Five Simple Tools for Taming Monkey Mind and Writing More by Rochelle Melander
Writing is not a matter of time, but a matter or of space. If you don’t keep space in your head for writing, you won’t write even if you have the time. ― Katerina Stoykova Klemer
For weeks before the spinning beach ball of death took control of my computer, locking me out from everything, it made several short appearances. My computer repeatedly warned me: “Your startup disk is full. You need to make more space available on your startup disk by deleting files.” I moved files to an external hard drive and deleted unused programs. But, I might as well have been trying to empty the ocean with a bucket.
In the midst of one late-night moving session, my computer said something like, “I don’t have the space to do this but, if you want to do it, I’ll keep trying.” And so it did, until I hired a tech guy to make it stop. My computer guy let me in on a secret: your computer needs to have 15-20% of its space free to operate. So when it’s stuffed with words, programs, and photos—it gets stuck.
That got me thinking about my writing brain. I write first thing in the morning, before I’ve checked email, but my brain isn’t just sitting there, waiting to spout out brilliant scenes. Instead, the thoughts wind around the hamster wheel in my head: What do I need to sign for the kids? Is my lunch date still on? When do I see clients? I hope I can get the editing done today. What else did I say I’d do? I should check Facebook. Before I know it, I have monkey mind. You know how it goes. I don’t have enough free space in there to focus on reading a book let alone writing one.
You might be thinking, “Well that’s just how it is!” No, it’s not. Here are some signs that your brain might be on overload:
+Forgetting deadlines & appointments
+Feeling agitated while relaxing (I should be doing something)
+Difficulty concentrating on writing or other projects
+Rapidly hopping from idea to task and back again
+Feeling exhausted or being unproductive at your most productive times of day
So what’s the solution? We can buy a big old external hard drive for our computer and offload some of our information stash onto that. But we cannot buy more brain space. When your brain’s start up disk is full (and whose isn’t full?), don’t wait until you crash—get sick or have a full-blown meltdown.
Here’s how to take care of your brain and write more:
1. Take balcony time. Schedule a day in the balcony to take a birds eye view of your life, schedule and to do list: what’s filling up your startup disk? There’s a great computer program called Grand Perspective that maps a computer’s hard drive so that users know what programs are taking up the most space. I wish I had that for my life!
2. Complete unfinished business. Schedule a chunk of time to wrap up unfinished business—all that stuff you’ve been meaning to do that you never get around to that haunts you in the middle of the night and when you should be writing. You know, your annual physical, your eye check up, writing a thank you note to your aunt, and paying that parking ticket. After the big clean up, create a regular day each month to deal with this stuff.
3. Schedule wrap up and planning time. Schedule time at the end of each writing and work session to wrap up projects. If possible, create a to-do list for the next day so that you don’t have to remember what you plan to do. Also, make a note about what you plan to write about during your next session, so that your subconscious can do the work for you!
4. Keep an idea file. While you’re working, keep a file or notepad open to jot down all the tasks and worries that show up while you are trying to write.
5. Take time off. Schedule down time. You need rest, relaxation and repetitive tasks to give your brain time to heal and your subconscious a chance to work.
Your turn: What do you do to deal with your spinning brain? Leave a comment below.
Writing first thing in the morning IS one of the ways I cope with monkey brain. I find it’s easier to focus on my writing before life gets underway for the day. Sometimes, though, that’s not enough. Meditation helps, but the bottom line is that moving things off my list–as you describe–is usually the best cure. Thanks for the great tips!
Thanks, Cheryl! I’m glad to meet another early morning writer!
In order to deal with this problem (I have a professional day job, I’m a mother of two kids, and I write), I downloaded a meditation app for my iphone. I’ve discovered that if I use a guided meditation for 10 minutes before writing, it clears my head enough of the agitation about all the “to-do’s” that I can calmly begin writing. I use “Headspace” as my meditation app but there are many others. (Recently profiled in The New York Times on their wellness blog: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/10/seeking-serenity-on-a-screen/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 )
Lisa–thanks for this. I’m going to try it!