“You have to get things quiet in your head so you can hear your characters and let them guide your story. The best way to get quiet, other than the combination of extensive therapy, Prozac and a lobotomy, is to first notice that the station is on.”
-Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird page 117
The “Station” that Anne is referring to is what she calls KFKD, or K-fucked. Anne says that KFKD is on every morning when she sits down at her desk. To quiet her mind she says a little prayer asking for help getting out of her own way.
Maybe for me it will be that simple someday. I think it must take practice. Maybe your mind needs to be accustomed to being shushed before it responds quickly and consistently. For now, I’ve learned a few tactics that seem to help – most days, anyway.
Struggling with a Noisy Mind
From the moment you wake up in the morning there are a million thoughts racing through your mind. You have thoughts about the day, worries, fears, and challenges to deal with as they arise. You also have people, media, and noise coming at you. Yet all of that noise needs to be subdued so that you can think clearly. You need to be able to soothe the monkey mind so that you can focus and listen to the words and story that your characters have to tell you.
Here are a few ideas to help you quiet your mind.
Meditate – Give yourself five or ten minutes to clear your mind completely. You might try deep breathing, guided meditation, or binaural beats.
Morning Pages – This is a habit created by Julia Cameron in her book, “The Artist’s Way.” Essentially you use a notebook to dump all of your thoughts first thing in the morning. It’s a daily purge of sorts. You do it before you do anything else. Grab a pen or pencil and start writing. It’s not just for writers and artists either, Tim Ferris of the 4-Hour Workweek fame also practices Morning Pages.
A Ritual – Right now, this is how I quiet my mind. It’s working for me fairly well. I drink my coffee and allow myself to wake up enough to make breakfast. After breakfast, I immediately gather my belongings and the dog and head to my office. I turn on some music and sit down at my computer. Because I’m only slightly awake and haven’t checked email or really talked to anyone yet, my brain is quiet. If I deviate from this ritual, it’s a struggle.
Nature – Nature has a way of quieting thoughts. Consider going for a walk or just sitting outside for a few minutes before you write. Try drinking something warm and calming as you sit outside.
– Exercise works for many people. They find that they are most able to focus immediately after exercising. This isn’t the case for me. I find that I’m way too distracted after I work out, but from what I understand from others, this is unusual. There are many studies that show that people are smarter and more focused after exercising. Try it. You don’t have to do a CrossFit workout, you might try a brisk walk or jog.
Deep breathing, prayer, and affirmations or a mantra are other options to consider. Finally, consider when you feel most calm during your day. Is it first thing in the morning? Is it in the evening after everyone has gone to bed? When do you feel like you might be most successful quieting your thoughts?
Keep in mind that being able to calm your brain is a great habit to develop. You’ll be able to control stress and your reactions anytime during the day, not just when you’re getting ready to write. The ability to manage stress and quiet your thoughts is definitely a practice worth embracing.