Monday, April 12, 2010

Fallow Mind Time

I went camping this weekend. I did not take my computer. The notebook I brought with me was a little 4x6 journal from Japan, and in it I wrote less than a page - all tiny little things to jog my memory.

I packed stuff. Drove windy roads (very windy roads, where I had to be super-careful not to nauseate my poor son). Unpacked stuff. Cooked meals over fire (and on the wood-burning tent cabin stove). Hiked.

And two days in, the answer to a plot problem just bloomed in my head like a flower. So I wrote a couple of notes down, and then left it alone again until I got a chance to talk to a writer friend, whereupon I talked out what I'd figured out, and then left it alone again.

Boy, am I keen to write today.

The funny thing is, for the last week I'd been pushing myself, up against two intractable story problems I couldn't get past. I was coming at them from every angle when what I really needed was to leave myself alone for a bit.

I think every writer should go out and look for a good fallow mind activity, if they don't have one already. A fallow mind activity IS NOT surfing the web or going on Facebook or engaging in normal daily routine. For me, at least, those things fill my mind instead of emptying it. They're a distraction and not a help. A fallow mind activity is something that requires you to concentrate on something different, hard enough that other distracting concerns fall away. These are a few of mine:

difficult driving
playing piano
rock climbing
dancing to strong music

I wish I could climb rocks more, in fact, because I found the activity so mentally absorbing that I couldn't think about anything else while I was doing it. I find activities like these push away distraction and allow my subconscious to work on my stories by itself - with remarkable results. I encourage other writers to seek out similar activities, because you might really like what happens next.


  1. While the conscious mind is engaged in non-routine activities, other parts of the brain are thinking/dreaming/working things through. Surfing the Internet in general, and Facebook in particular, fill the brain with loud white noise (considered an interrogation method in the torture category). A personal account of this experience:

    Web Flatunauts and Electronic Tribbles

  2. Fallow mind time? Like when I'm in class? Yup, I do that all the time. ;)

  3. So true! Sometimes I get my greatest ideas and/or solve my plot problems while doing something mundane such as taking a walk or folding clothes!

  4. The Book "The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life" by John Daido Roshi explores this topic in detail for anyone who is interested. This is not a fad "Zen of..." book, but a work by a respected Zen master and photographer.

  5. Actually, Jana, I agree. I find something as simple as showering can get my mind unstuck - that might be one that could work for a busy Atsiko...

  6. I'm usually singing in the shower. :D

    I think my best fallow mind time is right before or after sleeping. Though of course right before sleeping I won't be able to write until after I've woken up. Lost some great ideas that way. :(