Part of the reason that I have struggled with writing these last few years is because I haven’t had time to think. I don’t know about other writers, but for me, thinking is 90% of the job. The rest is essentially dictation. If I don’t have time to think, there just isn’t much to dictate.
It took a while for me to recognize this problem. Various activities–work, reading, family life–have fragmented my time so much that I no longer just sit around and think–daydream, if you will. About the only time I do this is in the shower. Granted, I often get good ideas in the shower. But not enough to sustain my writing.
As I planned to start writing again, I knew that I had to try to solve the problem of thinking. I knew that I couldn’t sit down to write every day without having given my writing some thought. I finally decided that I would set aside 30 minutes each morning to do nothing. In other words, 30 minutes to just let me mind wander, and think.
I gave it a try for the first time this morning. After returning from my morning walk, I set my phone on my desk, and then wandered out onto the deck with nothing but a pen, my current Field Notes notebook, and my thoughts. I sat there for 30 minutes and let my mind wander. I watched 2 cicadas mate shamelessly before my eyes. I watched unusually fat squirrels climbing trees. I listened to the tap-tap-tap of a woodpecker somewhere out of sight. In the background, the car-alarm droning of cicadas filled the air. And every now and then, I thought about the story that I am writing.
It seemed to work. I jotted a page and a half of notes in my notebook. Most were questions, hows and whys. They weren’t all about the story, some where about how best to tell the story. I thought I would come away with more–a big revelation that would spark motivation and jump start things. That didn’t happen. But that kind of insight is always rare for me. Mostly, I tried to let my mind wander around the loosely fenced idea of my story. I was pretty happy with the results.
I suspect it will take practice. Sitting down once for thirty minutes and just letting my mind wander is not something I am used to these days, and like anything, it takes practice. I was surprised at how quickly the half hour passed. I probably jotted more than I should have. I’ve found that some ideas aren’t worth the ink, and being able to recognize that is an important skill for a writer. I’ll get better at that as I get back into practice.
When I finished, I transferred my notes into a notes file I keep for the story, organizing them a bit, and seeing where the ideas I jotted fit with ideas I’d already had. Something is taking shape in those note, and I think that something will form the skeleton of the story.
I’m interested in this process more than usual. If I am going to attempt to write ten novels over the next ten years, I need some way of learning from each one, and using what I learn from one to make the next one better. This way, when I retire, I’ll have enough practice under my belt to make my first attempt as a full time writer worthwhile. I think sitting for thirty minutes each morning and letting my mind wander around the borders of the story is a good use of time. We’ll see if it pans out.