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The Anguish of Writing
Three years ago, I stood in the 4'x4' drab, yellow entry way where Hemingway shot himself in the head with a a shotgun, in SunValley, Idaho in 1961, after suffering years of poor mental and physical health.
A tour like that is rare, and I am thankful for it. I remember it frequently.
I wonder what his last thoughts - dark, desperate. Who knows if he thought of his writing life in the final moments.
I stood beside the window shot in this image, my feet in the steps where Hemingway had paced. He enjoyed writing at this window overlooking the river below.
I do not believe in the supernatural, but I felt the residue of his famous life, and it freaked me out.
I was so close, and the feeling was intimate. The empty house of writing royalty left me feeling tragedy.
Just living the writing life is torturous for some authors, Hemingway included:
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
Writing inflicts pain on me, and I bet it does on you too sometimes. Why is this? What makes writing hard?
Your Writing Routines Determine the Difficulty
How do you write a blog post? Maybe you are among the gifted few who sit down and the words flow. Still, there are times when it's a pain in the ass.
Do you sit down, fingers at the keyboard, a blank white computer screen staring at you, your pulse quickening with anxiety? A billion thoughts racing through your mind? Do your fingers start to shake, your vision blur?
I usually get up and leave my office at this point, and it can happen 20 or 30 times in a writing session. I brush my teeth, play with the kids, yell at the kids, get something to eat, and play a video game.
But, this occurs in blogging sessions when I'm not using my brain efficiently, and my "breaks" create more clutter and chaos, making it even more difficult to write.
In these hours of anguish I slip unconsciously into routines that are counterproductive.
A Cluttered Mind Makes Writing Difficult
Your mind loves to be busy with tons of ideas at once, and if you let it run free, your brain will wander everywhere. This means that your ideas bounce around, and it's hard to focus because at once you are in three places, the:
To write effectively, you need to be focused in the present, but your mind loves to wander around the past and play in the future.
Basically, you often remember past ideas and experiences, and you frequently think about what's going to happen in the future. A baseball game you're going to, a bill you need to pay, a home project you have to finish, etc.
This thinking produces little valuable writing because you are focused on the past and future - not the present writing moment.
Scientists have even located the region in the brain where this cluttered mind resides and what happens when you clean it up:
Researchers at Yale recently identified that two areas in your brain associated with pain, the anterior cingulate cortex and insula, light up in response to letting go of items you own and feel a connection towards.
Focusing the mind on the present moment and getting rid of clutter is painful in a way because you impose control on your thinking. That is challenging work.
And, you have to let go of stuff. The clutter is the past and the future. The pain is necessary for prewriting decluttering, but usually temporary.
Taking Control of Your Conscious, Writing Mind Through Meditation or Decluttering the Anterior Cingulate Cortex
The trick is to practice controlling the way your brain normally operates when you sit down to write. You probably have fixed routines when you write, and if they work for you, keep them.
Hemingway used to sharpen a huge number of pencils before he sat down to write. Helped to clear his mind and focus on writing. If the ritual helps you to write, keep it.
However, if the past and present are distractions, almost always true, you have to spend some time doing some brain cleaning and continual maintenance.
Rid yourself of all previous routines and try out these new ones to get you writing successfully:
From experience, not just my own, but thousands of student writers I have taught, the method works but requires practice.
It may not make sense to you that a clear mind produces great writing, but allow the results to speak for themselves. Try this out as your own little science experiment.
And, please, let me know how it goes in comments below. Did it work? Where did you have problems? What success did you have? What might you add or subtract? I would wish you good luck, but you don't need it. You have the power of mind science behind you.
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