Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Give your mind a break, make it think

This may sound contradictory but the fact is I recently realized I barely give my mind a rest to think on its own. I'm constantly feeding it with information. It's like one of those poor geese in France being fed through a funnel to fatten their livers until they practically burst. I keep doing the same with my brain. When it's not work, it's reading books, or listening to audiobooks or the radio, or watching TV. My brain is constantly receiving external information and this means it barely gets the chance to have a thought of its own and produce something useful.

I recently had a chat with Kate Lace (author of A Class Act) and she said she didn't listen to audiobooks when she was driving because she found it an excellent moment to think over her plots and characters. Then Jane Wenham-Jones (author of Wannabe a writer?) also said something that applied to this. She sent a tweet suggesting that if you don't have the time to sit down and write, at least take every opportunity you have to think out what you want to write and this will save you time for when you do have a chance to write it down.

I know this is probably basic for you, but I'd forgotten to do this. I'd forgotten to let myself think things out while I was cooking or driving or having a bath. I was stuck with a part in my plot and I was avoiding thinking about it because I didn't know where to lead the story. I had many helpful suggestions from different people on how pull your feet out of the mud, but in this case it was all down to facing the problem and thinking about it. And that is what I did. As I was driving, instead of plugging in the audiobook, I plugged in my brain and thought about the plots and plans. And the answer came to me.

So I've decided to feed my brain a bit less instead of making it into foie gras and I know the exercise will do it good.

Did you ever have this problem?


  1. I sometimes think my head is going to explode because it's bombarded with so much information. I have more 'how to' books and reference material from the Internet than I could read in a lifetime! Multi-tasking is my worst brain-frazzler.

    I find going for a walk on my own helps me work through plot problems and I make sure I have my phone with me and use that to make voice recordings of any ideas I have along the way.

    Thanks for a great post. J x

  2. Good advice, Sarah. Like you, I 'relax' by using my brain. I'll schedule more quiet time :)

  3. I love your analogy to the geese and fois gras.

    Today at the gym I was trying to think about what story I could write about and it was very difficult with the TV/movie noise, so I tried to distract myself by looking outside while on the treadmill. Still no luck. It wasn't until I came home and sat in front of the computer with all of the distractions (although it was dead quiet) that the ideas came to me. I really do need quiet, but I also need to be in front of my computer screen, I think, or some type of keyboard. :-)

  4. You're so right. It's all too easy to think that we have to fill every waking hour doing something, be it writing, reading, watching or listening but that doesn't give us any time to ponder, and I definitely need that.

    I don't have my own car or drive great distances at the moment, and I'm not sure how safe it would be for my mind to wander to whatever I'm writing while behind the wheel, but I find swimming is good for giving me the distance and space to ponder. I can do length after length of the pool while I sort out some of the problems I'm having.

    Going for a walk works too but I get more easily distracted - "Oh look! A squirrel." - so I always go back to swimming for thinking. If I ever get published, I'll have to mention the local pool in the acknowledgements!

  5. Excellent advice Sarah! I'm very guilty of this; I feel
    I should be 'making use' of every spare minute but I get so much more inspiration & creative thinking done when I'm doing something mindless like ironing.

  6. Love this post. I need to find those special quiet moments too. At least, free up my mind to think without other info going in and out.

  7. Good thinking! I use driving time to plot and plan (and occasionally scheme, but that's different). Also good plot-working time is when I'm in the shower, all that white-noise of rushing water helps me think. Must find a waterproof pencil to write my thoughts down.

    We have so few quiet moments in our lives. Perhaps we should work at making more - writers or not.

  8. I do find that doing something physical or menial is good thinking time: driving, walking the dog, cleaning the bathroom. Many fellow dog-walkers have discovered me muttering to myself in the middle of a field (I should have a hat or something: I'm A Writer Not A Nutter).

    But I often find if I try hard to think about a book, nothing comes. It's better if I don't try too hard.

  9. It may be basic to some people, but I believe that we all need to be reminded to give our brains the chance to think. Thanks for that.

    But I do find it difficult when I have a lot of worries on my mind. They take over if I allow spaces to appear in my brain. [Sorry that's not very lucid but I know what I mean!]

  10. Yup! And I think it's when I don't have 'downtime'. Ideas and solutions usually come to me when I'm doing something other than writing: walking, showering, etc.

  11. A good reminder, thanks Sarah. I've finally got my brain back (well most of it) after I finished breastfeeding and only getting interrupted sleep once a night (was up to twice hourly!) I'm so keen to 'catch up' on what I feel I missed and to feed my hungry brain that I end up chasing my tail and/or non-productive tangents. If I gave myself a moment of quiet to think I'd probably get some clear focus.

  12. Great advice, sarah and that's why I'm switching off the PC now. I daren't think too much when I'm driving as I've had some close shaves that way but as a passenger, then I do get some good ideas. Also on the exercise bike at the gym, bizarrely.

  13. I like drive. I like drive not only due to the sensation of speed (I never go over 120 km/h) but because driving, I have the possibility of thinking about myself and everything is around me. Probably this is the moment, together the moment I am in bed before sleeping, that I leave my mind to fly free. I have always done so and, if I can, listening good music (now I am obsessed with Cello Suites by Bach). In the same way that our body needs a rest, our mind too and we always have to find the moment for giving it this rest asleep.

    By the way, it sounds quite odd to me to "speak" in English with you.

  14. I'm sorry I've taken so long to answer your comments, but I read and enjoyed every one of them. Thank you so much for your comments.
    I hope you've all been finding thinking moments this week, I have, and it's helped me with my writing.


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