Write It Sideways

Short on Mental Space? 6 Tips for Busy Writers

Today’s post comes from Julie Duffy of StoryADay May. Thanks for sharing these tips, Julie!

It’s one thing to find time for your writing. It’s quite another to find space in your brain.

Sure you could have run to your desk and tried to write during the 20 minutes in which the baby actually slept this morning…but your brain was going:

So much to do, so little time, so foggy. I’m exhausted; can I nap? What about the laundry? Wait, was that a cry? No? Wonder how long the baby’s going to stay down. I should be writing. Guilt, guilt, guilt. What are we having for dinner tonight? Take out again? Am I ever going to be able to finish a …what was that noise?

Maybe it’s not a baby. Maybe it’s your work, your mother, your children, your professor, your deadlines, your finances.

The voices in our heads make finding time for writing just the first of our problems. Now we need energy for writing.

What Can You Do When You Can’t Find The Mental Space To Write?

If you are struggling to write, consider this radical step:

Give up….temporarily.

Take a small break from your larger writing projects. Free yourself from the guilt. Take some time to feed your brain rather than trying to squeeze more out of it.

Use these six tactics to help:

1. Journal

Writing out all the thoughts in your head can help clear it. Use 750words.com if you don’t want to write on paper or your computer where it might be found. Write in fragments—bullet points if you have to. Or write a description of what you can see from your window and call it a writing exercise. Make it as good as you can. Use writing prompts if you like.

2. Set Tiny Goals

Tell yourself you will write 50 words, that’s all. Many writers set tiny, attainable goals like this. If you can get to 50 words, you can usually do more. Your goal will be different at different times (if you sign up for NaNoWriMo it’ll be 1667 words a day and you might find that if you can get there, you’re regularly writing 2000. If you commit to 50 you might find yourself writing 150.

3. Meditate

Meditating is a simple exercise you can do throughout the day. Even two minutes will help clear a space in your head. Stand or sit as still as possible. Breathe deeply. Concentrate on your breathing and every time your thoughts intrude, shut them out, and focus on your breathing (setting a timer for this helps). Try really hard to think about nothing at all and you should come out feeling refreshed.

4. Read Something

Put down the cereal box and turn away from the blogs. Read something really good. Read a book that inspired you when you were a kid. Read your guilty-pleasure book. Every piece of reading you do influences how you write. If you don’t want to write like an advertiser, then stop reading your junk mail and promotional emails, and pick up a poetry book.

5. Look At Something Beautiful

Look at a piece of art or craft and try to see it as the artist saw it at its various stages of creation: when it was a blank canvas and a view; when it was sketched out but not yet painted; when it was almost finished but unframed. Or that vase: what did the artist see in the lump of clay? How did it become the beautiful vase? How would that have felt?

Take a minute or two to really focus on the beautiful object and enjoy it.

Training your brain to see things as an artist is a valuable skill — and something you absolutely can do in the minutes between other obligations. It will refresh your brain.

6. Give Yourself The Day Off

I know, it’s controversial, but sometimes you just need a day off—from the guilt, from pushing yourself. Sometimes it’s OK to allow your imagination to rest. Fill up the creative well by hanging out with someone you love, and focusing completely on them. Taking time today to do something that feeds your brain will leave you less frazzled and more likely to be able to get into the writing space tomorrow.

A Note Of Caution

Just don’t go more than two days without writing. Take a lesson from basic physics: overcoming inertia (i.e. getting started) takes a lot more effort than speeding up if you already have momentum (if you are already moving).

What about you? What do you do when you just can’t summon the mental energy for your writing projects?


JULIE DUFFY is the host of StoryADay May an annual creative writing challenge designed to help writers learn how to write every day, not “some day”. She is also the author of several workbooks for writers.