Sometimes I feel like my brain just won’t stop rushing. I can’t slow down long enough to take a deep breath, and even when I do, my brain keeps flowing along at a thousand miles an hour, contemplating everything I need to do as soon as that deep breath is done: Reading for clients, reading submissions, trip to the post office, write for the newsletter, remember to blog, get to the grocery store, throw in a load of laundry… Whew. There’s always something, and during the holidays there’s an entirely new list that gets tacked on to the everyday edition.
I know I’m not alone in this feeling, and that for writers, feeling brain-rush can be particularly frustrating. I’ve sent you off with orders to write every day, but I know that on some days the problem is less finding a few moments to spare, and more convincing your brain to sit down and get with the program. It isn’t interested in what your characters do next. Instead it wants to work out how to keep Uncle Fred from drinking too much at Christmas Eve dinner or if your family will ever speak to you again if you order in Chinese instead of making the traditional feast.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for getting your brain to fall in line, of course. But I have a couple of suggestions:
Take a small notebook and a pen and, weather permitting, go for a walk. Observe the world around you, but don’t engage with it. No chatting with people you see out for a run. Just walk. Watch nature or cars go by, or window shop. Take deep breaths. After about fifteen minutes, sit and write. If you’re somewhere rural, make sure your walk laps back home. In the city? Duck into a coffee shop, grab a hot beverage and settle at a table by yourself. If the weather is good, maybe find a park bench.
Don’t worry about writing on your current project. You can if you’re feeling inspired, of course, but otherwise write about what you saw on your walk. Describe a bird or a squirrel, the types of cars, the way the clouds looked, the wind on your skin, the relative fitness of the joggers. If you’re in a coffee shop, take note of the people around you. Eavesdrop on bits of conversations. Scribble it down as a starting point for a short story or a scene in a larger work. Listen to the rise and fall of conversations as a whole. What are the rhythms like? Is there an overriding sense of joy? Frustration? Happiness? Fatigue? Are these folks who’ve been holiday shopping, or workers heading off to a long day at the office?
If you don’t want to go for a walk–the weather is miserable, you only have enough spare time to write and that’s it–try this instead. Tell family etc. you need fifteen minutes alone. Put a video in for the kids, make your significant other go fold the laundry, whatever you need to do to buy a few minutes to yourself. Then sit in front of a window with a notebook and pen, and write what you see. If it’s a static view–trees, grass, your yard–that’s fine. Describe it in detail. Really focus. Figure out a way to include senses other than sight. If it’s a busy street, what’s going on? Cars going by, people walking dogs? Do you look out at another building? Can you see through a window? Who is over there? Imagine what’s happening behind their walls. Write it.
The key to both of these exercises is that you’re not trying to imagine yourself into the world of your current project. Whether you’re writing a novel or a short story or a memoir, there’s often a lot of internal work going on. You’re inside your head, picturing the story, and to do that, your brain needs to unplug from the world around you. These exercises allow your brain to focus on what’s right in front of you–on reality–while still disconnecting from your list of chores and so on. It shouldn’t take you long–five or ten minutes of writing at most–before you’re able to segue comfortably into your regular writing project.
I’ll be back later today with some links for the weekend. In the meantime, I wish you all good writing!