Many writers, especially those who have to do other things than just write (i.e. motherhood, a job, life in general) complain about their lack of focused writing. Time is the answer, these writers decide. They focus on schedule, attempting to set aside blocks of time or vacation days to be creative. That, they assure themselves, will magically start the creative juices flowing. Then, when they sit in front of the computer during their block of time, or the writing day comes along, they find themselves waylaid by lack of inspiration. Nothing comes. No writing is happening. This leads, naturally, to great frustration because now they are wasting that precious time they sacrificed to set aside. It is a cycle of dismal failure. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
While setting aside time to write is important, it is not the magical answer to achieving actual words on the page. What can often be lacking is what I like to call brainspace: giving the mind room to be creative. While you need time to have brainspace, brainspace is not the same as time, and without it, no amount of time will accomplish your writing goals.
Some people call it switching from left brain to right brain. For many, that switch is difficult to do, and may explain why, even when a writer dedicates his time to write, he has difficulty actually getting out the words. Making that switch is not necessarily a matter of clearing your mind or being in a silent room; it’s what brings inspiration and creativity to you. It’s what gives you the brainspace to focus on writing and your story and not on the million other things that vie for your attention.
In Your First Novel, Laura Whitcomb explains that while it is important to feed both sides of the brain (after all, organization and time management are a left brain function), finding ways to switch to the right brain is essential to actually accomplishing the writing for which your left brain has set aside time. There are a variety of ways to do this; the key is finding what works for you.
Feeding your right brain can be done generally and also specifically in the moment (like when you are staring at your blank computer screen). Some general right brain activities are going to a museum or art gallery, garden shows, working in the garden, reading (which feeds both left and right brain), watching movies, talking with someone who makes you think outside the box, or doing research that takes action instead of just on the internet or in a book. Research that takes action could include visiting locations you’d like to have as a setting, or observing people doing an activity that your character does. For my latest novel, I am including a duel as an important aspect of the storyline. Instead of only reading about dueling, I attended a dueling exhibition at Andrew Jackson’s The Hermitage, where I was able to experience it firsthand. I was also able to speak with an expert on dueling, who promised to assist me with any future questions. This was inspiring and informational at the same time.
Finding brainspace in the moment could start with something as simple as writing in the same physical location as often as possible. Your mind will begin to associate that location with writing or inpiration, and will make the transition from left to right brain easier. An added benefit is that when you get stuck, changing locations could temporarily unstick you. Other ways of finding brainspace is to pray or meditate at the beginning of your writing session, consciously clear your mind of distractions, or listen to music. Some writers find inspiration in quiet places, or by looking out the window. Others find that writing in a public place charges up those creative juices because it allows for people-watching and eavesdropping.
So, the next time you schedule a time to write, take time for brainspace. Feed that right side of your brain, and be amazed at how focused your writing can be!