As a professional writer, you’ll need to be able to write a lot. More specifically, you’ll need to be able to write more often than just when you are in the writing groove. It’s pretty tough to produce enough written work to earn a decent living if you can only write when you are in the zone and your muse is banging on your brain with a hammer.
One common mistake many writers make when trying to “force” themselves to write is to sit down at their desk in front of a computer, or laptop, and stare at the screen. By being in front of your computer, with a word processor open, and your fingers on the keyboard, you are ready and committed to writing. The idea seems valid on the surface, and it no doubt works for some writers. Simply seeing the blank screen and little flashing cursor prompts these writer’s brains to kick into gear and get writing. However, that might not be the best way to actually generate writing thoughts for other writers.
I’ve noticed, for example, that much of my best writing comes when I’m not actually “writing.” That is, when I’m in the shower, or making lunches for the kids, or walking upstairs with a laundry basket, some of the best ideas and turns of phrase pop into my head.
What all of these activities have in common is that they are a combination of mindlessness and actual action. It’s not like I have to concentrate to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. However, I am doing something, and using a small slice of mental power to do so. That frees up the rest of my mind to wander untethered, and when it does that, if usually writes something. (I’ve often looked for a way to succinctly communicate this phenomenon as a way to determine whether or not someone can be a full-time writer. Basically, if your mind writes when it is idle, you have what it takes to be a writer, and be happy doing it. But, that is a discussion for another time.)
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The difficulty with this setup, however, is that it can be difficult to harness. If, for example, I am making sandwiches for my kids, chances are there are next steps required that do not involve sitting down and writing what just made its way into my head. If you’ve been a writer for long, you know that these things don’t necessarily keep all that well. You can remember a sentence or two, or maybe even a clever paragraph, but there is a shelf life for writing thoughts, and it isn’t very long. A notebook for jotting things down helps, but you can’t write at the same speed your mind can generate wonderful prose, and those sandwiches aren’t going to put themselves into the kids’ lunchboxes.
Harnessing Idle Brilliance From Your Mind
As it turns out, there is a way to use the idle mind to generate your best writing ideas AND capture them, as well as possible. All you need to do is stop staring at the screen. Looking at your computer, whether you are browsing Pinterest waiting for inspiration or staring at a distraction-free writing program, is still staring at your computer. To your brain, it’s like walking up to a comedian and saying, “Be funny, right now.” It doesn’t really work that way.
What a writer needs is a way to think for a few minutes, to let the mind wander freely, while still being in a place to capture the good stuff before it melts away back into the corners of the mind. Over the years, I’ve tried all different kinds of tricks, programs and utilities, and whatnot to accomplish just this state of mind. None of them really worked, until I happened, by accident, upon a sure-fire, guaranteed way to generate my best writing ideas and associated words.
Seriously, that’s all it really takes.
When you turn your back on the screen, you also turn your back on the keyboard and mouse. Not only is this “distraction-free”, it also turns off the “OK, Go!” response that comes from being in the ready position. It turns out sitting with your feet firmly on the floor, fingers on home row, eyes starting at the screen, impacts your mind like swimmer atop the starting blocks. Everything goes blank while waiting for the starting pistol. But, there is no starting pistol for your mind.
When you just turn around your chair you’ll let go of that ready state. At first, there will be plenty to command your attention, the bookshelf is dusty, those books need stood back up, and when are you ever going to empty that trash can. Eventually, though, you’ll get bored and your mind will relax and the words will come, and all you have to do to record them is to spin your chair back around. Type until the words run out, then turn your chair again. If the words don’t run out, sometimes they don’t, then all the better.
Other writers have told me that they do something similar. The lucky ones only have to close their eyes. I find that the complete disconnect of turning around is necessary. Find whatever works for you, of course. If it doesn’t involve an app, or gadget, so much the better.
Anything beats staring at that little, judgmental, blinking cursor.