Last week we looked at our physical work space and identified the clutter preventing us from working at our best. If you took the ideas I shared and did your own decluttering, you’re ready to move on to freeing up brain space for renewed creativity.
Defining mental clutter
There’s so much to pay attention to in our modern, interconnected world. It all creates mental noise that distracts us from what we want to accomplish.
I think this may be harder to handle than the stuff you have to move out of your way before you begin writing. It’s insidious, creeping up on us, wearing stealth sneakers, so we aren’t aware of it until we’re overwhelmed.
This type of clutter is hard to root out of our lives because technology promises to make our lives easier. And we buy that con every time.
You can’t bring yourself to ignore your mother’s calls even though she knows this is the only time of day you can sit down and write. You hear the ping of an arriving text and curiosity wins every time. Facebook snares you as soon as you connect to the internet, even though your intention was to research meals served in Viking longhouses at the winter solstice.
Check out your inbox. Is it overflowing with promotional pitches from dozens of programs you don’t even remember? Do you receive newsletters you never have time to read? Are there hundreds of messages you’ve tagged for follow-up? Every time you open your mailbox you’re distracted by all the mail you need to answer or delete.
While you intend to write for the entire afternoon, two culprits leach away your focus. Stress and worry carry on a continuous conversation in the back of your awareness. There’s no easy way to turn them off, and over time they become so much a part of you that your brain doesn’t remember any other way to operate.
Maybe you’re thinking about a conversation you had with your spouse, and wishing you had thought of this or that to say before storming off to lock yourself in your writing space. Or you’re wondering if there’s anything left in the freezer that you can thaw out for supper in the next twenty minutes. You think about the medical tests you had last week, about the neighbor’s dog howling all night, the price of gas for your car.
At the end of the afternoon, you find you’ve written four paragraphs. And you’re going to have to throw away three of them. Now you’ve got the added worry about meeting your editor’s deadline.
Dealing with mental clutter
It’s tough and it’s painful. But you can learn new habits to defeat those technology time-sucks.
I’ve seen several posts about apps designed to allow distraction-free writing. (Isn’t that like asking your St. Bernard to guard your platter of steaks? I could never fathom why I would add more technology to my life in order to eliminate technology.)
For those of you who just can’t live without some online connection every hour of your day, here’s a short list of apps you can check out for yourselves. (I have no affiliation with the creators of these tools and encourage you to always search for reviews of products like these before making any decision about downloading them.)
Calmly Writer – from the Chrome web store
FocusWriter – Windows, Mac, Linux
OmmWriter – for Mac OS X
Q10 – for Windows
WordPress Distraction-Free Writing – for WordPress bloggers
WriteMonkey – for Windows
WriteRoom – for Mac
ZenPen – online screen
If you’re a rewards-driven personality, decide on something delightful you can claim only if you’ve written for a set amount of time. Or the number of words you want to write each day. Or whatever your goal. Then, don’t connect to the internet until you’ve accomplished your mission. Did you get that? Just don’t connect to the internet—at all!
For some of you, that might be the biggest incentive you could find. You’d fly through our work just so you can get back to that lifeline. Others will feel real relief once you realize you can turn on the computer and work with no way for anyone to ping, tag, message, or hashtag you.
For myself, I’ve found the days I’m most relaxed about my work are those when I never connect to the internet at all. You’ll have to let me know how this works for you.
I will probably be the last person on earth to break down and buy a smart phone. My little “dumb” phone is exactly right for me. I prefer to communicate face-to-face with family and friends. I only got my no-contract cell phone when my vehicle became so unreliable I couldn’t drive anywhere without wondering if I’d make it to my destination. But I don’t carry my phone on my person, and it’s very seldom in the same room, no matter what I’m doing. If I can’t get from my office to the dining room table before the phone stops ringing—well, that’s why there’s a voice-mail option. I choose the time for answering and returning calls.
Start leaving your phone in another room. Try this for a day or a week. If it’s an emergency, the person calling will call again, right away, and you’ll know you need to answer. You may suffer withdrawal symptoms—but you can do this!
When the brain is full of other things, there’s no room for the flow of creative thought.
It’s impossible to come up with a one-size-fits-all cure for stress and worry. Each of us has our own challenges and problems to face. Even though we think we’ve blocked them from our minds, those distractions are nibbling away at the amount of brain power we can bring to creating.
Lately, I’ve been doing a morning and evening meditation for writers. The Accessing the Writer Within 28-day series of meditations was a workshop from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI), but you could do any type of meditation before writing. As you observe your worries floating through your mind, notice what they are, and tell them you’ll get back to them after your writing time. Then let the stress go for that short time. If you can’t manage twenty or thirty minutes, try for five. It doesn’t take hours of meditation to give your mind some relief from your everyday cares. And the added focus you gain will sharpen your writing.
You might try writing the things that worry you on pieces of paper. Once they’re on paper, you can choose to burn them (carefully, over the sink, or in a big metal bowl) and release them to the Universe to take care of while you write. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover how many of those worries are resolved when you let go of the need to control the outcome.
Set your intention to focus on writing and access how you want to feel at the end of your writing time. Feel the glow of accomplishment, the excitement at the sight of your new pages. Picture yourself writing easily and quickly. Then begin writing.
If you’ve followed these suggestions, you’ve eliminated several types of clutter from your life, allowing you the space and mental freshness to access every bit of creativity you need. You’re sitting in an organized office, your mind is clear, and your focus is on writing. So get busy!
If you have other decluttering tips that have helped you get more writing done, share them with us in the comments.