Stepping Into “The Box” with author Danica Cornell

I am so happy to introduce you to my friend Danica Cornell.  I first met Danica when we became board members for Rave Reviews Book Club.  I love the way she thinks and the lovely way she writes.  I am looking forward to reading her novel series.

How Stepping Into ‘The Box’ Helped One Writer Cultivate

Out-Of-The-Box Thinking and Increased Productivity

Cardboard Box

Written by Danica Cornell

All I can say is God Bless the handful of folks who’ve endured my infamous Scheduling Gripe Fests.  Yes, I’m openly admitting it.  When I was younger, I referred to my schedule as The Box—a dead giveaway for how I really felt about routines.

As my teen would say, it was waaaay back in the Cave Man Era that I viewed calendars and task lists as necessary evils.  In my mind, these tools kept me on track, but at a high price.  Even though I knew they were supposed to make life easier, they actually made me feel less spontaneous, less whimsical.

In short, I felt boxed in.

And so it went…for the better part of a decade, I despised The Box so much that I lumped it in with things like brussel sprouts and exercising at 5:00 a.m.!  Hey, just because something was good for me, didn’t mean I had to like it.  Right?

Still, as a reasonably intelligent, rational human being, I knew deep down The Box had value.  After all, a little structure can serve as the foundation for a highly productive (and ultimately) successful life and career.   Over the years, I came to see The Box actually gave me the freedom to schedule in fun—something that can easily become crowded out in today’s busy and interconnected world.

It’s for all of these reasons that I’ve recently gone to great lengths to recreate a new Box—one which serves me equally as well as the old one once did, before my life became busier and more complex.   But here’s the thing.   Much to my embarrassment, this time around it actually took me quite awhile to get it figured out.   Why?   Simply put, I had a lot of conflicting things to consider, such as:

  • As a writer, what time of day am I most creative/ productive?
  • How does this jive with my other commitments?
  • With the myriad of demands on my time, how can I possibly improve my creativity and ultimately my productivity, without dropping the ball in the other areas in my life?
  • Is it possible to accomplish this without upsetting my family and friends?

As it turns out, I shouldn’t have felt embarrassed about struggling with this for so long.  After all, psychologists can spend their careers studying this sort of thing!  I should know because as a psychology major, I ended up taking a number of courses in industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology.  (This branch of the behavioral sciences focuses on things like group dynamics, corporate culture, motivation, and productivity–just to name a few.) What I gleaned from these classes is that reaching one’s peak creativity and productivity isn’t always as clear-cut as many might think.  Not by a long shot.

Brussel Sprouts

Size Matters

Don’t worry, I promise this article is Rated G!  When referring to size, what I’m really talking about is the amount of time required for getting in the most creative-productive frame of mind (CPFOM) possible.  Is this a lot of time? A little?  Something in between?

As it turns out, I came to realize reaching my own CPFOM wasn’t time-consuming at all!  Put another way, for a small investment of my time, I could “Git-R-Done”—and really, really well!

Here’s what I uncovered…

Life’s Rewards

I realized I first needed to understand what really motivates me.  In other words, what, (other than the sheer joy of creating science fiction/fantasy), gets me excited?  What would I like to be rewarded with for my efforts?  Okay, I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking.  She wants to be a best-selling author and make lots of money!

Yeah, that would be terrific.

But what I’m talking about is actually shorter-term, as in what’s feasible on a weekly basis.  Since I knew there weren’t any wrong answers, I felt free to be completely honest with myself.  Here’s what I discovered…

Just Breathe

In my case, I knew I enjoyed unstructured time away from my responsibilities—time to just relax, or go out and do something completely unrelated to my everyday life.  Unfortunately, this had been sorely lacking for a very long time.   I came to understand that working so many hours had been undermining my creativity and thus, my productivity.

The solution?  Reward myself with unstructured time at regular (weekly) intervals.


Jogging to the Beat of a Different Drummer

I also had to be honest with myself when it came to exercise—I wasn’t doing enough of it.  I’ve known for years that exercise in combination with music gets my creative juices flowing.

The solution?  Stop whining about not having enough time and re-establish exercise (while jamming out!) as a priority.

Listen to the Dormouse

Even though it’s a little before my time, I have a penchant for music from the sixties.  To be clear, I embrace the out-of-the-box ideas reflected in the counterculture’s music –not the drugs.

As such, there’s one song that’s a stand out for me, “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane.  As many (or at least some) of you may remember, a portion of the lyrics describes a dormouse saying, “Feed your head.”   Now, we all know what’s really meant here.  But I like to think of this song in slightly different terms—as in actual nutrition for the brain.  You know—food.

I gotta say, I consider myself to be fairly health-conscious.  I do try to eat a reasonably healthy diet, but like most, I enjoy fresh baked bread (topped with butter) as well as the occasional dessert.  And don’t even get me started on pizza!  As far as I’m concerned, a slice of spinach pizza is a close to heaven as anything—which is why I was saddened when I came to the realization that I might’ve been suffering (for quite some time) from brain fog associated with gluten sensitivity.  Since I’d also been experiencing digestive problems and joint pain, I decided to try going gluten free for awhile to see what might happen.  I’m not gonna lie.  I was a little skeptical, but I figured I had nothing to lose so why not give it a whirl?

The results truly shocked me!

My knees, which had been bothering me for years, felt completely better.   I also started thinking more clearly, which has obvious benefits for creativity and productivity.

The solution?  Eat a healthier diet—one that’s gluten free and see if this trend continues.

Write Out a Schedule in Pencil, Not Ink

The one thing that’s much different in my life now, (compared to those cave man days) is that I have many more responsibilities.  I also find I’m squeezed at times by competing and conflicting demands.  I suppose this is to be expected when running a home;  being the owner of a high-tech start-up; overseeing my family’s schedule;  writing a sci-fi/fantasy book series; social networking;  volunteering in a book club;  and keeping a watchful eye on extended family—including aging parents.

The first thing I absolutely needed to do (after taking a deep breath!) was accept was that I cannot possibly control everything.  No matter how hard I try, stuff is gonna come up.  And sure as I’m sitting here typing this, it’ll invariably happen when it’s least convenient!

Once I got what I call really real about this, I was able to relax a bit.  After all, being stressed out won’t help anyone.  Besides, in the end, anxiety—with its accompanying illnesses and ailments is counter-productive.

The solution?  Once I felt emotionally centered, I made sure to take a careful look at my calendar.  The goal was to create a snapshot of sorts for the remainder of the year.  I made note of upcoming birthdays and anniversaries and the like.  I then went back to the current month and looked at each week.  For upcoming meetings or anything else that required advanced preparation, I set up a schedule and task list.  No more last-minute scrambling!

Another thing I’ve learned is that it’s really okay to say no.  Even though I wish I could, it’s not possible to accommodate everyone all the time.  Even though as a scifi writer I’m a bit enamored with robots, one fact still remains:  I’m only human.

World in Hands

All the World’s a Stage

As it turns out, by allowing myself some guilt-free time away from work along with moderate exercise, a diet consisting of healthy (mostly unprocessed) foods, and a realistic schedule, my CPFOM  has increased dramatically!

In short, by paying careful attention to The Box and tweaking my routine in a few meaningful ways, I’ve improved the quality and quantity of my writing—along with my health!   Have I disappointed some folks here and there by saying no to a few of their requests?   Sure—not that I wanted to.  But I’ve come to understand—I mean really understand that I simply cannot flex and bend for everyone all the time.  You wanna guess what the best part about all this has been?  I’m finding most people not only understand, but actually support what I’m doing!   And for this science fiction/fantasy writer, that can only mean one thing:  Warp speed ahead!


Danica Cornel Photo

Danica Cornell is the author of the forthcoming DARK STAR Sci-fi/Fantasy Series, soon to be published by Cool Geek Books. To learn more about Danica’s writing, her nanotechnology start-up, and her support of UNICEF, please visit:  www.danicacornell.comDanica Cornell is a proud member of the RAVE REVIEWS BOOK CLUB.




23 responses to “Stepping Into “The Box” with author Danica Cornell

  1. I like the box way of looking at routines, and I find it hard to say no too.

    • Dale, I have found it hard to say no as well. I used to tell people that I must have sign on my forehead that says, “Sucker!” I never turned anyone down for anything no matter how busy I was. Since becoming ill, I have had to think about how what I am doing will impact my overall health.

      • I just said ‘no’ this morning. Well, the question was, did I want some pond plants, and well, I don’t have a pond so it was a no-brainer really, lol. I’ll get better at it.

    • Well, I think I replied in the wrong area LOL! Just in case you didn’t see my response…I was saying it is soooo hard to say no, but it does get a bit easier with practice. Thanks for your comments, Dale. 🙂

  2. This is fantastic, Danica & Kathryn. I don’t like routine. But I need some semblance of order to function.

  3. Hi Dale, Thank you for your comments! Yes it’s soooo hard, but it does get easier with practice. 🙂

  4. Kathryn, thank you for hosting me on your beautiful blog. I’m so excited and honored to be here! xoxo 🙂

  5. Reblogged this on Blog of Author Danica Cornell and commented:
    I’m delighted to share my recent blog post that was featured on My friend, Kathryn Treat’s site. Enjoy!

  6. Wonderful post, Danica. No wonder you are so successful. Life is certainly a struggle, but you seem to have a handle on it.

  7. Great post! Thanks for sharing. Oh what wonderful insights for someone like me who keeps getting distracted from the dreaded ‘schedule’….

  8. Lovely post, thanks for sharing! Isn’t it wonderful how much more we can accomplish when we go with the flow of things, instead of working against the grain?

  9. Great post, Danica. I’m ready to get back to an exercise routine. I haven’t done that for over a year. I use a calendar and journal for everything, but getting everything done is nearly impossible. I’ll stop saying yes to every request and spend less time on the web and more time writing. For me, my walking time (used to 30-40 min/day) was inspirational and motivational. Glad to know I’m not alone… Have a great week & HAPPY WRITING! 🙂

  10. Shirley L. Slaughter

    Danica, I just got a chance to read your post today. I was saving it to read when I got the chance. Fat Chance! Talk about trying to find time to do everything. I think all of us creative people have this problem. I am always trying to decompress, trying to juggle personal family with this business. Its a job just trying to keep up. And sometimes you just have to say no. I know you are also trying to run a family business and I feel for you. Nice topic and nice post.

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