“And the mind is a trickster. It seems that when I write, a hundred pleasurable activities come to mind that I would rather do. I remember once being given a cabin in northern Minnesota for a week. The second day I was sitting down in front of the typewriter to work on a short story. There was a view of late June aspens and beet leaves, lettuce, zinnias from the garden. A great blue sky.Suddenly I was in a bathing suit, ankle-deep in the lake, which was a quarter mile from the garden. About to dive headfirst, I became awake: ‘Natalie, what are you doing here? You just sat down to write the third page of your short story?’ Usually I don’t get that far before I catch myself. We can give it different names, but basically, it is that part of our mind that is resistant that begins to activate… What does it want to resist? Work and concentration.” From Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
Ah yes! Who among doesn’t know this feeling? And to be painfully honest, who among us doesn’t experience some form of the “trickster mind” just about every time we plan to sit down for a writing session? We see a pile of papers in our work space that needs organizing. We remember an email we planned to dash off. We realize that we didn’t pick up our dry cleaning. Or we go to make a cup of coffee and end up sweeping the floor.
Oh, that trickster mind of ours is tricky, isn’t it? Devilishly so. How can we trick it into doing the work we need to get done? A few easy ideas:
Have a writing ritual to anchor you — Athletes often have rituals to focus and ground them. I remember one baseball player who used to take his batting gloves on and off once, adjust them, and then settle down to bas. Rituals can be very helpful in writing as well. I like to read passages from a few inspirational books before I begin to write: they uplift me and somehow bring me to a creative place, along with a short period of meditation.
Do a ”geographical” – When kids get cranky in a public place, moms or dads often pick them up and take them someplace else to help them calm down. Just the act of putting them in a different setting often does the trick. You can do the same: Take yourself to a cafe somewhere as J.K. Rowling was fond of doing and have your writing session there. Many people swear by this as a concentration tool. In fact, they find that the buzz of people talking engages that busy, distractable part of their mind just enough so they can concentrate and write. Coffee helps, too!
Write with a partner – Many writers swear by this technique. They find that having another writer nearby, whether at home or in a cafe or library, really helps them focus and get their own work done. When other people around you are working quietly and steadily, you feel a gentle prod to get to work yourself.
How about you? What focusing techniques do you find work best? I’d love to hear about them and share them as we all write on.
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