Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Closet Stuffed With Brain Clutter

Kicking Back to think.
Good morning! Today, I’m going to piggyback on W.S. Gager’s post from last week regarding writer’s block.

I have always taken the stance that writer’s block doesn’t exist…well…until last year. Starting around December 2011, I went through fourteen months of what I called writer’s block. Did I still get work done? Sure. I had to. But my productivity was way down from my norm. Every word was a struggle and when I sat down to write, I ended up so stressed out, I generally needed to get up and do something else for a short period of time just to relieve the tension. I was cranky and snappy. I ended up with more migraines than ever.

Writer’s block?


I didn’t understand what it was and for simplicity of explanation, I called it by the name non-writers understand when I explained to them. Writer’s block. What I really had—and still have—is actually Brain Clutter. Brain clutter is the debilitating inability to focus on one thing.

This is what happens:

You have projects due to multiple people at the same time
You have guilt from not being able to work faster
You have self-doubt
You have your day job
You have promotional duties
You have family responsibilities (mine changed in the last year)
You have household responsibilities
You might even have medical issues.

I managed to hit all these marks over this past year. If you haven’t experienced this, imagine you’re sitting at a table with a bunch of people. Everyone’s talking and you’re trying to listen to and be involved in all of them. Overwhelming, right? Trying to focus on one person while all the others are all talking to you is impossible.

People who have brain clutter can’t shut out the distractions and focus on just one thing.

So what do you do?

Some suggest writing down all the things hammering at you. Hammering would be my word, because that’s what it feels like. This options works for many people. It doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t empty the clutter from my brain. In my case, it’s still circling around in there and doesn’t alleviate the stress and guilt. But, writing it down does help me pinpoint the problems.

Some suggest meditation. Sit down and breathe. Focus on getting inside yourself and figuring out what’s bugging you. Cleanse and ground your spirit. This isn’t really in my toolbox, but an internet search can help you if you think this is something that would help you.

Some suggest eliminating distractions. I understand my son’s ADHD. I’m not saying I have it, but when I’m extremely cluttered, I can’t filter out distractions. Here are things that help me:

Remove myself. Sometimes I have to leave, whether it’s merely the room or the house. Let’s face it, when you work from home, even your house can be the distraction (I need to dust…oh, is the laundry done…dinner. What’s for dinner?)

Remove my distraction. Send the family somewhere. Utilize the time while your spouse is working and your kids are at school. I have trouble with this since my son home schools and my husband’s schedule has changed and his free time is in the center of my work time.

Do an electronics fast. Right…’cause I don’t work on a computer. Uh-huh. So…do a partial electronics fast, getting rid of everything but your word processing program. Most computers have a switch to turn off the internet. Mine is a touch button that I accidentally switch off from time to time, but oh my word, it takes a lot of power to turn off. Until you do, you don’t realize how leashed you are to Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Pinterest, EMAIL, instant messaging, Skype, YouTube, iTunes, Amazon, eBay and a bazillion other sites. Even if you only let each have 15 minutes of your time (and like Lays chips, can you really stop?) that’s about 3 hours time.

Still on the fast… And then there’s the phone and iPAD/Tablet. If I let myself, I can spend at least two hours a day on the iPad playing games or reading. Three hours of internet time, two hours of iPad time. That’s five hours. And then there’s the PHONE. Did you know that most smart phones have a do not disturb feature? It’s handy. I use it. But when I don’t use it, I can spend hours on the phone. Take Monday for example when I didn’t turn on that feature. I was on the phone for two hours and fifty-eight minutes over the course of eighteen phone calls. How could anyone get a thing done with constant interruptions that pull your thoughts from your writing?

So if you did the math (and if I actually did all these things in one day, which I didn’t), I would have spent nearly eight hours doing things that weren’t writing. Things that filled up my brain with other worries, concerns or ideas.

I challenge you to track your internet, iPad, phone time. You might be shocked.

Finally, I organize my clutter. I actively write for three different publishers. That means that at any time, I have a minimum of three projects demanding attention NOW NOW NOW! That’s probably the most debilitating thing, and something most writers must deal with. I have four solutions for you, if you have the same issue.

1. Schedule your time. Allot a portion of your day to each project. Right now, I’m writing four books. One gets an hour of my day. Two share a two hour time slot where I might work on one or both of them (they’re part of the same series and take place concurrently), and one gets the main share of my time, which is at least three hours. If I’ve wasted time, the last project gets all the attention. And I feel guilt which compounds my problems. If you’re strict and you stick to your schedule, this works because the demands are being met.

2. Bargain with yourself. I find this highly effective. Stephen King said: I go to the same place to write almost every day. I don’t bring a cell phone. I don’t take an iPod. My mind is thrown on its own resources. I make a little deal with myself. I say, just get five pages out. Five pages, and that’s it. You’re done. Of course I’ll get to five pages and always want to write a little bit more, but without that quota, I’d have a hard time even starting. As soon as I started doing this, I started seeing results. It actually works and works well (for me anyway).

3. Bargain with yourself - part two. Give yourself a reward system, i.e. if you get “x” done, you can watch an episode of Army Wives, Bones, Supernatural, [fill in your own TV addiction]. There are three TV shows I watch when they’re actually broadcast, rather than on DVD or Netflix, but if I don’t get in my writing time, those broadcasts are off the table.

4. While writing down what’s bugging me doesn’t help, writing down what I’m going to write does. But Brynn, isn’t that…writing? No, but thank you for asking. What I mean is, free write/outline what will happen in the next few scenes (or pages) in your book. Then when you sit down to write, you know what’s going on the page.

Does this all eliminate the brain clutter? No. I’m still working on it. Heck, it was only recently that I figured out what it was, but these things help and if you suffer from brain clutter, I hope there’s something in here that will help you.


Brynn is a chatty, bestselling and award-winning romance writer who unapologetically enjoys Twilight, Criminal Minds, Supernatural, NASCAR, men in uniform (or not), coffee, and above all, keeping it real. She’s been a fulltime writer since 2006 and has 46 published novels and novellas to her name. Her latest book, Briar's Cowboys is available from All Romance eBook, Amazon, Nook and Resplendence Publishing.


Tess Grant said...

Wow, Brynn, you just described me! From June or so onward, life has been insane. Every word of the last book was a struggle. I think I'm pulling out of it--not because life is less insane but because I'm starting to focus...a little. Like baby steps. I'm almost afraid to write since it became so hard. I'm going to keep taking it one day at a time.

Great post.

Simone Anderson said...

Agree with Tess, it pretty much describes my entire year last year. Still struggling, so it'll be interesting to see how the different tips work for me.

Stephanie Michels, author said...

I find that bargaining with myself helps. I say "if I do XXXX (whatever the main project is hanging over my head), then I can reward myself with YYYYY (usually going on Facebook for 15 minutes and playing around)."

And writing things down (the dread To-Do list) actually works for me. If I make a list of everything I need to remember, it doesn't keep screaming at me for attention when I try to focus on something else. At least it's working for the time being.


Patricia Kiyono said...

Great advice. On most days I start with a To Do list - just because it makes me happy to be able to cross things off! And I have to work at including things that don't require a computer. Sometimes cleaning out my sock drawer does wonders for reviving creativity.