Clearing the Mind

I received the following question from Steve, a log  cabin guy out in the Peanut Gallery:
“I was curious to find out how you  center yourself and clear your mind before writing. I have had trouble clearing  my mind and getting my thoughts out. I truly do enjoy writing; however, it just  seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted just trying to figure  out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints?”

My dear Steve, why on earth would you want to clear your mind? No wonder you have an empty page – you are trying to have an empty head. The goal of writing is to get what is in your head onto a piece of paper, or perhaps a modern screen.

The best way to start doing that quickly is to, well, start doing that quickly. Just write down something, anything. It doesn’t have to be the beginning; you can start in the middle. It doesn’t have to be an executive summary or introduction; you can start with the first step of the procedure you followed. Just write down one thing you know you want to say, any fact at all, in any order. If you think of another topic or fact while you are writing, then put a bold subhead with that topic at the bottom of the page and go back to what you were writing. You can add more details about that other topic later.

There is an excellent book about how to overcome writer’s block that is recommended often at writers’ club meetings and conferences. It’s called Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, who has been working with writing groups for 30 years. It is full of prompts to get you started and tips for how to turn off the inner critic so you can keep on going. You can find it on Amazon.com amid rave reviews.

But don’t wait for that to arrive in the mailbox; just start typing, even if you have to start every piece with “It was a dark and stormy night.” Put something on the page, get those fingers typing and the thoughts will start flowing. You can cut and paste and rearrange and edit later, just do the “brain dump” as fast as you can. But whatever you do, don’t clear your brain!

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I got another comment from the Peanut Gallery from Mohammed in Oman:
“It seems that John F. Kennedy lived about half a century in the president chair. I know it is a typing mistake.”

The dates I normally put in my Profound Quote of the Day at the end of my Tip of the Day represent when the person was born and died, not length of service as President or philosopher or whatever. But I can see where one might interpret the year span in
“John F. Kennedy, 35th US President, 1917-1963”
as Kennedy’s presidential term, the way this was written.
That’s a good example of why clarity is important!

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Writer’s Block Quote of the Day:
“Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:

‘Fool!’ said my muse to me, ‘look in thy heart, and write.’”
– Sir Philip Sidney, English  poet, 1554-1586
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