Where Is Your Mind?

Skye Warren has a great series of emails she sends out about writing. The most recent one was about how she doesn’t believe in outsourcing Facebook ads to someone else because it just isn’t effective since the advertiser would only have control over one aspect of marketing your book whereas you have control over everything from cover to blurb to pricing and you know the product much better. (I happen to agree with respect to AMS ads.)

But what caught my attention in that email was this:

…consulting can be a distraction. In my last set of emails I talked about shower time and how I guard it—if you’re creating ads for five clients, including studying their books and the market, including communicating with them, it’s going to use your brain’s quiet cycles. They’re going to get your epiphanies. It’s an opportunity cost beyond even a high hourly rate.

She has a good point.

I too tend to use my shower time to think about things. When I get stuck with writing, I will often go take a shower. (Assuming I haven’t taken one already that day, because taking five showers a day seems weird although there are days I want to do that for the ability to step away from what I’m writing.) Hiking time also works this way for me.

What I find, though, is that even when I want to be thinking about what I’m writing, if I’ve let something else get into my mind, that’s what I end up thinking about in the shower.

So, for example, I did a group coaching session on Strengths a couple weeks ago. And that day when I stepped away from my writing and took a shower that’s where my mind was. I was replaying that coaching session trying to figure out how it had gone and what I could have done better.

For the next two days my quiet moments were taken up with thinking about Strengths and coaching. Now, in that case, I was paid for that coaching so one could argue that it had earned a share of my mental space.

But my mind isn’t always focused on paying work. For example, I will sometimes play word games on my computer at night while I watch television. And when I do I find my mind using that period of time right before falling asleep to create word combinations instead of think about what I’m writing. (For example, what words can you make out of CONCATENATE? CAT, COT, TEA, TEN, EAT, ATE, CON, …)

So I find I have to try to protect those down times if I want to make forward progress with the writing. I can play chess on my computer instead. Or sliding tiles. That gives me back that time right before falling asleep because it doesn’t trigger my mind to loop through scenarios or “solve” the problem.

And it’s why, even though it wasn’t the smartest financial decision, I was willing to step away from consulting entirely to work on my writing. Even when I was on a consulting project part-time, it still took those thinking times away from the writing. Because I’m high Responsibility, I always want to do the best job I can for others. So any project I work on that’s for someone else, will always take priority over my own projects.

So if you’re stuck with your writing, I’d stop and ask, “Where is your mind?” When you have free moments, is it on the writing? Or is it on something else? And if it’s on something else can you address that other issue or somehow change things to get that mental space back for your writing?

It won’t always be possible. The first time I stepped back from consulting to write full-time I didn’t write for a month because the day after I returned to Colorado my grandma fell and broke her hip and shoulder and all that mental free time I would’ve spent on writing was taken up with family.

But if it is possible–if you can stop playing that video game and replace it with something that doesn’t continue on in your mind after you stop playing–then make that change. Those fifteen or twenty minutes a day are precious.



Author: M.L. Humphrey

M.L. Humphrey is a former securities regulator, registered stockbroker (although only briefly), and consultant on regulatory and risk-related matters for large financial institutions with expertise in the areas of anti-money laundering regulation, mutual funds, and credit rating agencies. Since 2013 M.L. has also been a published author under a variety of pen names and across a variety of subjects and genres. You can contact M.L. at mlhumphreywriter [at] gmail.com.

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