Getting Into Your Writing Head

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I can’t even begin to say how much stuff there is in my head — not necessarily useful stuff, mind you, but the kind of stuff that feels important and necessary at the time. Over the past few years, I have gotten used to juggling lots of different work-related balls. Ever since I started teaching my creative writing workshops in Cambodia six years ago, my writing career became split between my own creative writing and some equally important teaching. That in itself is not unusual. Most of the writers I know do that. Some are full-time professors, others run workshops for various organisations and schools. I believe that teaching is an important part of writing. At least it is for me.

Then two years ago, once my solitary writing workshop blossomed into the fully grown international NGO, Writing Through, my head space became even more split. Not only was there writing plus teaching, but now there was also administration. That took some getting used to, but I managed, although with some frustration and difficulty.

And then came this summer, an international move, total upheaval of our family life, change, change and more change. The administrative work never stopped, and I did manage to keep up with that. But my writing? Remember that novel that I so excitedly started a few months earlier, first at the Gladstone Library, and then at Anam Cara? And what about my new poetry collection, forty-five poems waiting for another twenty to help make them whole? Not  only was I not writing, but I had stopped even being able to see how or when I’d be able to start writing again. How would I ever get back into my writing head?

But with the help of my wise and supportive husband ( who knows me well enough to know that if I didn’t start writing soon, I would drive him and myself completely crazy), I discovered a new ally — time. Despite what the Rolling Stones might say, I have never felt that time was on my side. But now, living here on the other side of the world from my former life in London, and more importantly, even further away from my work in SE Asia, time was my helper. Thankfully, the world really is round, the sun rises and sets at different times, and although jet lag sucks big time, waking up on Martha’s Vineyard to find that Cambodia is eleven hours later and already finished with its work day, is a huge boon. Instead of waking up, spending 2 hours answering emails before I even got out of bed, I could now look at my emails but know that they could go unanswered for hours. No one would be looking at them. I could even wait until the end of the day before I thought about them at all. Finally, time was on my side.

But that was only the first step. For me to write, I have to find a way to clear out all the extraneous thoughts, no matter how compelling they might seem. Regardless of what is going on around me, I need there to be quiet in my head and I need to find my way into that quiet without hiding myself away in some writing retreat. Every writer finds their own way of going to that world of their own making. For me, I do it through meditation.

It may put off sitting down at my desk for another twenty minutes or so, but I know that if I take the time to meditate, to sit quietly, focus on my breathing and watch my thoughts come and go without attaching myself to them, I can get to where I need to be ( I now use the app Headspace to get me going – it, and its founder Andy Puddicombe, are great!). I can stare into space and see whatever world I’m in the middle of creating. I can hear word combinations that had been waiting patiently in the back of my head until the noise of life cleared away. For me, time + meditation = access to the creative mind. This, actually, is not news. I have learned this lesson several times before. Unfortunately, I keep forgetting it. But this week, I remembered it, and there everything was, my characters, my plot, my setting — all that I had known was there waiting and, even better, lots that I didn’t know. Phew! And now, I don’t feel so crazy inside, and my husband will probably be happy to hear that, too.

People don’t often leave comments on these posts, but I am curious to know how other people do this. I know there are as many writing processes as there are writers. Tell me — how do you get into your own writing head?

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Joe Stein said:

Good to know pen is meeting paper once more, Sue. I myself would love to get into my writing head, but unfortunately, I’m not sure where it is. It was last seen travelling North on a London Night Bus from Shoreditch after a late one at the pub, slurring its words and trying to find its front door key. It hasn’t yet been handed in to London Transport lost property. If found please give two Alka Seltzer, a Raymond Chandler short story and a dose of Hammett.
In the meantime, maybe I’ll have a look at Headspace…

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