It’s Not Finding Time, It’s Finding Space…Mental Space

20090829082327!The_ScreamAt the moment, I'm balancing a number of projects: two big assignments for two separate clients; reading and commenting on student work, and attempting to find time to work on my novel.  And then there's that idea for the other novel I'm researching.  Oh, and let's not forget the blog and newsletter.

It's a lot, more than I've ever had going on before, but it seems to be working for the most part.  Yeah, I do work at least part of most weekends–but I've also been known to take a couple of days off during the week.

I know some writers disagree with the idea of having multiple projects going at once, but it turns out I like it.  (And anyone who makes their living at writing must, by necessity, figure out how to do this.)  You may not be balancing multiple writing projects at once but rather have a day job that takes an inordinate amount of your time.  Or perhaps you have a passel of kidlets at home (even one child takes an enormous amount of energy).  Over and over again I hear the complaint–finding time is the biggest bugaboo for writers.

And yet–its not so much time we need as mental space.

Because, let's face it, we can find the time.  You might well have thirty minutes of down time after you've eaten lunch that you usually spend reading People magazine.  But does your brain have room to think about your WIP when it's been processing work-related information all morning?  You probably have time to write in the evenings after you've put your twenty children to bed.  But does your mind have room for one more thought?  It can be difficult–sometimes impossible–to switch gears to a creative mindset.

I'll confess that for years I was not a TV watcher, and I was a bit smug about it.  And then I realized that after a day of throwing words at the page (or reading the words of others) there's nothing better for zoning out than sitting in front of the TV.   Yeah, I should be reading a book or doing something creative, but sometimes all I have room for in my brain is to sit in front of the television.

But, we all want to get our writing done, so what's the solution?

First, become aware that it's really mental space and not time that's the issue.  This awareness allows you to start paying attention to what overloads your brain and when it happens.  It also creates room for some much needed self-compassion.  Next time you've got time to write and you just can't do it, look at why your brain is simply too filled up to think one more thing.

Meditation helps a lot, because it clears your brain and creates space in it, exactly what we need.  I'm working diligently on creating a consistent meditation practice that is longer than I'm used to each day, but even short bits of it helps.  Get in the habit of closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths to clear your mind for a minute or so throughout the day.  The inner spaciousness this fosters will translate into more mental energy for writing.

Play with process visualization, which is actually visualizing yourself hard at work.  Those pesky old scientists have proven this form of visualization to work (I think all kinds of it work, but that's just me).  Imagine yourself happily at work on your novel when you get a spare minute throughout the day.  This seems to pave the way for your brain to be able to switch itself on when the time for writing is nigh.

Write in your journal or do morning pages.  Taking time to write about other stuff besides your WIP is counter intuitive, because, you know, it takes time.  And time is what we're seeking.  But writing about all the other crap you gotta deal with pulls it out of your mind and puts it on the page.  Thus creating the space you need for your real writing.

Try writing by hand if you're use to composing on the computer, or vice versa. Doing something new interests the brain and perks it up, thus creating room for more work.

Get down to it.  Sometimes you think you just don't have it in you.  You're exhausted, you've worked all day, you can't think another thought.  And then you write one word.  And it leads to another.  And another.  And pretty soon you're in the midst of a writing session.

Utilize momentum.  One reason to write every day, even if its for five minutes, is that it keeps your WIP front and center in your brain.  It gives your brain something to chew on in those off moments while you're watching TV.  It keeps the synapses firing on the subject.  It's like you've created a file folder that's open and ready to receive data rather than having to start a new one each time you work on your project again.

Those are some of the things I've found helpful in creating mental space for writing.  What works for you?

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8 Responses to It’s Not Finding Time, It’s Finding Space…Mental Space

  1. J.D. 08/01/2013 at 04:31 #

    Good perspective. Maybe it depends on the genre but I disagree with you about TV. I watch Bones. While I’m waiting for the new season, I watch an episode of Castle each night. Anyone’s creative tank springs leaks in direct proportion to their TV watching. Solitude is for writers what Miracle Grow is for carrots. But I like your suggestions. And this idea of mental space, of creating a compartment from which we can work. Wouldn’t it be nice to manage you mind so well that you could open you “writing drawer” whenever you choose. Thanks, Charlotte.

  2. Zan Marie 08/01/2013 at 05:30 #

    And sometimes the body soaks up all that mental space and stuffs it with blankness. ; ) That’s my usual plight. But still, I get writing done…just very, very slowly.

  3. Charlotte Dixon 08/01/2013 at 08:48 #

    Well, you've been dealing with a lot of body stuff lately!  And, as far as I'm concerned, slow is better than nothing.

  4. Beverly 08/01/2013 at 09:35 #

    The “crafting fiber” part of my tag line (crafting words and fiber) is what gives me mental space. I can day dream while I stitch, and often that ends in great ideas for my writing work! I agree: we all have time for what we really long to do…if we make that mental space for it.

  5. Melissa Marsh 08/01/2013 at 14:39 #

    What a timely post. I just started a new job and it is heads and tails more complicated and involved than my last job that I held for six years. I go home exhausted at night and sit in front of the t.v. for an hour (something I used to NEVER do) because I simply can’t think anymore. I’ve noticed that after an hour or so is up, I feel more ready to do something with my writing – if I can just work up the energy.

    I need to be kinder to myself, I suppose, because learning a new job takes a LOT of energy. But then I think of that nonfiction book I’m writing that has a deadline (from my editor, not myself) and I start to panic. But I’ve noticed that when I’ve tried to push it, my brain shuts down and basically says, “NOPE. You’re DONE for the day.”

    Every day is a little better – it has only been a week and a day since I started the new job, so I must realistically expect an adjustment period. But oh, how I miss my writing…

  6. Beth Westmark 08/02/2013 at 08:15 #

    You are so right about it being a “space” issue. I agree with J.D. that a mental writing drawer would be handy. And if we didn’t need sleep, wow, that really would be a breakthrough!

  7. Kay 08/04/2013 at 07:58 #

    I do have time to write, but so often I use that time for displacement activities then feel guilty for not having written. I understand what this is about now and it offers me a different approach to dealing with it. Thank you.

  8. Charlotte Dixon 08/04/2013 at 08:32 #

    You are so welcome.  And I love the term "displacement activities," so thank you!

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