About a year ago, I bought a reel mower, partly for environmental reasons and partly because of my notoriously bad luck with any kind of machinery. I can’t keep watches running for more than six months -- I like to say it’s my magnetic personality -- and computers crash when I so much as look at them. I have two gas-powered mowers that didn’t even make it through the summer. I fare much better with simple, old-fashioned equipment. It still breaks down, though not as often as that newfangled crap, and when it does I can often fix it.
An unexpected benefit was establishing myself as the block’s Alpha Female. Not long after I started using my mower, two of my (male) neighbors bought their own. They got about halfway through their yards before giving up, eventually hiring a lawn service. I, however, am still gleefully watching blades of grass propel into the air under the weight of my considerable strength. (“You just make it look so easy,” a relative said.)
I soon discovered another, more practical benefit: mental clarity. I already knew that sitting at a desk all day stifles my creativity and thinking, a major reason I started freelancing full-time. Physical labor, however, partially blocks out some of the nasty little voices in my head. You know, the ones that say “Who do you think you are, Agatha Christie?” or “That sentence is trite, you’re an imposter and soon everyone will know it.”
I used to get my best insights while in the shower, washing dishes or vacuuming, but now they arrive when I’m in the middle of unruly weeds and grass. It’s such a sure thing that I take a pen and notebook with me, so I no longer frighten my dogs by running through the house screaming “Don’t talk to me! I have an entire paragraph in my head and I have to get it out before it disappears!”
Which leads me to one of the most important pieces of advice I can give fellow writers and other creatives: Get out of your head once in a while. The longer you stay there, the more hold your inner critic has over you and the more you’ll stagnate. If you’re looking for an epiphany, go outside and feel real sunlight. Move your body and think about anything except that blank page waiting for you at your desk. Chances are that’s when that perfect headline, plot twist or lead will finally deem you worthy of its presence.
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