Using your hands as well as your brain

Posted: September 22, 2014 in writing life
Tags: , , ,

Over the weekend a friend reminded me of the importance of doing something with your hands.

Living inside your head, spending lots of time reading, writing and thinking, that’s all great. But our bodies and minds are built to want more than that. So aside from getting some exercise, it’s also good to have a crafty hobby, whether it’s cooking, knitting or building a scale model of St Michael’s Mount out of champagne corks.

A butler at St Michael's Mount in Cornwall made this in his spare time - a scale model of the Mount made from champagne corks. How cool is that?

A butler at St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall made this in his spare time – a scale model of the Mount made from champagne corks. How cool is that? And how much booze!

I’ve got so carried away in the enthusiasm of the writing life recently that other things have been neglected. The fact that I want to write is great, but I know full well that my writing time will be more productive if I mix up my routine. So this week I will pick up some old abandoned craft projects, just for a little while each evening, to help refresh my brain.

No cork models of my house though – I don’t drink that much champagne.

What do you do to keep your brain fresh, to avoid wearing your mind thin by spending your whole time inside it? Share your thoughts, maybe you’ll give me some ideas for future projects.

  1. everwalker says:

    I make ballgowns for fairy princesses.

    No, really.

  2. Michelle Mueller says:

    That is a really cool model.

    I am having a similar issue: lots of time in my head for writing and research, not so much time doing hands-on things. My whole life my get-out-of-the-house, hands-on activity has been working with horses. It was therapeutic for me. The past two years, however, I haven’t been able to do that due to the demands of school. So these days I often feel very restless. One of the things I have been doing is playing guitar, and that helps. Not a craft project, but it gives me something else to focus on.

  3. Sounds like you and I had a similar weekend. 🙂 By the way, the model of the mount is EPIC!

    • You also drank far too much red wine and spent most of Saturday hungover? 😉 Suffice to say, the friend who gave me this advice is a bad influence in other ways.

      One of the best things about seeing that model is that it’s kept in the building it represents, so you can then go straight outside and compare the two. It’s impressively accurate.

  4. skudssister says:

    Running. And drinking wine and *not* making models out of the corks…..

  5. Sheila Thomas says:

    Gardening. Part creative, but also offers opportunities for a bit of destruction too, both of which can he helpful at times. Then there are jobs to do there that let the mind rove while the body is busy. Seeing things grow and watching wildlife enjoying the space are also beneficial.

  6. Funny: I was thinking just recently about how I need a new hobby, something I can do instead of either writing or promoting my books. I used to do pen-and-ink illustration, but I peaked too early (and not very good); I keep thinking about perfecting my Photoshop skills, or moving on to animation, but haven’t kicked myself into gear on either yet.

  7. W Lawrence says:

    I go shooting. Thomas Jefferson wrote to his nephew about what sport was the best, and his reply was as follows: “A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks.” —Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, 1785


    • I think that is the single most American thing I have ever read! 😉
      I only tried shooting once, when I was much younger, but I can see how it could be strangely soothing. There’s a satisfying need for focus and to clear the mind, alongside the physical element.

  8. casblomberg says:

    I read. For my hands, I scrapbook or sew. Sometimes I sketch. Mostly, I read.

    • I haven’t sewn in years, but it does have a soothing rhythm to it. What sort of things do you sew?

      • casblomberg says:

        Because I have a four-year-old, I sew superhero costumes riddled with mistakes ;). But it’s fun. As you say, it’s important to use our hands. This post reminds me of Gever Tulley’s Tinker School. I can’t remember if it was a TED talk where I saw it, or on the website, but he says, ‘An interesting behavior that arises during the creation of the projects is the decoration. When students face difficulties in the project that prevent them from continuing, they usually spend time decorating their projects. As Gever Tulley has said, “decoration is a form of conceptual incubation”.’ Personally, I think that applies to all creative types. Our ideas are struggling to get out and sometimes we need to let our minds relax and let our fingers and hands do some decorating.

        • I’ve not heard of Tulley before but that camp looks awesome. I’ve bookmarked him on TED to go listen to later. That idea that our hands as much as our minds help us get thinking done is a really valuable one.

          I’ve done a little kids’ costuming too, for my nieces. No superhero outfits yet, but I was pretty proud of the dinosaur costume.

  9. glenatron says:

    I mostly ride horses or train horses or teach people about horses. It’s all horses all the time here. Except when it is music. Those two. Or game writing. Aside from those three I don’t do much. In fact probably the pastime that gets the fewest hours is writing…

    • Working with animals has always struck me as something that must be very therapeutic. Though my one experience of horse riding was more nerve racking than relaxing, but I think that was largely first time nerves.

      • glenatron says:

        It is the opposite of almost everything we do in our lives because it is real and practical and requires one to be absolutely focussed ( in the right way ) and in the moment. We spend a lot of time doing things that are very abstract or vague or that simply don’t matter that much. To a horse, everything you do with them is life or death. If you can earn that trust and justify it, you are doing something that puts you in the real world far more than any amount of typing or writing code or consuming media can ever do. It is direct contact with a kind of reality that matters.

        Also, the simple manual labour components of mucking out, moving fences and general maintenance chores is often when I come up with interesting ideas for my creative endeavours. Physical exertion that doesn’t require too much mental engagement is very useful for that, I think.

        • It’s fascinating how a relationship with another complex living being can lead to a simplifying of your focus like that.

          Also, the reference to mucking out now has me picturing you as Hercules. It’s an odd image.

  10. Sara Norja says:

    What with doing a PhD and writing, I definitely feel you on needing to do something tangible and physical to balance things. I’ve done contemporary Finnish folk dance for the past 7 years or so, and dancing really helps to ground me and keep my body happy.

    I used to draw and paint a lot, and I’m trying to get back into that, because it’s so relaxing and good for my brain. I play the fiddle as well: too rarely, right now, but I try to get some music in once in a while. And I knit occasionally. It feels really good to create something as hands-on (literally!) as a pair of mittens, because most of what I produce is words (whether academic or creative).

    • Funnily enough I picked up some knitting yesterday for the first time in months. I don’t have the skill to do complex patterns, but there’s something immensely soothing about the rhythm of knitting row after row – the ultimate in hands rather than brain work.

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