It’s strange to sit and reflect on my own writing behaviours, let alone how I compose my thoughts in writing. Even while churning out this blog I find it hard to effectively tease out the relationship between how my brain operates and the behaviours that follow, pondering an outside version of myself watching myself write. I can think of two obvious problems that plague my routine, plus two more latent factors that contribute to a drunken-waltz final product. The two obvious factors include context (where I am writing) and the amount of relevant information needed to conceptualize my paper. Context seems to be more important than acquiring the right volume of information as these environments determine the rate at which I write. Since information is abundant, it comes in at a close second, but only because the rate I write is disproportional to the amount of gathered information. My ability to write well thought-out, clear assertive commentary and opinion decreases with too much information. Not at all mind-bending in a conventional sense, however a few people might sympathize with the ability, or lack thereof, to concretely write under cinder blocks of often-contradictory text. That being said, I still need large amounts of information to feel satisfied that what I’m learning is sufficient to defend my views. Writing for me is indeed a catch-22.
Immediate distractions in the form of sounds and objects (sounds odd, I know) entertain me in such a way that writing and staying focused becomes difficult. In hindsight, it’s hard to believe I am able to complete any written objective given the number of objects in my direct surrounding that resonate, indeed scream, object manipulation. Most people need a bit a background sound, such as music, to set an appropriate writing mood. Some people may find that twirling a pen in their left hand while sitting at a computer is therapeutic, too, while others rearrange their living room and clean their workspace. I never thought that music would play such a major role in the writing process for me. Yet it does, and considerably at that. For example, and this is strange, but I find I write better when listening to music composed in certain tonal keys. G and C major are my favourite to listen to because they tend to lack the depressing, melodic tone characteristic to songs written with minor chords and notes (F, C, and A minor are the absolute worst). Yes, I too find this strange, but in my opinion, necessary to keep a clear and structured mind.
Keeping myself glued to my chair is another major problem I have when I write. It seems that beyond the everyday distractions of tables, desks, and chairs, I feel the constant need to move around and be in different places at the same time. All fair in a quantum universe but as everyone knows impossible to do in a classical one. Do I want to go outside and smoke? Sure. Do I want to sit and get this paper done? Yes. Do I need a shower? Absolutely. I’m hungry and have no food in the fridge so perhaps a trip to Fortinos is in line; laundry, dust bunnies in the corner of the walls and under my desk – you get the point. My brain tells me to do everything at once, so instead of writing I find myself treading the periphery of the menial tasks I need to accomplish before I begin… OK, now I can start.
At times I feel like horse blinders are needed, other times I work perfectly fine for prolonged periods of time. It all depends on what is going on in my head at any given moment. I have, over the years, been able to keep many of these factors in check by doing one simple thing: I start writing early. Instead of waiting to write under pressure (and I know quite a few people feel this way) I try – and the catchword here is to try – to brainstorm and write the minute I get an assignment. I also find this a remedy for writer’s block, which in my opinion may be a symptom of waiting to formulate and simultaneously write your ideas down during the final minutes before submission.
Well there you have it, a brief look into my crazy ritualized behaviours that probably border several clinical disorders found in the DSM. I hope that by reading some of your blogs I will be able to add to my repertoire of solutions to effective writing.
Radiogenicallystable: great name.
In terms of your writing style I think it is fascinating that you’ve been able to pinpoint the specific musical chords that are suitable to listen to. There are some songs that I find I can’t include on my writing playlist because they bring down my ‘writing buzz’ but I never thought about the notes that were being played in the process.
I agree with you with the need to start brainstorming right away (or to at least try); we both prolong the process of writing, although for different reasons. Do you find that when you write it’s all for one draft, or will you start and correct the bits that you’ve written as you go?
Thanks for sharing!
I feel similarly about getting distracted by objects. I have to push ‘uncomfortable’ objects away, or put them somewhere outside my field of vision, sometimes even on the other side of the room.
Also, standing desks look really neat: http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/stand-up-in-your-office/36054
Listening to music in particular tonal keys is really interesting! It sounds like the music adds to the environment you are working in, making it more productive.
Have you ever though of working out before you start writing? It may help to tire your body out. Then you could always take a shower as a reward for writing a page or two?
I find it very interesting that when you amass too much information that it decreases your ability to write well. It does make a lot of sense as you would get lost in all the minute different details presented by each source and ultimately lose the bigger picture. Your discussion about music is very detailed, personally I listen to mellow jazz. Now I’m really curious as to what keys they are played in. Although I have a good background in music my ears are terrible for picking up on tone and key. I will to use the suggestion of starting earlier rather then later when it comes to writing. Any suggestions on how?
Your brainstorming the minute you get the assignment is basically a nice trick to avoid writer’s anxieties to kick in. A good technique, I would think, as you have already “produced” something to get over that initial hurdle.
“I find I write better when listening to music composed in certain tonal keys. G and C major are my favourite to listen to because they tend to lack the depressing, melodic tone characteristic to songs written with minor chords and notes (F, C, and A minor are the absolute worst). Yes, I too find this strange, but in my opinion, necessary to keep a clear and structured mind.” I have never thought of this. Perhaps you can make us some mixtapes? 🙂
Hopefully you got something out of the pondering of your process.
I completely empathize with your plight of trying to stay in one place and write, and the obstacles the brain throws up in the way of this. I constantly have to change my location, periodically clean, eat, and play with the cat when I should be sitting a desk and writing. I’ve found my best strategy is to physically change my writing venue, I will rotate from sitting at my desk in my home office, to sitting on the living room couch with my laptop to working at my desk in my school office, just to provide a change of scenery to prevent myself from becoming too distracted.
I also used the word ‘churn’ to describe the process of creating a written work, I wonder what it is about butter making that provides such an accurate analogy.
I totally understand and agree with distractions making writing next to impossible, I have experimented with ear plugs or just putting large earphones on with nothing playing. You can tell the difference between G and C major?