Momentum & mental space

October 18, 2015

The past month or so has been a reeducation in some of the inviolable rules of writing. And, like most reeducations, they’re brought to us by the wonderful teaching power of failure. Yay!

I moved to a new city at the beginning of the month. Before that was packing, spending time friends and family for the last time in a while, then moving, then unpacking, then buying the furniture I was missing and setting that  up, then gradually getting settled in—and that doesn’t even mention the beginning of the new season at Random Curiosity, which was busy this time around to say the least.

The entire time, my writing momentum has been shit. I’ve never been able to get it going, because something always conspires to get in the way. It’s only in the last week that I’m getting back on that horse.

When I say things like “something always conspires to get in the way,” part of it feels like an excuse. It’s my damn fault if I can’t get the work done! But in other ways, it doesn’t. It feels like a reason, and while the difference between an excuse and a reason is subtle, it’s there.

(My shorthand: An excuse is why something that’s your fault isn’t really your fault, whereas a reason is the explanation behind why it’s your fault. This obviously doesn’t apply if it really isn’t your fault.)

My experiment with traveling for nine months was an interesting one. It taught me a lot about myself. The biggest lesson I learned is that constant travel isn’t for me. Not right now, at any rate.

Travel does two things that are poison to my writing productivity, personally. First, it interrupts my momentum. If I’m traveling the entire day, I’m probably not going to get any work done, because a 6’7″ man cannot type comfortably on an airplane. Or I might get distracted by plans with friends which I don’t want to turn down, because after all, I’ll only be there a little while. Too much is out of my control when I’m not in a place of my own design, and I know that if I miss more than one day a week of serious writing, my momentum will be shattered. Which happens while traveling all the time.

But worse than that is mental bandwidth, or what you could call the mental space that must be devoted to writing. Fiction writing is unique out of any other work I’ve done in that it can’t be forced (much). I can set myself up in an environment that encourages writing, and I can push myself forward on the margins, but I can’t load myself up with caffeine and pull an all-nighter like I could in college, or on projects at my old corporate job. I’ll end up staring at the screen for an hour before giving up. I just doesn’t work.

I’m pretty sure part of that is inexperience. There are people who have multiple kids and write several books at once, and holy hell, just imaging that is fucking insane! So I know it’s possible to write in adverse conditions, and I’m just not there yet. What I know is that, at least right now, if there are too many things on my mind, I can’t write.

This manifests in my regular life all the time. If there’s a day I need to do groceries, laundry, batch cook a bunch of meals, make a few calls, work out, write an article or two, and work on my book, something isn’t going to get done, and it’s probably going to be the book, since it’s easier to force myself to do the other things. Which is why I spread those tasks out whenever possible, so the book doesn’t fall by the wayside.

But with traveling, that’s not possible. Moving as well. There are so many things on my mind that, even if I’m not actively doing them, they prevent me from giving enough mental space to the story. Which is huge. Both having that space, and how much space it takes up. When I’m really going on a story, when I really have the momentum clicking, I feel like 60% of my brain is taken up by the story. I might only spend three hours a day on it, but it takes up a disproportionate amount of my mental facilities. If I’m thinking about too many other things, they crowd out the story, and the writing suffers.

The lesson (for me) is that constant traveling isn’t right for me, at least not now. If I were going somewhere for three months, I could do that. Or if I had more money to smooth over the bumps, or a friend or girlfriend who liked to plan things so I didn’t have to, perhaps.

But it’s also a reminder that I need to set up my environment to be writing-friendly, and I need to keep enough room in my mind to let the story take up its slice. Otherwise it won’t get done, and I’ll soon be staring down a deadline with no clue how I’m going to make it in time.

Oh, I that I should plan for a couple weeks to a month of wasted productivity the next time I need to move. So I won’t be doing that again for a while. Moving kinda sucks.

*glances at the still-packed boxes behind him* *continues to ignore them*

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By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

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