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?