Why Every Writer Needs to Make Time for ‘Free Thinking’

When we’re operating to the beat of some kind of soundtrack, we’re aware of our thoughts. But it’s not always possible to notice when some of those thoughts have the potential to turn into ideas.

It’s very rare I’m doing anything around my house without background noise. And I know I’m not the only one.

Sometimes it’s a podcast. Other times, an audiobook. When I’m running, I listen to music. Sometimes I have a video playing while I’m playing in the basement with the dog.

When we’re operating to the beat of some kind of soundtrack, we’re aware of our thoughts. But it’s not always possible to notice when some of those thoughts have the potential to turn into ideas.

And that’s a problem.

Most of us have forgotten how to be still. And I don’t mean “still” as in sitting on the couch/laying in bed, because let’s be honest, most if not all of us have these things down whether we’re necessarily proud of that fact or not.

But when you’re sitting on the couch or practicing whatever form of “stillness” you might be used to, you’re almost never just sitting or lying there. You’re most likely also on your phone or computer. or te TV is on, or you’re reading or listening to a book or podcast. There’s always something happening in the background. Your focus is almost always divided. That’s just the way many people use their downtime.

It’s not a great way to use it, though. Not all the time, anyway.

While it’s true that ideas can come from shows and books and podcasts, you’re not always going to be able to isolate and snag them when the noise just keeps coming. What can seem like an inspiration gold mine one second can turn into a huge distraction the next

Sometimes you have to be still to catch a good idea. Ideas are excitable creatures, but they won’t always come around when you’re moving too much too fast to notice they’re lurking.

Sometimes it takes extended blocks of stillness (and quiet) in order to create the right kind of space for ideas to approach you. It’s the same reason so many spontaneous ideas appear while you’re in the shower, for example. There’s nothing to distract you — not music or a story or any kind of discussion. Just you and your thoughts.

So slow down. Don’t keep spinning a hundred miles an hour expecting to be able to snatch anything randomly out of the space around you. Sit for a while. Breathe. Let your mind start to wander. It might end up being the best thing that could happen to you — and your creativity.

You can’t look for ideas, especially when you’re busy sifting through noise. This doesn’t apply to all contexts, of course. When I’m writing headlines at my day job, it’s literally part of my job description to trudge through all the news and content that’s out there to find the gems within. But the best headlines I’ve ever written have still come about accidentally when I wasn’t actively searching for them.

I’m all for the idea that inspiration happens by doing — even if the things you’re doing don’t involve writing. It’s what I recommend most often when people mention they’re stuck. But I also believe in the power of silence. Some of us aren’t used to spending time alone with our thoughts. We need to get over that. We need to make this time a regular part of our routines.

Give yourself the time and space to think in ways you’ve never thought before. Let your brain go on tangents, let all the thought trains tumble off the rails. This is not a time for sticking to routines and doing things the way you’ve always done them.

Think big. Think wild. Think free.

Then take what comes to you and write until you can’t anymore.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.

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