Last time we talked about finding the right place to write. That’s important, but perhaps even more important is finding the right mindset. Writing should be fun! Yes, fun! I know it’s work, but it’s work you’re choosing to do, right? If it’s a total drag you’re doing something wrong. So here are some ideas for getting yourself into the right frame of mind and even making the process enjoyable, plus some bracing talk about what to try if things are really bad–or if they’re not but you just want to get a lot of work done even when you can’t write.
- Experiment with listening to music or other sounds, versus silence. While there are certainly people who need complete silence in order to concentrate, many people concentrate better, paradoxically, with a certain amount of sound around them.
- You can also use sound to signal to your brain that it’s time to work. As I child I spent a lot of time working in stables while listening to the radio. So now I have a Pavlovian response to the sound of music, especially pop or rock music, and hearing it puts me in my “active work” mindset, whether that’s writing, driving, or doing chores. I pretty much require music in order to work, but can’t stand to listen to it while reading or relaxing. Interestingly, even though I need music to “wake up” my brain and put it in “work mode,” when I’m actually working very productively and am in that flow mindset (more about that later), I stop hearing the music.
- If regular music is too distracting for you, but you still want to get the benefits of that Pavlovian response to sound (because boy, does it work!), you can experiment with listening to nature sounds or meditation music. You could also do what many meditators and yoga practitioners do, and signal the beginning and end of your work sessions with a specific sound, like a gong, chime, or chant. This may sound unbearably new age-y, but again, the idea is to cause your brain to associate certain signals with working, and then be able to put it in “work mode” by exposing it to those signals.
- Another important point about all these ideas is the need to make the writing process fun. Don’t get me wrong, writing is really hard work—which is why you need to do things to jolly yourself through it. Setting up a pleasant working environment and rewarding yourself with a nice cup of coffee or tea while you listen to your favorite music can help make you look forward to writing, rather than avoiding it.
- Of course, if you’re experiencing straitened circumstances due to problems such as financial difficulties, health issues, or incarceration, you’re probably not going to be able to set up a lovely office with a view of the natural world for yourself, or hang out in trendy coffee shops, or go get a carrel in a library, or any of those things. But you can still write. Gulag prisoners composed all kinds of works in their heads, which they then jotted down on stolen paper and smuggled to freedom, or memorized and then wrote down once they had been released.
- If your material circumstances are such that you really can’t physically write, because you’re in a war zone, a concentration camp, or something like that, you can still write. You can write in your head.
- I imagine that most of my readers are not in war zones or concentration camps. I’m throwing that example out there mainly to remind people who are not in jail, not in a war zone, not desperately ill, that most of your excuses for not writing are just that: excuses. And you can also learn to emulate the processes of people who wrote under desperate circumstances, because they work even better under more comfortable conditions.
- For example, the prime technique for the Gulag prisoners was composing their works in their head and memorizing them, often through the use of verse form and/or mnemonic devices such as knotted bits of string. You can do this too. We don’t normally learn how to memorize large chunks of text in modern American culture, but it’s actually a powerful tool for a writer. I’ll talk more about visualization and mental composition later, but for now, as a practical matter, if you really don’t have the time to do a lot of physical writing because, for example, you have a lengthy commute every day, you can use that time to “write” your work in your head. The same goes if you are spending long hours every day doing menial tasks such as cleaning. This is prime time to get your “writing” done, even if the writing is in your head. Long commutes, especially on foot or by bus, or tedious, menial jobs may also be just the right amount of external stimulation to get you in your writing mindset, so if that is the situation you find yourself in, work on making it work for you rather than against you.
That’s all for now, folks! Next time we’ll talk a bit about finding the right tools.