08. June 2012 · 5 comments · Categories: Books

Pretty pathetic, huh? Yeah.

That brown paper, our cats like to lie on. I put it on the floor during the day and pick it up at night so they don’t wake us. Sometimes I forget to put it back down and it just stays there for days.

That’s my stack of old cookbooks, upper right, bathed in the light of the heavens. Magazines I haven’t gotten to yet. A note from a neighbor inviting me to a bi-weekly ladies night out I haven’t made it to yet. There’s lots of dust.

I do ninety-nine percent of my work on my laptop, which I use in the living room, on the bed, at a desk with a view of Lake Michigan. It is what Austin Kleon refers to in his book Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative as my “digital desk.”

So what is an “analog desk” then? It’s the polar opposite of the digital desk and Austin makes a case for it in Chapter 4, “Use Your Hands.”

“Computers have robbed us of the feeling that we’re actually making things,” he says. “Instead, we’re just typing keys and clicking mouse buttons.”

In addition to being a writer, Austin Kleon is an artist whose work is inspired by others artists going back to the 1860s: making poems by blacking out words in newspaper stories, which you can see on his Newspaper Blackout Web site (and book by the same name). He used to do most of his work at his digital desk, but then he realized something:

“Sitting in front of a computer all day is killing you, and killing your work. We need to move, to feel like we’re making something with our bodies, not just our heads. Work that only comes from the head isn’t any good.”

So he made major changes to his setup:

“I have two desks in my office—one is ‘analog’ and one is ‘digital.’ The analog desk has nothing but markers, pens, pencils, paper, index cards, and newspaper. Nothing electronic is allowed on that desk. This is where most of my work is born, and all over the desk are physical traces, scraps, and residue from my process. (Unlike a hard drive, paper doesn’t crash.) The digital desk has my laptop, my monitor, my scanner, and drawing tablet. This is where I edit and publish my work.”

Once he did this, Austin discovered that work “didn’t feel like work. It felt like play.”

Some of the most joyful times in my life have been when I’ve created analog-style. When I was an art minor in college. When I produced a community play for kids and sketched the costumes and painted the set. A poster I made after a bad breakup years ago titled “Things I Want To Do,” which hung in my office and fascinated my friends. It was the simplest thing. But they loved it. And I loved making it.

I have been glued to my digital desk far too long. The current state of my analog desk reflects this.

My only defense is that I have been playing in a band. So I am creating at the music stand. But point well taken: time to clean up the desk but good. Get out the sketch pad, and I don’t know. Doodle. Paint. Cut up magazines. Something. Not sure what yet. Audrey Niffenegger came up with the title The Time Traveler’s Wife while working on a project in her art studio; she wrote it down on the paper she covered her analog desk with, and her book was published a few years later.

“If we just start going through the motions, if we strum a guitar, or shuffle sticky notes around a conference table, or start kneading clay,” says Austin Kleon, “the motion kickstarts our brain into thinking.”

Now hand me that Lemon Pledge.