Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Writer And The Restless Mind

Writing requires a degree of focus. It’s the sort of job you can’t multi-task. You’re either writing, or you’re not.

I’ve been coming back and fourth to this blog today. It’s Thursday so I need to write an entry but I haven’t been able to calm my restless mind.

There are elements of writing that can be done on the fly or with distractions but I’ve found when it comes to putting the actual words on paper I need a sufficient pocket of time where writing is all I am doing. There are stages of research that can be mixed with editing or kids homework. There are elements of editing that can be slotted in around school lunches and phone calls from my sister. Planning, outlining and dreaming can all take place over coffee and while cooking dinner. The writing itself, however, has to be a single track project.

On days like today when my mind is running on multiple tracks all the time it’s hard to nail myself down to one line of thought, so I’ll end up with something that resembles one of my rambles rather than a well thought-out, focused article. Since it has a writing theme I’m going to forgive myself and I hope my readers do too.

Do you ever get this Restless Mind sensation? Are your thoughts scrambled and on multiple tracks at once? I often wonder if it’s just normal, human mental activity or if this is more directly tied to bipolar mania. Are there ever days when you struggle to pull two threads of thought together? It’s like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle in the air rather than on a flat surface.

Over the years I’ve learnt a few ways to get by during these Restless Mind days:

Forgive and Forget - One is to forgive myself, put aside the work and give myself the day off. Forget whatever project was in the works and choose not to write, or freewrite instead of putting together something specific.

Music - Some days that just isn’t an option. On those occasions I might plug in my headset and slam amps of music directly into my brain. The music drowns out external distractions and helps focus my thoughts. Different music can help me with different tasks. I listen to various Enya songs when writing my current novel but lean towards Loreena McKennitt, or Classical Music (such as Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky or Vivaldi) when I’m writing non-fiction.

Disconnect or Relocate - Occasionally I need to change my location. My desktop PC is often used for things other than writing so the distractions of those things can be, well, distracting. By disconnecting the internet, using pen and paper or switching to my laptop I can go into another room or even leave the house to write.

Mental Association - I find using the laptop helps focus on only writing because the battery life forces me to do all I can in two hours and the laptop is only ever used for writing. I don’t open it unless I’m going to write. This creates a kind of mental connection, laptop = writing.

Meditation - Another technique is to specifically call myself into being fully present. I actually have the most trouble with this. It does work but I know I don’t practice it often enough. Meditation concentrates breathing and physical awareness. Be here, now.

Time - The only other true method I know of to get something written when I’m in this frenzied state is time. In a way it is an effort of sheer will. I can dither all day long, procrastinating to my hearts content but at some point, as the hours till bedtime creep in I reach the point where I just have to begin. Time starts, now. My mind still wanders but because I’ve set this project in my ‘now’ mode I have to keep bringing my focus back here rather than letting it trail off. Sometimes an actual timer can help. I always have a digital clock view handy so I can track the passage of time.

This last technique is actually the hardest. I always end the session with a headache because it requires a lot of mental juggling to keep retraining my thoughts every time they wander. It takes energy to pull the threads of my mind together, to concentrate on creating legible sentences out of the jumble of pieces and to hold them all in the air while I fit the puzzle together.

When the puzzle is complete it looks kind of like this entry. A collection of haphazard threads, rambles that come together in a loosely structured blob. Some days writing just IS like that. Even on those days I’m a writer.



Blogger Michele L. Tune said...

Hi Rebecca,

I enjoyed your thoughts today. I know what you mean. Even today, I'm "mentally exhausted" and can't seem to "create" and bring words to paper. I also wrestled with a blog entry today, but I managed one and so did you, so we writers are doing a little more than having "restless, rambling thoughts", eh?

Best wishes on your writing endeavors, today and always ;0)


3:41 AM  
Blogger Michele L. Tune said...

Hi again, Rebecca! If you need a break from all the "restless mind woes", feel free to participate in the Crazy 8s. Here's mine:


Best wishes & Smiles,

1:24 PM  
Blogger Virginia Lee said...

Oh Rebecca, I absolutely relate to this post. When I was so direly ill, I could not focus on my writing effectively at all. The lack of oxygen to my brain made concentration virtually impossible. I incorporated all of your mentioned techniques into my daily existence because I had to in order to accomplish anything.

I still have a hard time focusing for very long at a time. I get distracted easily, but by using yoga breathing and accepting/forgiving myself for being human, I get along fairly well.

Excellent post! Well typed indeed.

1:22 PM  
Blogger Leah J.Utas said...

Good points, Rebecca. I find the first one is the hardest. If I feel I should be writing it's hard to walk away and do something else.
Great post.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. I'm glad to know I'm not alone in those days when the writing just won't come. It is hard to face the internal challenges that come up when freelancing but we can get by if we continue to push ourselves and keep up our confidence.

You sound like you had the chance to learn some valuable lessons during your illness Virginia. Being unwell forces us to slow down and focus only on what is truly important. Learning to forgive ourselves is perhaps one of the most important things we can learn to do. We'll never be able to accomplish everything we want to and if we live in the guilt of that we'll accomplish a lot less than we potentially could.

Hi Leah, Wow! I wish I had more trouble with the first one. For me, despite feeling terrible for walking away it is the easiest. I seem to have mastered procrastination. On my very worst days even doing the housework is more appealing than writing. Those are the days I have to force myself to begin. Usually once I've started it gets easier.

12:20 PM  
Anonymous Sharon Hurley Hall said...

Today's one of those days for me, Rebecca, but I'm on a deadline, so I'm trying to force my mind back to what I should be doing, rewarding myself with a brief blog stop when I finish a chunk of writing.

10:47 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

Having a reward system in place is a great idea, Sharon. I'd have to use something more substantial then web time of course because when I'm not accomplishing my writing I'm often browsing the web. I don't think I'd have the willpower to restrict web access. But there are other fun treats and that sense of accomplishment is also a great way to reward ourselves. :-)

1:24 PM  

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