blogger: Cynthia Ruchti
Are these THE Top Ten ways to declutter your writer brain? More accurately, they are a few of the ways. But that would have made the title too long and not great for search engine optimization. (SEO–We all know it’s important, like good electrolyte balance, but how many of us really understand SEO? And that was a prime example of letting a random thought occupy an already cluttered brain. Hence, this blog post.)
If you’ve ever caught yourself staring at a blinking cursor that’s waiting for you to key in more brilliance on your work in progress, but your attention is captivated by the fly stuck between the interior and exterior window, and the lingering odor of the morning’s burnt toast reminds you that you should take a minute to pull something out of the freezer for supper, and that leads to the thought that yesterday would have been the perfect day to defrost the freezer and why didn’t you take advantage of that but now you’ll have to write it on the to-do list which is where again?…then you understand the derailing capacities of a cluttered writer brain.
Writers naturally juggle facts, information, plot, character attributes, pacing, resolved and unresolved conflicts, in addition to their home life and family, their health, the global economy, the publishing climate, and carpal tunnel. Lots of clutter.
What are those Top Ten Ways to Declutter Your Writer Brain?
- Don’t write. Not yet. Stop trying to write before your brain is engaged. How does it get engaged? See point #2.
- Breathe. (Don’t knock it. It’s kept you alive this long. Hear me out.) A few deep, full-lung, relaxing breaths will quiet tension and drive oxygen into your brain cells. When you sat in front of your computer, you probably came to the party tense. Concerned about word count or a deadline or trying to make sense of what you wrote yesterday. When you focus on intentional, deep breathing, your exhales send tension flying.
- Focus on your target reader. What’s he or she likely facing? What felt need is your book seeking to meet? Start with empathy for or at least respect for your reader.
- Simply write. Since it’s fruitless to wait for perfect conditions, start writing, but leave it on the page even if it smells to high heaven. If a three-year-old has to run around the church playground to get the wiggles out, a writer needs to play with words to get the wiggles out and usher in focused attention. Deleting smelly writing is so easy these days (It used to warrant a scissors and tape or ripping the entire disgusting page out of the typewriter roller or gallons of White-Out liquid paper. Google it. It was a thing.). Just write. See where it takes you.
- Read something by another author, a book or article that either demands or captures your attention. Reading great writing almost always serves as motivation for a writer.
- Preserve your to-do list, don’t ignore it. Keep it in a safe place but not visible while you write. If a must-do comes to mind while you’re on a writing roll, pause only long enough to record it on your list, then put the list away again. Your brain will think it’s covered if it’s secure. It will assume it’s hovering if the list is nearby or if you’re trying to hang onto a mental note until after your writing session. Mental notes are the most likely to escape if not chained down. And they’re as distracting as a blood-thirsty mosquito.
- Schedule your concerns. That disagreement with your spouse? Mark on your calendar a specific time or day to work that through. The hard talk you need to have with your agent? Schedule it on your calendar. The procrastinated phone call to your son’s teacher? Schedule it…and forget it while you write. You haven’t shirked your “duty” to the concern. But you’ve reserved a spot for it. It may seem a mental game, but it truly does allow the brain to set it aside until its appointment time.
- Repeat step #2 frequently through your writing session. Many writers develop the habit of subconsciously holding their breath until they reach the end of the phrase or sentence. We can’t afford to underestimate the value of oxygen.
- Declutter your brain by turning off notifications on your devices while you write.
- Let God handle the universe while you crank out two thousand words. It’s okay. He’s had practice.