Yesterday I received a comment that asked: “…I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing. I have had a hard time clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out. I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints?” I started my reply that this was a common problem among writers when I remembered that I had a blog topic in my list of about Focus. So I told the writer to tune in today and I would answer the question in detail.
As I mentioned in my first Blog, To Blog or Not To Blog I find it extremely useful to keep a never ending list of blog topics. Some days I am inspired by something that is not on the list but most days I go to the list and look through it and see what grabs me.
Okay, now we have a topic, woohoo! Go to your writing space. My current writing space is a 14” X 15” space I carved out of my sisters overcrowded dining room table. I tell you this because it doesn’t matter where your space is. It doesn’t have to be a fancy desk with everything in its place, it doesn’t have to be a dedicated “writing” space, it doesn’t have to be anywhere special at all. I have written blogs, on trains, in airport waiting areas, in diner’s, in Starbucks. The location and the surroundings are irrelevant, unless you make them relevant.
Sharing this blog with my niece just now, and she has pointed out that “just about everyone” says that it is better to have a neat and tidy desk space for writing and it clears your head. She graduated from Indiana U, I graduated from Lake Forest College (Phi Beta Kappa, Cum Laude) so there you go. It’s up to you, make a big deal of your writing space or dont’, whatever works for you.
So now we are at our writing space. Open your word document and as quickly as you can get something on the blank page. Now I am going to stop and back up for a minute here. The worst thing for a writer is a blank page. The plain white sheet staring at you, taunting you, daring you to write on it. So that’s why I advocate putting a date, a title, your name, untitled, once upon a time, whatever on the page as soon as you begin so that there is something instead of that awful blank page looking back at you. Confession Time: When I write my blogs I actually write them on my blog topic list document under the topic and then mark it as posted with the date. Then I copy and paste it into the blog add photos and post. So they are all on a word document first, but that’s just how I do it. And I am thinking about changing it because the document is getting huge! But I am never looking at a blank page when I begin it already has a lot of content on it. Currently this document is 39 pages long and I am typing on page 24. No blank page for me.
So anyway, where was I… oh yes, Focus! I usually write first thing in the morning right when I get up and the house is the quietest. No one around to disturb me. So I have my word document up I have my topic from my list I have a general idea of what I am going to say from when I put the topic on the list and then I am off…my fingers start flying across the keys and my thoughts are running through my head and the blog is getting written. Before I know it I have 500 words down. I stop I go back I read what I have written I make corrections, I change things, I take out entire sections, I rewrite, I think of other directions to go and I am off again typing away. And then another 300 words have quickly filled the page. Then I re-edit again, and again, and again.
My Father was a writer and he was often asked about how to write and he put it this way:
- Start with an idea.
- Write it down.
- Keep it simple.
- Make it interesting.
- Be authentic.
- Use plain, everyday language,
- Edit everything twice.
- Edit it again.
- Then once more.
- Smile and move on.
He also said: “Writers’ minds (such as they are) sometimes go blank. We might be smack in the middle of spinning a lively yarn when the curtain suddenly descends and – voila! – we’re off on an unplanned, uncharted wool-gathering expedition.” I am using these two quotes from a prolific and focused writer to make a point, that even if you are have something in mind and you know what it is you want to write, sometimes poof… There is no guarantee that it will stay there perfectly formed as it was just a minute ago!
Staying focused when there is nothing going on around you or when there is chaos going on around you is a skill that you acquire through years of experience. I can write in either situation. When I write I hear the narration I my head and it blocks out what is or isn’t going on around me. I have even had full conversations with people while I have been writing, not easy, but I have done it. Everyone has a routine or things they do before they start their work day. I more or less just dive straight in. I get dressed, get something to drink and open the computer and I am off. But that’s me.
To answer the question that began this blog if it takes you 10-15 minutes to set yourself up and get your mind focused in order to begin writing, there is nothing wrong with that. That is your routine. You can certainly try to change up your routine. You can try making your notes the night before you are going to write and then you will have the night to think about them. You can try changing the time of day you write. You can try changing the physical space you write in, music on, music off. (I do like classical while I write, that way the words of the songs don’t creep into what I am writing!). You could try yoga then writing, I know a writer who only writes after a steam shower clears his mind. I suppose I am lucky in that I can just dive in, My Dad was that way as well, so I must have inherited from him, but I do know you are not alone. You will find your way and your routine and it may be as simple as a cup of coffee or tea.