Mind control

I’m still having a little break from the novel – but busy working on other projects. Or at least I was – until my concentration (always a bit flighty at the best of times) plunged off the bottom of the scale.

I’ll be honest – I know exactly what’s causing it. He’s tall, muscular, bloody gorgeous and a VERY bad idea. (It’s great!)

But, I don’t want it to take over my life (especially as it will most likely end in tears), so I need to get my mind back in check and under control. I worked out that if I spent as much time and energy on writing, or even on working, as I do on day-dreaming then I’d be unstoppable. The trouble is, I’ve honed my powers of day-dreaming to almost super-human levels over my life so suddenly taking control and turning it round is proving to be a challenge.

I’ve tried the ‘STOP’ technique. That’s where you tell yourself to ‘STOP’ whenever you notice your mind wandering – but then I’m left with a void. What do I think about, then? It’s a bit like trying to not think about elephants – the more you try, the more they’re marching around in your head.

I’ve got two techniques that sometimes seem to work. One is a form of meditation – focusing on sensations, breathing – then trying to slowly turn the attention back to the task in hand. Works sometimes. The other is to drown out mental chatter – for example with the radio, which works better with talking than music. For some reason, music seems to enhance my day-dreams. If the radio isn’t an option, then I try to jam it with meaningless mental chatter of my choosing. Random song lyrics, lines of poetry or even a running commentary on what I’m doing. It stops day-dreaming but also effectively stops me from getting on with anything else useful at all.

What I really want to be able to do is to control the imaginative, day-dreaming part of my mind. It can be very creative and I know I do have incredible powers of concentration – but I can’t focus it on anything remotely useful.

I’ve noticed that I start to day dream when faced with something boring or that doesn’t really interest me – which is not much of a surprise. But the real key is to be more aware of how I start to day-dream – what are the mental cues that throw me into the state where I can fully visualise and focus so well? If I can master those, or so my theory goes, I can train myself to use similar cues to work out plots or dialogue (in boring meetings, for example) or to focus my attention on a dull task (and so become more productive at work).

Nice theory, isn’t it?!

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Filed under day dreaming, Self sabotage, Writing

Feeling guilty

I decided to give myself a break from writing the novel simply to give myself some space, and explore other projects. But I’ve done nothing very constructive for all that time – I seem to have collapsed in on myself like a burst balloon.

Maybe I should just enjoy this down time rather than waste energy feeling guilty about it?

Since working on The Artists’ Way I’ve slowly got out of the habit of doing my morning pages regularly (my excuse is Josh – he wakes up too early and complains) and I’ve stopped doing artist dates. Maybe that is the key and I need to go back and bring those things back into my life?

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Filed under Anxiety, Self sabotage, Writing

Robin Hood

I saw the first of the new series of Robin Hood the other day – utter rubbish (and even the sight of Richard Armitage couldn’t detract from it).

It began with Robin appearing to be dead with an arrow through his eye being discovered by a group of what looked like a cross between the gestapo, bondage fetishists and paras. (Did they have berets in the twelfth century? Or tight black leather with loads of buckles? I really don’t think so…)

I know this isn’t strictly relevant, but it is set a few years further on from my novel, so I’m always interested to see how the period is interpreted by others. I don’t have a problem with the modern language that they use (I’ve already decided to avoid fake ‘archaic’ language myself).

But if the BBC carry on at this rate, Robin will be turning up on a Harley Davidson next…

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More about getting into a writing frame of mind

I’m still having a rest from writing the novel – and still feeling vaguely guilty about it. It’s made me think a lot more about the writing process: why I want to write, and also why sometimes I find it so hard.

Being ‘in the mood’ for writing is definitely a key thing for me – but as writing is a large part of my work as well as something I do for myself, I don’t always have the luxury of waiting until the mood hits me.

So how come I can churn out press releases and brochures to order, but not the next few chapters of my novel? They key is preparation or warming up. At work there are things I always do as preparation – but because they are things that I do at work, I haven’t been applying them to myself at home when I feel as if I should just be able to leap straight in. Here are a couple of techniques that I’m going to try to transfer from work to home:

The friendly Martian

At work, I often have to spend time explaining what it is that I’m going to write about to other people, usually to elicit information from them. But often the act of explaining is just as useful to me as the information that I get out of it because it makes me think it through carefully and maybe look at the project from other angles.

Of course, to apply it to my novel, I’ll either have to find a willing victim or perhaps write questions and answers.

Word association or clustering

This is like mental doodling – letting your mind wander and think through the problem. (It makes you look more efficient than staring aimlessly out of the window when at work, too.)

 

Clustering (a technique I picked up from Gabrielle Rico’s book Writing the Natural Way) also helps to organise ideas. It’s similar to mind mapping, but I enjoy the action of circling words and phrases, then joining them up to form a huge web of ideas.

It helps me to organise ideas as well as find new connections; I’ve already been clustering to help me organise the sections of the novel. But I’ve also noticed that my writing comes easier after clustering so I’m going to work through some of the exercises in Rico’s book, especially those on modelling and re-creating.

Know the subject

When I get stuck writing something at work, it’s usually because I don’t know what I’m really writing about. Some people can work their way round that and make the best of what they do know – I’m not like that. My writing is like an iceberg: what appears on the page is only part of what goes on to create it.

One of the hang-ups of the book at the moment is the uncertainty of what is going to happen next. The characters are moving towards a pivotal point in the book, and none of us know what is going to happen next. And I’m getting twitchy about not knowing enough about the court system in early medieval England. It’s in danger of becoming too much of an episode of The Bill or Inspector Morse because that’s more or less the sum total of my knowledge of criminal law…

Obviously research and asking questions is going to be the answer for this – but I’m also going to explore visualisation techniques too. The passages of writing that have been easiest and turned out best were where I had a very clear picture in my mind of what was going on. All I had to do was describe what I saw in my head, and so it follows that if I can train my mind to rehearse parts of the novel in my head, writing it will be easier.

 

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Filed under Anxiety, copywriting, Middle ages, Motivation, Research, Writing

Creative U-turn or recharging?

I’ve decided to stop pushing myself so hard to get the first draft finished. Although I’m worried that this could be a bit of a creative u-turn.

On one hand, I’ve got a lot going on in my life. I’m a single mother (to an incredibly engergetic and sparky six-year-old boy) and I work full time. I have a house that needs cleaning and decorating along the lines of the Forth Bridge. And then on top of that, I’m writing a novel, trying to keep posting in a blog – not to mention attempting to keep up with my professional development and fit in a little social life.

I’m beginning to think that somewhere along the line, I need to fit in a little bit of relaxing!

So I’ve decided to ease up with the novel and let my batteries re-charge. I’m not going to be giving it up, though – just not punishing myself to get it finished. I don’t think that forcing myself to try to meet deadlines is helping me in my writing. I’m getting bits done, but I’m not enjoying it as much as I should be.

Having said all that, there’s a little voice in the back of my head that’s telling me that I should keep going and not stop. That I’m giving up and I will regret it later.

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Filed under Anxiety, Children, Housework, Motivation, Self sabotage, Time, Writing

Synchronicity

I’ve read about it – but not really ever experienced it in any meaningfully creative way until yesterday.

I wrote a post about how I find it hard to get into a writing frame of mind. Then I had a look a website that I’d seen earlier on – the Learning Space  from the Open University. There are free modules that you can study at your own pace, and I’d seen one that I fancied called ‘Writing what you know’.

And one of the first things I came across in this module was an interview with Andrew Cowan (author of several novels) talking about how he finds it hard to get into writing. He has to ‘circle the nest’ first – that is get all the jobs and distractions out of the way before he can write. He talked about putting his first novel Pig aside for weeks at a time while he did anything but write it.

So I feel better now. I’m not the procrastinating freak that I thought I was. (Or at least not the only one.)

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Filed under Anxiety, Synchronicity, Time, Writing

Getting into a ‘writing’ frame of mind

Lots of times I sit down to write, but just can’t get into it. I don’t have the right frame of mind – and given that I get very little time to write I want to be able to make the most of the time I have. I’m surprised at how hard I find it sometimes: after all I want to write. If I wanted to eat ice-cream, I’m sure that I wouldn’t have the same difficulty!

Of course, writing is mostly a mental process, and the mind has lots of ways to stop us from doing what we want. (Or maybe that’s just me!) My problems with getting on with writing seem to have two sources:

  • Anxiety
  • Distractions

The anxiety is all internal. Although I know that what I’m writing is just a first draft, and that no one is going to be seeing it, I have what I can only describe as performance anxiety, and I’ll do anything to avoid writing when I get into that state – which is where the distractions come in.

Distractions come in two sorts: internal or self-created ones (who’s emailed me today? Better just check my bank balance – etc.) and the real ones (Josh not wanting to go to sleep, the cat wanting attention, someone telephoning just as I’ve sat down).

Of course identifying the problems is only part of the battle. How do I overcome anxiety and the distractions that I create for myself? Obviously, will-power and self-discipline (as much as I hate to admit it) are the key things – but that’s not something that you can just ‘get’, it takes practice. I mean, I can’t go from having will-power with the consistency of jelly to tough and sinewy determination overnight. I need to build up to it.

My strategy is:

  • Fool myself into not being anxious. I’ll have warm-up session where I just ‘mess around’ with ideas to get me in the mood – the idea is that once I’ve started writing I’m usually ok.
  • Start small. If I really don’t feel like writing, I’ll just do it for 15 minutes to see how I get on (and set a timer so that I don’t clock-watch) and then carry on longer if I want to, or take a break.
  • Avoid opportunities for distractions. So, no internet connection when I’m writing and a note pad to write down all the ‘urgent’ ideas that occur to me while I’m getting started so that I don’t feel obliged to follow them up immediately!

Will it work? I have no idea.

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Filed under Anxiety, Self sabotage, Writing