Do you take time out to think? I don’t mean sitting around waiting for the Muse to strike. I mean making the effort to sit down, with a project or idea in mind, and working out how to develop it?
I think writers get used to thinking all of the time, and so we become blasé about it. It develops into one of those activities we do while doing something else: washing up, cutting the grass, going for a walk or doing the weekly food shop. But for us, as writers, thinking deserves more respect.
I’ve just finished reading David Allen’s revised Getting Things Done (GTD). It’s one of those books that needs to be reread every couple of years, just to remind yourself of some of its finer points of his technique. His idea is a simple one: have a system for collating and managing all of your to-dos, because our brains are not designed to be filing cabinets keeping track of everything we should be doing. Instead, we should clear our brains of all of this stuff and give them the space to do what they were designed to do: think.
It’s a similar principle to Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages technique in her book The Artist’s Way. She espouses the benefits of waking up in the morning and writing three pages … of anything. She sees it as an opportunity to declutter the brain of its overnight thoughts - often things we’ve realised we need to do at some point.
Once we’ve done that, according to Julia, our brain is then free to think. To be creative. Well, isn’t that what every writer wants it to do?
So, do you make time to think? How do you think? Do you stare at a blank wall? Or gaze wistfully out of a window? Do you play soft music in the background and close your eyes? I’d suggest doing whatever feels right for you, but do two more things:
- take yourself off somewhere quiet, where you won’t be disturbed,
- take a notebook and pen to record your thinking.
Take a project you’re working on (story, article, novel, non-fiction book) and simply think about it. Ask yourself some questions to get the thinking process started:
- What do you need to do next with this project?
- Is something stopping you from moving it forward?
- How is your character going to resolve their current problem?
- Have you considered all of the angles for your article?
Jot down everything that comes into your mind in a notebook. Personally, I find writing in longhand helps with my thinking process. The slow pace of handwriting gives my brain time to cogitate (although, perhaps that’s just because my brain is slow at thinking).
Experiment. Set a timer and give yourself ten minutes of thinking time to start off with. Be realistic with the other demands on your life. Take yourself off somewhere: garden, the car parked on the drive, the smallest room in the house even. Just see what happens. Over a period of time you may discover a time, place, environment that works best for you. Perhaps three ten minute blocks of thinking time a day will work better for you than one half an hour block.
Writers are often perceived as daydreamers, but thinking is a crucial activity for us. It’s not a process to be hurried. Thinking is just as important as our writing - perhaps more so, for without thinking we might not have anything to write!
Think about it.