Looking for inspiration in all the right places.

In college, I took a 200-level English class on American literature and popular culture that focused on the intersection of music and literature. We studied Sam Shepard and Patti Smith’s rock-and-roll play “Cowboy Mouth.” I remember writing a term paper that dissected the lyrics of 10,000 Maniacs. Ever since, I’ve found inspiration in beautifully crafted songwriting.

A couple of months ago, we saw Rickie Lee Jones in concert, and about halfway through, I started to cry, totally blown away by hearing music live that has been the soundtrack to some of my favorite moments in life. Rob is something of a music junkie, the master of the playlist, and we have music playing all the time: while I’m working, while we’re having a cocktail outside on our porch, late into the night when that cocktail has segued into dinner and a bottle of wine.

Hearing Rickie Lee live reminded me of how magical great songwriting can be, how transportive and transformative.

While inspiration often finds me in a great book — my god, have you read All the Light We Cannot See????? — it regularly creeps in through the speakers or headphones. My musical taste steers toward singer-songwriter types, from the 1970s Laurel Canyon artists that dominated the radio waves during my Indianapolis childhood to the likes of R.E.M. and The Bodeans during my college years to current artists like Dawes, Lake Street Dive, Jill Andrews, Sturgill Simpson. I love songs that capture a time and place, that transport you into situations and relationships, that depict characters so vividly you’ll swear they’re standing in front of you.

It’s so important for creative pros not just to seek inspiration — but also to seek it outside their own medium or genre. Looking beyond your milieu opens your eyes to new influences. It frees you from the self-criticism inherent in comparing your stuff to other artists’ work. It gets you out of the weeds and into the wider world.

Skimming through my iTunes library recently, I sparked to these snippets of lyric poetry:

Eddie’s got one crazy eye
That turns him into a cartoon
When a pretty girl comes by
And there’s nothin’ here to do anymore
He sits on the stoop all day
Like there’s something he’s waiting for
Rickie Lee Jones “Living it Up”

You have found me on the other side of a loser’s winning streak
Where my thoughts all wander further than they should
Let me sing to you my solitude, let me pay for your next drink
Let me defend these hearts which are so rarely understood
Dawes “From the Right Angle”

I met him once way after midnight
he lit a smoke and I just stared
He seemed to me like such a sore sight
Bobby Tanqueray with his gorgeous face and hair
Lake Street Dive “Bobby Tanqueray”

Pour some sugar on me
Ooh in the name of love
Pour some sugar on me
Def Leppard “Pour Some Sugar on Me”

What’s in your inspiration queue?

You don’t suck at writing. You just need to get started.

Recently, I was having a “you can do it” sort of conversation with a client who’s stuck in the long, thankless-until-it’s-published slog of writing a book, when she asked me about my writing process. The answer I gave her was probably unhelpful: I tend to wait until inspiration strikes, at which point the piece pours from my fingertips almost fully formed.

No inspiration? No writing.

(At which point, I should acknowledge that it’s been monthsandmonths since I’ve published a post here on my professional website. See ‘inspiration’ above.)

But what if deadlines loom and there’s simply no time to wait for the muse to arrive? Lynda’s question about process got me thinking more introspectively about mine. So for her, and for any of you who struggle (don’t we all?) with writing, here are a few of my practices that might be helpful to you.

Consider the nature of the project. Personal essay-ish pieces, like these posts or ones for my recipe website, or my editor’s notes for Edible Ohio Valley, do require inspiration. Often, I’ll noodle on ideas while I’m doing something completely unrelated: My Edible editor’s notes are unfailingly written in my head while I’m out walking Peroni. Recipe ideas jolt when I’m eating something delicious at a restaurant or browsing cookbooks or magazines. With more technical writing, information is more critical than inspiration. Research and interviewing are the prompts I need to get started. See below.

Just open a blank document. I know: The prospect of facing a blank page is daunting, no matter what you’re creating. But I find that opening a blank document, and saving it — making the project real, giving it a name, a purpose — often gets me over the hump.

Start collecting inputs. In that newly opened document, I’ll stash snippets of online research material, interview questions, Wikipedia content, interesting quotes or insights I’ve gathered. For example, I’m currently writing a newsletter for a client on a marketing-related topic, one that I’m familiar with but not expert in. So I started by doing several Google searches and gathering ideas, images and information (being sure to save my sources so I can later either quote or cite the originals). Soon, I had pages of reference material to work with.

Organize the inputs. It’s easy to see patterns in the inputs: a theme for the piece, or common elements that can be grouped together. For example, I’ll cut and paste quotes from extensive interview notes in a linear fashion. Once I’ve organized the inputs, I have the skeleton of the piece.

Fill in the blanks. With that skeleton in place, I’ll add transitions between ideas, fill in supplemental information or explanation, make sure the content flows logically and add a conclusion that helps the reader understand the concept or creates a call to action.

This newsletter is itself a case study in process:

Inspiration > Blank document > Ideas > Organize > Fill in.

Some days, we all stare at that blank page/canvas/screen and think, “I. Can’t. Even.” But then we can.

Let’s make work a nicer place.

I’m just back from three days at HOW Design Live — the premier event for folks in the creative professions (graphic and web design, advertising, marcomm and related fields). HOW remains close to my heart, since I spent many years managing the brand and helping to host the conference. (This year, I developed a content strategy, helped with a big chunk of writing and covered the event live on social media … big fun!)

Unexpectedly — and perhaps unintentionally — a prominent theme pulsed through the event, linking many of they keynote presentations. It was a theme of kindness. Simon Sinek talked about it. So did Tina Roth Eisenberg and Tom Peters. Brené Brown touched on it, too.

This event wasn’t JUST about the work — it was about being nice to each other at work. And people responded. Everyone I talked to had picked up on it. It was this sort of primal energy that fed the entire crowd.

Why?

As Simon Sinek pointed out, workplaces large and small have lost their way. Profits come before people. Workers are laid off without conscience, and the rest of the team are pressured to pick up the slack. The pace of work is inhumane. Technology is beyond disruptive; it’s poisonous. When did it become OK for managers to email employees on weekends and expect them to respond? When did the pace of work pick up such that people can’t even breathe, let alone connect with colleagues and create really incredible new ideas? Yes, companies exist to create profit — and in doing so create jobs and build communities — but so much of this profit focus is incredibly short term, and it’s destroying people.

Why do we think the independent workforce is booming now? People are getting off the freakin’ treadmill.

What do we do about this? Five keywords emerged at HOW Design Live, words that might point to a better path:

Trust. This is a big one. Companies don’t trust their employees to make smart decisions, to take ownership of their work, to fall and learn from mistakes. Employees don’t trust that companies have people (themselves, or their customers) as their primary focus. Trust isn’t an asset on a resume or a function on a job description. It’s earned. Managers earn trust by digging into the trenches, working alongside their teams, telling them, “I have your back” and then living those words. Employees earn trust by recognizing what needs to be done and stepping up, rising to challenges, being honest when they’re confused or when they make mistakes.

Truth. This goes hand in hand with trust, doesn’t it? In politically charged workplaces, it’s impossible to have honest conversations. People say one thing and do another, throw each other under the bus. Brené Brown talked about how we have to own our flaws, be honest about our failures — or others will use those things to define us. We have to control our own stories.

Try. I enjoyed hearing Angie Myung and Ted Vadakan, the founders of Poketo, talk about the by-the-seat-of-their-pants startup story. They moved in with Ted’s parents, picked and packed orders themselves, made some bad decisions about inventory. They just gave it a whirl, and now they have an influential brand that brings art into people’s everyday lives. They tried.

Treat. As in, treat people kindly. Why are there so many assholes? Where is it written that if you’re unsure about yourself or your capabilities you get to mask that by being a bully? One great piece of advice from Sinek: When someone asks for a minute of your time, close the laptop and put your phone in a drawer. Disconnect from technology — entirely — and give them your full attention. Attention, he said, is the purest form of generosity.

Thanks. Tom Peters gave an enjoyably curmudgeonly rant that wandered all over the map. But he ended with the two most important words in business: Thank you. Thank you speaks truthfully and builds trust. We don’t say ‘thank you’ enough.

So, let’s all commit to this, shall we: Say thanks every day (every hour?). Try stuff. Be nice. Be honest and authentic. Support each other to build trust. Put the phones away and just talk.

I’m in.

The creative benefits of puttering.

garden toolA couple of weeks ago, when the weather wasn’t so goshdarn steamy and my workload was summer-light, I wandered outside to take a look at the vegetable garden before sitting down at the computer for the day.

An hour and a half later, I realized that I’d been completely sucked into The Puttering Zone.

You’ve had this experience, right? What starts with a simple task, like putting something away in your workbench, or deadheading a few flowers in the landscape or stashing a box of crackers on the shelf … winds up as 90 minutes of tinkering or gardening or cleaning out the pantry. One little thing leads to another, and without much thinking about it, you’ve managed to accomplish quite a bit.

Or not. The pleasure of puttering is in the act itself, not necessarily the outcome (though that can be rewarding, too).

After futzing around in the garden for awhile, it occurred to me that this kind of activity might be really good for us. Turns out, puttering is good for both the body and the brain:

In one study by the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, which tracked 60-year-old men and women over 12 years, found that people who had an active daily life that included “non-exercise” — physical activity like “gardening, car maintenance, blackberry picking or DIY projects” — had a 30% lower risk of heart attack or stroke compared to people who were sedentary.

Another study by a team from Rush University Medical Center found that similar activity — described in a news release as “activities like cooking, washing the dishes, playing cards …” — may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Three aspects of puttering I think are beneficial particularly to those of us who work in a creative field:

  1. Puttering has an absent-minded quality to it. Performing simple tasks like pulling weeds or reorganizing tools on a pegboard, and moving from one task to another without planning, doesn’t require much concentration. Our minds are free to wander, to make connections between things stashed away in our brains, to generate ideas. (I’ve written about how we can coax ideas along in those seemingly serendipitous moments.) And in fact, the idea for this newsletter emerged as I was on my hands and knees working the soil with a cultivator.
  2. Puttering is one of many antidotes to sitting in a chair all day. The physicality of futzing around helps with balance and coordination. Just moving around is good for us. It’s what our bodies are programmed to do. (Too, I’ve written about how physical activity fuels creativity.)
  3. You can’t put “puttering” on your to-do list. It just happens. You go out to get the newspaper and, voila! Next thing you know, and hour has passed, and your car’s wheels are bright and shiny. Puttering is the antithesis of the to-do list. It forces spontaneity. This is a good thing.

I did indeed come back indoors and sit down at the computer, at which point I opened a Pages document and sketched a few notes that became this newsletter. I recall having a much brighter outlook on my day, having accomplished something and enjoyed myself in unexpected fashion.

I think we all need to make more space in our lives for puttering, don’t you?

Rethinking your elevator pitch.

Don’t you just hate talking about yourself?

Earlier this year, I had occasion to give a talk about my career and my work to a group of retirees as part of a senior-learning program sponsored by Miami University. I focused my talk on The Clara Project, a series of posts on my recipe blog, writes4food.com, inspired by a collection of 1930s recipes, which were previously owned by a woman named Clara Shenefelt, and which I discovered in an antique shop nearly 2 years ago. (As it happens, Clara lived at this retirement complex until she passed away earlier this month at age 98.)

I was unusually nervous and self-conscious about the talk. Giving this presentation felt like giving my “elevator pitch”—but, like, for nearly an hour.

But I learned something very important from this experience, something that I think is relevant to anyone who works in the creative field:

Whatever it is that you do for a living, if you speak of it with authentic enthusiasm, people will be interested in hearing about your work.

And that goes whether you’re pitching to a prospective client or meeting the friend of a friend at a party.

Aside from the few elderly gents who dozed during the presentation like they were in church, the audience seemed genuinely appreciative. They wanted to know what I write about, and how I do it. They loved the story of The Clara Project. And I found that expressing my genuine excitement made it so much easier to talk about my work.

image via creative commons license

You may have worked on your own “elevator speech”—that one-sentence pitch that describes what you do and for whom. It probably follows some kind of formula:

I do _____ for _____ who need _____.

And while the formula can help you structure and hone how you speak about your work, it has its limitations. It can sound a little stilted when you utter the words, like you’ve memorized a few lines of poetry. It can be a little jargon-y, which might play well in a business setting but might be out of place in a social interaction. And it can be a little restrictive.

Instead of memorizing a set pitch that you repeat over and over, try these tips when you’re talking about what you do:

Keep it flexible. The standard version of my pitch is: “I’m an independent journalist, copywriter and content developer, and I focus on food and wellness, creativity and design.” Recently, I spoke to a group of olive oil producers, and I introduced myself by saying, “I write about food for magazines and food brands.” When I spoke last month to a group of design-firm principals, I said, “I help creative agencies tell their stories.” Your pitch should flex depending on who you’re talking to.

Have a shorthand version for social settings. At a party, if I’m asked what I do, I simply say, “I’m a food writer.” Invariably, I’ll get a follow-up question: “Oh, so who do you write for?” When you’re in a social setting, can you come up with a short-and-sweet description of your work that prompts additional conversation?

Let your enthusiasm shine. Whether you write about food or you develop B2B websites, there’s something about the work you get really geeked about. Tap into that when you’re talking with someone new about your work.

Finishing that marathon project.

Well, it’s done.

On July 1, I turned in the manuscript for “The Findlay Market Cookbook.” It’s a whopper: 54,000 words, about 220 pages, full of 70+ interviews with local farmers and food entrepreneurs and about 125 recipes. The biggest project I’ve ever undertaken, by far.

And my goodness, was this a learning experience—from start to finish. I wrote about this Marathon Project (MP) several months ago on my blog and in my newsletter. (In fact, that post, in March, was the last one I’ve added to my blog. Yeah, I’ve been busy.) At that point, about 2 months into the MP, I had discovered some project-management tricks that would help manage a long-term gig, including breaking the MP into chunks and doing the pre-work necessary to make things move smoothly.

Now that I’ve wrapped up much of the work involved in the MP (marketing and promotional work will happen when the book is published this fall), I thought I’d document and share more of what I’ve learned during the experience. And I’m sure more “a-ha’s” will emerge the farther away from the MP I get.

image via creative commons license

The MP is smaller than you think it is. If you’re a “get-er-done” kind of person, one who tackles the to-do list with relentless pursuit and who’s not comfortable until tasks are finished, the Marathon Project will loom large on your plate from the very start. Until you finish, it will remain a constant presence on your mind and your calendar. The thing is, the MP is psychologically larger than it actually is. It will consume you … if you let it.

That said, the MP is large. And you probably won’t fully appreciate its magnitude until you’ve wrapped the project. Only when I finished the last step of my cookbook project—when I compiled all the profiles and recipes and front matter and miscellaneous stuff, about 200 separate pieces, into a single document—did I realize just how BIG this MP was. Only then did I truly feel a sense of accomplishment. When you reach the finish line of your MP, look back and consider all the ground you’ve covered.

Know that you’ll hit the wall, and trust that the inspiration you need will come. I had about 10 final profiles to write for the book and was scrambling to gather recipes—and I couldn’t keep going. I hit the wall. I was just going through the motions, totally un-fired-up about the project. Then Julie Kramer, the photographer, shared some of the images she was getting for the book. They were amazing. Perfect for the project. Those shots gave me the dose of inspiration I needed. When you hit the wall in an MP, keep your eyes open for something that will give you the buzz to get to the finish.

Business development efforts shouldn’t cease. For the final month of the project, I graciously declined several other gigs so that I could focus solely on the book, and I let my clients know that I’d again be available in a few weeks. It was scary to say no to business, but I felt I needed to. During that time, though, I also cut off other marketing channels: didn’t contribute to my blog, put the newsletter on hiatus, neglected business-development follow-ups. This was not smart. Next time I find an MP on my plate, I’ll be more disciplined about carefully keeping the marketing machine turning.

Find a way to celebrate. When you reach the finish line on a Marathon Project, do something deliberate and meaningful to celebrate, particularly if it’s a team effort. Lunch, happy hour, an afternoon off … find a way to reward the effort and acknowledge your quality work.

Finish that Marathon, catch your breath, and then get back to doing the great work you do.

Working on a project that I can help with? Get in touch—I’m ready to start something new!

Hey, summer: where’d ya go?

Do you ever fall asleep on an airplane only to wake up when the wheels hit the tarmac? In a mental fog, you’re thoroughly flummoxed by the realization that you’ve arrived at your destination.

I feel the same way as I sit here in mid-October and look back at the summer. I rub my eyes. I think, “Where did the time go?” “How did I get here?”

Prior to starting my writing business, I’d heard tell of the “Summer Slowdown,” when many creative firms and indie professionals found that business tapered off. And sure enough, I’ve come to recognize that pattern in my own workflow: After a busy first and second quarters, projects came more slowly in July and August. And then …

On the Tuesday after Labor Day, the phone started ringing (or, rather, the e-mails started flowing in) with new projects. In just he first few weeks of fall, I’ve:

  • helped my good friends at Rule29 in Chicagoland redevelop the content for their shiny new website
  • worked with the team at Enrich Creative in St. Louis to write copy for their new business development campaign
  • contributed short pieces to Cincinnati Magazine’s annual “Best of the City” issue … including a profile on the city’s best local bacon. Yes. It’s a difficult job.
  • developed original recipes for a new customer magazine for Kroger.
  • begun leading the content marketing strategy for the 2014 HOW Design Live event next May in Boston. (If you’re a creative pro, this should absolutely be on your radar. HOW’s taking a rad new approach to the program and has landed some superstar speakers.)

We who own small businesses understand that there’s a natural ebb and flow to our workloads. Assuming that we’re doing the marketing work required to prevent those “feast or famine” scenarios when there’s absolutely nothing on the horizon, we have to get comfortable with the fact that sometimes we’re less busy. And that’s OK.

In fact, that slowdown is essential — it offers opportunity for us to take a break, to rejuvenate, to work on our own projects. In addition to playing several midweek rounds of golf in July and August, I worked with the immensely talented designer Jill Anderson to overhaul my recipe website, writes4food.com. I skipped a couple of months with my own marketing newsletter, but I updated my online portfolio. I read books related to my work (Michael Pollan’s excellent “Cooked”) and not (Dan Brown’s page-turner “Inferno.”)

Two and a half years into running a small creative business, I’m finally seeing those ebb/flow patterns. And I’m giving myself permission to do my own stuff — or heck, to knock off early — when things slow down.

What about you? How do you fill those quieter, non-billable hours? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Speaking of writes4food.com … I invite you to check out my newly redesigned recipe website, with better searchability, new recipes and a fresh new look!

Food for thought: The refrigerator project.

What’s ON your refrigerator?

No, I didn’t ask, “What’s IN your refrigerator?” What’s ON it?

Remember when you’d dash home from the bus stop after school clutching an A paper or a favorite drawing from art class? What happened next? That’s right: Your mom or dad would tape or magnet your masterpiece to the refrigerator door. For many families, the refrigerator is a kid paper-and-artwork Hall of Fame, a shrine to creativity and success.

Now you’re all grown up. And you’re still doing great work. How do you celebrate it?

I call the work that I’m button-busting proud of Refrigerator Projects. They’re rare beasts, these jobs. Special. Worth showing off (and writing about in your newsletter).

Think about the hallmarks of your Refrigerator Projects:

  • they may challenge you to work above what you think you’re capable of
  • they harness your deepest creative energy
  • they often involve collaborating with people you’re interested in
  • they garner great feedback from clients, collaborators and the public

Chances are, you know the Refrigerator Project when you’re in the thick of it. You get in the zone, where you feel confident, skilled and strong, where you do your best work.

My most recent Refrigerator Project? A feature story for the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Food section that highlighted The Clara Project. (Read more about my ongoing recipe and cooking exploration through a serendipitously acquired collection of vintage recipes.) With some persistence, I finally managed to pitch the story to the section editor; when the story ran (in my hometown newspaper!), I felt like I’d hit a home run.

Three pivotal things came out of the story:

  1. I was so proud of the work, I couldn’t wait to show copies of the story to my family.
  2. I made a wonderful and meaningful connection with the daughter of Clara Shenefelt, the woman whose old recipes inspired me.
  3. And national media picked up the story, resulting in booming website traffic, new readers and some interesting project leads.

Do you love your Refrigerator Projects? Want to do more of them?

I think there’s a karma to doing great work. Great work begets more great work. Great work gives you confidence. It lets you speak with energy and enthusiasm about what you do, and prospects respond to that. Great work builds your portfolio. Great work is, at its core, a blast.

What’s ON your refrigerator?

Worth Reading

Rethinking the Case Study—If you’re doing great work, you need to tell everyone about it. This super-smart article from Newfangled talks about how to write a great case study.

Great Case Studies—In the spirit of sharing good work, here’s a selection of project case studies I contributed for Enrich, a creative group in St. Louis focused on food and wellness companies.

 

How to stop procrastinating and get on with it. At some point.

An interview with Stanford University professor John Perry on NPR last year caught my ear (one of those “driveway moments” when you can’t leave your car until the story is over). Perry talked about his book “The Art of Procrastination,” in which he offers self-management tricks to overcoming—in fact, taking advantage of—your procrastinating tendencies. He may well have been speaking directly to me, the girl who waited until the night before to start a term paper in college, and who still has trouble getting started on projects.

I purchased “The Art of Procrastination” … and finally got around to reading it months later. It made such an impression that I pitched a feature story on Perry and procrastination to HOW magazine. I wanted to explore how we creative types put off work, and how we can break our slow-start habits. As it happened, the article turned out to be the cover story in HOW’s Creativity Issue.

In “The Art of Procrastination,” Perry writes:

“The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.”

In an interview for the HOW story, Perry told me that the essence of beating your procrastination problem lies in acknowledging your tendencies and creating a working environment where you can overcome them. “It’s an individual thing—but take it seriously. Figure out what puts you in a working mood and put yourself in situations so that you can work productively.”

Are you a hard-core procrastinator? Here are my favorite bits of advice from experts I interviewed for the article:

Set a series of incremental tasks. If your project is to, say, write a feature story for HOW magazine, then in addition to THAT task, add all the other tasks surrounding it. Research. Interviewing X, Y and Z. Reading. Brainstorming. When you tackle this work “around” the work, you’ll make significant progress, so that when you actually sit down to the real task, you’ll be miles ahead.

Start slowly. Psychologist and creativity coach Mark McGuinness says, “Tell yourself, ‘I’m not going to start painting; I’m just going to get out the easel.’” As a writer, I open a Pages document, then name the file, then choose a font, then add my customary header info. Before I start writing, I’ll copy into the document relevant research, notes, juicy quotes, links and the like … and before I’m aware of doing the work, I’ve created the bones of the story.

Let go of perfection. Wow, this is hard. As creative pros, we expect our work to speak for us, to represent us, to be us out in the world. Anything less than perfect feels unacceptable. But here’s the thing: The world doesn’t need—or even want—perfect. The world—and our clients, and their customers and, more important, our mental and financial well-being—needs our best work, not our perfect work. When you overwork a project to perfection, you overspend the time and budget you’ve allocated. As a creative pro, overdelivery is a sure route to burnout and cash-flow problems.

Repeat after me: Good is great.

Worth Reading

Procrastination isn’t the only self-inflicted roadblock we creative types deal with. In researching the HOW story, I identified several others, including self-doubt and self-criticism. Read my supplemental article, How to Overcome Self-Criticism and Lack of Motivation.

How to See When You Look

There’s a difference between looking and seeing, between hearing and listening. Many of us (I raise my hand) are better at the former than at the latter. We look, but we don’t see. We hear, but we don’t listen.

Over many years of working with visual creatives — designers of all types — I came to admire their highly developed ability to see. Designers look at the world differently than I; they see things I miss.

Turns out, our particular expectations, experience and expertise shapes what we see when we look around us. It’s why a gardener can spot the wildflowers amid the vacant lot full of weeds. It’s why my design friends critique the typography of the menu when we go out to dinner.

Last weekend, I went hunting in the woods for morel mushrooms with an acquaintance. “They’re hard to find,” she said. “But once you spot one, you’ll see them all over the place.” (We never spotted one.) It’s pattern recognition; the same thing comes into play with my odd ability to find 4-leaf clovers.

Ever feel like you’re missing something when you go out for a walk, or when you’re on vacation? Me, too. Hoping to better develop my ability to pay attention — to really see — I picked up Alexandra Horowitz’s wonderful “On Looking.” I loved her book “Inside of a Dog” (a fascinating read if there’s a beloved canine friend in your life).

In “On Looking,” Horowitz takes walks with 11 “experts” — including illustrator Maira Kalman and type designer Paul Shaw, along with a blind person, an entomologist, a geologist and others. She also walks with her toddler son and her dog, insightful journeys, both.

Bombarded by visual stimuli, she writes, our brains over time develop the ability to filter out everything but what’s critical to our particular mission in the moment, be it finding edible roots or navigating an unfamiliar neighborhood. “Over time” is the key phrase — in infancy, we don’t have those filters.

“One perceptual constraint that I knowingly labor under is the constraint that we all create for ourselves: we summarize and generalize, stop looking at particulars and start taking in scenes at a glance — all in an effort to not be overwhelmed visually when we just need to make it through the day. The artist seems to retain something of the child’s visual strategy: how to look at the world before knowing (or without thinking about) the name or function of everything that catches the eye. An infant treats objects with an unprejudiced equivalence: the plastic truck is of no more intrinsic worth to the child than an empty box is, until the former is called a toy and the latter is called garbage. … To the child, as to the artist, everything is relevant; little is unseen.

“In childhood, all is new. With age, we see things as familiar. We have seen it all before. … Vacations are the adult exceptions. There, two things happen: we actually do see new paces and second, we bother to look. … Soon, though, we acclimate. Before we know it, we have become entirely accustomed to how that vacation spot looks. We have routines, we know the way — and we stop looking.

Want to start looking? I’d recommend “On Looking.” Followed by a slow, inquisitive, attentive walk around your neighborhood.

Worth Reading

In Mindfulness, a Method to Sharpen Focus and Open Minds—Advice on how to quiet your mind’s busy-ness and be aware of your world, by “intentionally paying attention to the present nonjudgmentally.”

Inside of a Dog—by Alexandra Horowitz. “Dogs don’t act on the world by handling objects or by eyeballing them, as people might, or by pointing and asking others to act on the object (as the timid might); instead, they bravely stride right up to a new, unknown object, stretch their magnificent snouts within millimeters of it, and take a nice deep sniff.”