Thursday, 13 May 2010

Getting into the Writing Headspace

If you're like every other writer under the sun you most likely have to spend the majority of your waking hours doing something other than writing – either at a job to pay for food and clothing for yourself and your dependants, or raising the kids while someone else does. It's quite possible you may be doing both – more power to you.

Perhaps your day-job allows an easy transition from the work headspace into the writing headspace, perhaps you are indeed fabulously wealthy and can afford a more Byronic approach to the craft – if that's the case then you can move right along, because this is a post for those who drag themselves bleary-eyed and shattered to the keyboard – physically drained, mind exhausted or full of work-related stuff you just can't seem to clear out, your precious writing time zipping away.

We don't have time for that, we need our heads unencumbered so we can be imaginative and creative, even when what we really feel like doing is vegging in front of the telly or crawling under our duvets. Here are some things that work for me – they may just work for you too.

A glass of wine

Let's not mess about here, nothing cuts through a shitty day like a large glass of wine – just try not to drain the whole bottle, you need to take the edge off, not obliterate your faculties.


It's almost boring the amount of writers who say they facilitate their writing or ease a block with a long walk but they do it because it works – a quick gym session, bike-ride or run will have the same effect. Sometimes I do some rather scary looking 'dynamic stretching' – which really means I'm waving my arms about to get some blood flowing through my neck, shoulders and back which can be just enough for me to squeeze out a hundred words – not much, but a hell of a lot more than nothing.


This always works for me – nothing cleanses the mind and gets me thinking creatively than some awe-inspiring music.

Expressive Writing

This really is a good way of venting – in a diary, a notebook, a blog – getting things off your chest is a good way of purging while also flexing your writing muscles. I'm not a big-fan of writing as therapy, but if you can use that work noise in your head to do some writing other than the WIP it's no bad thing – you may even produce something you can use; you'll certainly clear your head enough to do what you came to the keyboard to do.

Use Your Journey Time

It's quite possible you can do all the things I've outlined above as you're on your journey home from work - although if you're driving I'd leave the wine - so that you can hit the ground running when you get to the keyboard. I find on my way home that if I force myself to think about the WIP, even though I may have all sorts of other nonsense on my mind, eventually I'll cut through it all and begin to get intrigued and excited about the potentials of my story again.


And you don't need me to tell you that chocolate makes everything more bearable.

Someone once told me that if you don't go to bed every night shattered with the pursuit of your dream, you don't deserve to get it. I like that idea, it means it's in our power to achieve it. So let's clear our heads.

Anybody else have any tips on getting the day's noise out of our minds?


  1. James, I'll take one of each! It is so hard to transition from a day job to writing in the evening. Some writer's on our blog seemed to have success writing in the morning hours as an alternative. For me, that's when I hit your second tip of heading to the gym. Still searching for the best way to get in the right headspace. Thanks for these great and delicious tips!


  2. Yes! In the morning, the writing is waiting. But sometimes life interferes. By the time you reach the evening, it can be hard to reengage that vivid state-of-mind. Your advice is spot on. Well said. :-)

  3. Sound post. After breaking my shoulder, I walked between work and home instead of biking, and discovered it was ideal for thinking about the WIP. Cycling in London requires too much concentration for that.

  4. I think this fits your list: I try to stop writing in the middle of a sentence that I know how to end. That often makes picking up where I left off easier.

    Thanks for such a comprehensive list!

  5. Lovely post. Working with my hands usually does it for me, e.g. cleaning the house (ack), knitting or playing with one of my son's puzzles. Reading non-fiction and watching The History Channel helps get my synapses going, too. Thanks for sharing, James. : D

  6. I'm totally with you on the wine and chocolate! I also find that having multiple cats is very tranquilizing. I think scientists with nothing better to do have proved that purring lowers blood pressure, cures cancer, and increases one's attractiveness to the opposite sex. molly

  7. I'm all for the glass of wine and chocolate! Another thing that has helped me too -- reading a favorite passage from a book I love. I think about how that writer went on their journey for publication and it motivates me!

    Great post!

  8. James, I've just discovered you and your blog. And I am so pleased about both. I've been looking for practical common sense advice for writing and your blog posts are hitting the mark.

    I also intensely struggle with ideas generation - I'm a competent and proven writer but getting in that creative space is harder for me than possibly for most. The pointers (triggers?) above are very helpful as a result.

    Two more that often work for me include:

    1. As I walk through my front door, I leave work at the door. I don't bring it into the house or talk about it with my wife after 'close of business'. That way, the house remains free of such a potentially big distraction and my mind empties of it as a I return home.

    2. Buy a dog. Nothing like a twice-daily walk around the block/through the fields to clear the head and allow for forced thinking time... and the pooch benefits too.

    Again, extremely pleased to have found this blog and looking forward to (re-)educating myself through your posts.

    Great to meet you!

  9. And you too, Russell - thanks for dropping by and leaving such a positive and constructive comment. You're right - it's key to be able to leave your work at the door - many of my non-writing career decisions have been to that end. There are jobs that eat up your thoughts outside of office hours, and it's hard to let them go.