pencil has some surprising benefits, too. For both children and adults, writing on paper has been shown to improve the strength and length of memories of new shapes, such as symbols used in music or the letters of a new language. It also uses more of the brain, as you need to make several strokes for each letter, so your working memory gets activated, as well as brain areas used for thinking and language. On a keyboard, one tap creates an entire letter, so your relationship with making the letter is shorter and more superficial.

I prefer having a clean, tidy space to work in but research suggests I should get comfortable with disorder if I want to be more creative.

A 2013 study published in the Psychological Science journal found that a messy environment increases creative thinking. The study’s “messy room” also made participants more drawn to new things. The same study found that an orderly environment led participants to be drawn to “classic” items and to choose healthier snacks than those in the messy environment.

In one of my favorite talks about creativity, John Cleese makes a great analogy, saying that creativity is like a tortoise: It pokes its head out nervously to ensure the environment is safe before it fully emerges. Creative thinking won’t happen when you’re nervous, stressed, or busy.

If you have a messy, disorderly space for your creative work, having it removed from the hustle and bustle of everyday life could be helpful. Cleese explains in his talk that your creativity “tortoise” will learn to recognize your creative space over time as a safe haven where it can emerge.

We all know a big part of creativity is coming up with new ideas. James Webb Young explores this process in his book, A Technique for Producing Ideas, in which he describes two principles of producing ideas:

An idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements.
The capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.
Although finding relationships is an important part of producing ideas, we can’t do that until our brain is full of existing elements to connect together. This is where the notebook comes in.

As Young points out, we often shirk the responsibility of building up this mental inventory, and wonder why we struggle to find new ideas. Instead of working systematically at the job of gathering raw material, we sit around hoping for inspiration to strike us.

To grease the wheels of creativity, we need to collect bits of information and observations so our brain has material to work with. Young suggests using index cards, which will force you to be concise in your notes, or a file so you can index everything and find it all again later.

This process helps to kickstart creative thinking in our subconscious, which is part of the series of brain states and processes that lead to a final “Aha! moment.”

The other thing to use your notebook for is writing down your ideas—good and bad. Studies from both MIT and the University of California Davis have shown that having more bad ideas also means you’ll be likely to have more good ideas.

If you’re not a fan of running, don’t worry: you can replace “running shoes” with bicycle or weights or tennis racket if you like. The point is that exercise of some kind can lead to a boost in creativity.

Studies have shown that exercise can improve our ability to think creatively. Divergent thinking, in particular—that is, thinking of more possibilities for a certain set of circumstances—was improved by exercise in a study where half the participants exercised before completing a creative-thinking task.

Whether you’re working in an office, a coffee shop, or your living room, a pair of headphones can be handy when you’re trying to access that oh-so-elusive state of mind. You won’t want to crank the volume up, though.

Research from the University of Chicago shows that ambient noise at a moderate level is the best sound environment for creative work. Although silence can be just what we need when we’re concentrating on a difficult task, ambient noise will get our creative juices flowing and open us up to new ideas.

While moderate noise levels do increase the effort required for us to process thoughts, this is beneficial because it promotes abstract processing, which increases our ability to come up with new ideas. Once the noise levels get too high, we lose this advantage to pure distraction as our brains get overwhelmed.

Here’s a fact about creativity that really surprised me: you may have some of your best ideas when you’re sleepy. You know that dozy feeling when you accidentally nod off and then shake yourself awake? That period of coming out of sleep is known as the hypnopompic state, and often happens as we come out of the dreaming stage of sleep, called REM.

The cool part of this is that you can bring on the hypnopompic state to help you access those crazy connections and scenarios that your subconscious throws into dreams. Salvador Dali even did this to help him generate creative ideas for his paintings.

A chair works best for this, and you’ll need a plate and spoon handy. Sit in the chair, and rest your arm over the side, holding the spoon. Put the plate on the floor under the spoon and let yourself drift off for a nap. As you fall asleep, you’ll drop the spoon onto the plate, making a noise to wake you up. If all goes well, you’ll have the lingering images from the start of your dream state to help you conjure up new ideas.

This one may take some practice to get right—I haven’t quite perfected it yet.

What other tools do you use in your creative work that everyone should have?



This is open to the public. Facebook event page is here.

Read it here. They rank The Boatman’s Call number one, and I don’t disagree. I went through a period when it was really the only album I listened to. It’s Nick Cave’s PJ Harvey-breakup album, or so I hear. It’s gorgeous. And the cover photo knocks me out.


Read it here. He talks about his 27-year career with Galaxie 500, Luna and Dean and Britta; making music with Jim James; and Lou Reed’s influence. Pretty cool.


From my inbox:


Second Annual Downtown Literary Festival with Housing Works Bookstore Cafe and McNally Jackson Books
McNally Jackson Books and Housing Works Bookstore Cafe are again collaborating on the second annual Downtown Literary Festival, a daylong celebration of the literary culture of New York City.

The weekend will begin with an opening party at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe on Friday, April 11, at 6PM. The DLF will take place throughout the day on Sunday, April 13, 2014 followed by an after-party at nearby Von bar, downstairs. The goal of the Downtown Literary Festival is to showcase the literature and writers of New York City. We aim to reflect the diversity and creativity which characterizes downtown NYC. This year’s festival will include:

•Teju Cole, Hari Kunzru, and Katie Kitamura discuss living in the city as a non-native New Yorker and the extent to which it can ever be called home
•The Greatest 3-Minute Bad Apartment Stories with Vol. 1 Brooklyn
•Downtown writing from the archives of BOMB, Guernica, Harper’s, and The Paris Review
•A visual presentation on NYC as character in comics and graphic novels from Gabrielle Bell, MK Reed, and Julia Wertz
•Tales of drink, drug, sex and more with Stephen Elliott, Saeed Jones, Trisha Low, Rosie Schaap, and Elissa Schappell
Slaughterhouse 90210 on the intersection of New York City movies and literature
•A celebration of the poetry of Alice Notley
•Stories of shuttered NYC venues with writers and musicians
•Richard Price and Francine Prose in conversation about our modern “tale of two cities”
•A look at NYC through the decades; this year: the 1950s
•a literary cabaret celebrating the after-hours culture of downtown NYC
•baby and kids storytime and singalong
•a puppet show for all ages and an interactive singalong
•storytime with author Greg Foley
•Plus one-on-one events at McNally Jackson throughout the day, including literary advice from festival authors, book signings, a photobooth, and more. The day will conclude with an official after party at nearby Von bar. Full schedule at

We’d like to thank festival sponsor HarperCollins for their support of the Downtown Literary Festival from its inception. Thanks also to our media partners: The American Reader, The American Poetry Society, Electric Literature, Flavorwire, BOMB, Guernica, Tumblr, Lit Crawl, McSweeney’s. Design and illustration by Bianca Stone.

Housing Works is a healing community of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Our mission is to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain our efforts.



Jamaica Kincaid in conversation with Lauren K. Alleyne

Thursday, April 3rd at 7pm
Community Bookstore (143 7th Ave, Brooklyn)

Sackett Street is thrilled to co-host Literary Encounters, a new series from Adelphi University’s MFA program, Guernica, Community Bookstore, and Sackett Street.

This event is FREE and open to the public.
RSVP via Facebook


Come out for one of the best reading series in NYC!

The Sackett Street Writers’ Series at BookCourt features readings by talented SSWW members and alumni.

The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop was founded in 2002 by writer Julia Fierro, and what began as eight writers meeting in the kitchen of a Brooklyn brownstone has developed into a creative home for over 2000 writers.

Picked as a a “Top alternative to MFA programs” by Poets & Writers, as the “Best substitute for an MFA” by The L Magazine, and as the “Best resource for developing writers” by Brooklyn Magazine,  Sackett Street offers writing workshops throughout the NYC area.

Today, Sackett Street writers live in all boroughs of New York City, and across the world, and many return to the workshops for multiple sessions. Alumni have been accepted at top MFA Creative Writing programs and writing conferences, have won fellowships and awards, and have completed and published short fiction and poetry collections, novels and memoirs.

Performer Bio(s):

Kelly Braffet is the author of the novel Save Yourself. Her previous works include the novels Josie and Jack and Last Seen Leaving, and her writing has been published in The Fairy Tale Review, Post Road, and several anthologies. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University and currently lives in upstate New York.

Richard Fulco received an MFA in Playwriting from Brooklyn College. His plays have been either presented or developed at The New York International Fringe Festival, The Playwrights’ Center, The Flea, Here Arts Center, Chicago Dramatists and the Dramatists Guild. His stories, reviews and interviews have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Failbetter, The Rusty Toque, the Daily Vault and American Songwriter. He is the founder of the online music magazine Riffraf. There Is No End to This Slope is his first novel.

Ted Thompson’s debut novel, The Land of Steady Habits, will be published by Little, Brown in late March 2014. His stories have appeared in Tin House, American Short Fiction, Best New American Voices and Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, among other publications. He received his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and fellowships from the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Ledig House, and the Truman Capote Trust. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and their dog, Raisin, and is a proud faculty member at the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop.

Caeli Wolfson Widger’s debut novel, Real Happy Family, has been described in reviews as a “page-turner that strikes the balance between humor and heart”; a member of the “Tolstoyan literary tradition, offer[ing] both a scathing social critique and a sympathetic look at relationships and moral indiscretions ; a “sharply funny [skewering] of Hollywood fame-seekers” and “an unsparing take on damaged family ecosystems [that] makes for compulsive reading.” She lives with her husband and three children in Santa Monica, where she teaches writing workshops and is completing her second novel.


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