Re: How to Clear One’s Mind

I would like to let all the lovely web bots and lonely souls who post spam comments to my blog know that, even if I don’t allow the comments to become visible to the public, I do read every one of them. I’m very touched by the high esteem in which you hold my writing, though you might want to try and make it seem a bit more like you actually read the blog post on which you are commenting. Today I received a particularly interesting comment that I would actually like to respond to:

First of all I would like to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior
to writing. I have had a hard time clearing my mind
in getting my ideas out. I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first
10 to 15 minutes tend to be lost just trying to
figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints? Thanks!

This comment happened to be in response to my recent post, PANIC!!!, in which I hope I conveyed a sense of, well, panic in the tone of my writing. In the case of that particular post – as well as most of the ones about my actual life experiences, dilemmas, and emotions – writing the post was my process of centering myself and clearing my mind.

I often begin my posts with a strong sense of what I want to express in writing, but no idea what words I’ll use or where the post might go. I pretty much just start typing. I like to write because it forces the thoughts to “get in line;” only one can come out at a time and first they have to form themselves into remotely-coherent English sentences. Writing is the process through which I get the jumbled mess of nebulous thoughts and conflicting emotions out into a form where I can literally look at them. It’s like looking in the mirror, except that instead of freaking out over a new zit I can enable my rational mind to process all the important information my emotional self is trying but failing to communicate to it.

I read and re-read each post several times during the process of writing. I edit as I read – I catch and have the opportunity to fix typos and grammatical errors that way. I also take the opportunity to re-word sentences so they will be easier to read and understand, and so they can more accurately convey whatever I’m trying to express through them.

The reading and re-reading of the post as I’m writing also serves to center my thoughts – again, as I’m writing. It’s part anxiety management, part a reminder of what I’ve written so far and where I’m going, part how I make sure that the post is coherent. I’ve re-read this post several times, now, so I know that it’s been about my writing process and not about, say, cheese. I also have a strong sense of the tone I’ve been using, so I can continue to use it for the remainder of the post.

My experience of written language is almost identical to my experience of spoken language, the only real difference being that with written language I have to see the words with my eyes before I get to “hear” them in my head. Similarly, while I am writing, I hear the words in my head instead of with my ears and move my fingers instead of my mouth to share them with the world. The biggest difference between spoken and written language is that it’s easier to remember what I wrote – I can read it! – and I have a chance to edit it before anyone else gets to read it. Once the spoken words are said they’ve been said, they can’t be taken back, and we might disagree on what they were.

I believe that the way I experience written language gives me a significant advantage when it comes to reading – and especially writing. Both processes come very naturally to me; sometimes they are actually easier than spoken conversation! (If nothing else, interruptions are less likely to mean I never get to make my real point.)

That said, I do also find it helpful to read the post aloud. Reading a post aloud helps make its content feel more real to me and to center my thoughts around the topic. I also find I can express my emotions better through the inflection of my voice. Sometimes I even become more aware of my emotions when I hear myself: “Wow, I sound really angry! I must be angry! Who knew?”

The process is a bit different if I’m writing on a more academic subject, whether for school or in a post like The Complexities of Language, Gender, and Identity. Then I need to do research – to learn what others have written about the topic, organize all the different ideas, think critically, and respond to them.

I tend to organize my own thoughts through – not prior to – writing. That said, it helps to start with a clearer sense of what points I want to make, what information backs them up, and where I got that information. I like to start papers – such as the one I’m procrastinating by writing this post instead – by creating the Works Cited / References page. That makes it easier to keep track of what sources I’m using and to cite them in the actual paper because I already have a handy list, complete with the authors’ last names. Sometimes I’ll make an outline, even if it’s just a basic list of topics to cover. In the case of “Complexities” (link above), I actually wrote a first draft. If an assignment for school requires a clear thesis, I might wait to write it and/or the introductory paragraph until after I’ve used the process of writing the rest of the paper to fully organize my thoughts.

Finally, popcorn works wonders. Settle in with a nice large bag – or three! – and start munching. Just try not to get too much grease (or crumbs) on the keyboard.