Let’s Do The Time Warp Again

Yesterday we sprang forward, turning the little hand on the clock one full revolution ahead, and I felt like I was in a time warp. It was too dark when I got out of bed. The light wasn’t quite right when we ate lunch. The kids were confused when we put them to bed in the weak half light.

I didn’t feel, well … like myself.

This got me thinking about time, and routines in particular … and how inextricably our identities are linked to our conception of both. As anyone who follows “Lost” should know, messing around with the space-time continuum can have some pretty trippy results (SPOILER ALERT). Some party-pooping physicists are even trying to prove that time doesn’t exist – their theory is that it’s simply an aggregate sensation that helps us understand the world around us (much like heat is an aggregate sensation describing the amount and activity of molecules in a specific area).

Next time you’re in a writing rut, try this: break your routine and see what this does to either your brainstorming sessions or writing itself. Get up a few hours earlier and try to write then, or stay up a few hours later. Stay out late at a bar or bookstore and people watch. Walk the dog at an odd time of day, work out a few hours later. If you’re really dedicated, have your roommate change all the clocks while you’re sleeping (and if you do this, email me because I want to hear how it went).

As much as sticking to a routine will help us as authors produce at a relatively consistent level, it’s imperative that we keep sharpening our imaginations. What better way to do this than to never let them rest?


Brainstorming is a tricky thing. In the advertising world, we try to bottle the process into a sort of scientific method … cramming a lot of smart, creative folks into a room and hoping for the best. But brainstorming for a client or a product is very different than brainstorming for a novel (or poem), where the intent is to let the mind wander rather than focus it in on a solution.

In a season one episode of “Mad Men,” Don Draper tells a writer to “think about it as long and hard as you can … examine it from every angle … put your heart and soul into it. Then go do something else. It will just come to you.” (Or something along those lines.)

And mostly he’s right. The best ideas come to us when we’re busy doing other things: walking the dog, playing with the kids at the park, falling asleep on the couch.

Other than hard drugs, there are several ways to train your brain to loosen up, and to capture the results:

  • Go On A Walk:
    Make sure to carry a notepad with you in case the lightning flashes. Vary the time of day. Take the wife, the kids, the dog, a Frisbee, or all of the above … but make sure you get some time to go off by yourself and think.
  • Read Poetry:
    Really great poetry is like a riddle that needs solving. While your mind is doing the mental back flips required to decode whatever the hell that poet is trying to say, you often get flashes of insight that are great fodder for your own poems, stories, or projects.
  • Write Down Your Dreams:
    Keep a notepad by the bedside and when you wake up in the morning, write down everything you can remember.
  • Learn Something New:
    Learning a new skill (like karate, or transcendental meditation … even juggling) forces your tired old brain to make connections that weren’t there previously. When these connections are made, you suddenly start thinking in new & exciting ways and the ideas begin to flow.

I have to run now, I’m off to my juggling class.


Back in the day, before the dawn of the series of tubes we call the Internets, writers were forced to get out from behind their dreary writing desks, pack up pen and paper … and travel to exotic locales to experience new and exciting things which they could then write about in a semi-convincing fashion.

The horror.

Nowadays, when a writer needs to imagine what it must be like to live on, say, an isolated Caribbean island with a semi-active volcano, the only place they have to visit is Google or Wikipedia.

For those of you with a desperate yearning to describe some foreign land in all of its exotic glory, here are a few resources that might help spark some creative ideas:

  • The Sunday edition of the New York Times (Travel section) – I buy the Sunday edition of the Times and cut out articles from this section every week. You’ll be amazed at the quirky details that these articles contain about food, attractions, customs, history and more. For the cost-conscious, most of these articles are available for free on the New York Times web site, though I prefer to keep a folder with articles cut out for easy reference.
  • The Economist – For the bigger picture, the Economist magazine is an excellent resource. Here you can track economic, political and social trends and how they affect not just individual countries but entire regions of the globe. This is especially great if you’re writing a war novel, historical novel or political thriller.
  • Wikipedia – Another great reference for pretty much anything. I visit this site several times per day to do research. Often the information contained in the articles will spark ideas for other stories or plot points.

Signing off for today – I’m off to the Caribbean for a few hours this afternoon, before roller skating with the kids down the street.