Something to Get You Ready in 3 Minutes
Full disclosure: It’s actually 3 minutes and 33 seconds. I share my brain with OCD tendencies and she says three threes are better than one.
I let her have her way with certain things, like setting the timer, so she won’t feel the need to throw a tantrum later on and refuse to let me leave the house without checking the lock three times.
Knowing your quirks and feeding them treats
is an important part of developing a creative habit that really works for you.
OCD tendencies share space in my brain with something that fights against shutting itself off, wants to follow all the shiny things out in a million different directions, and struggles against focusing on the task at hand.
I seem to share this kind of brain with a lot of writers + creatives. It’s hard to shift gears, orient ourselves, and commit to one thing that requires attention. We need a signal. Our brains need a signal to sit down, shut up, and get into creative playtime.
I call my signal the Brain Dump, because that’s what it is. It’s important to approach it the same way each time; the content is not important but the process is. Skip ahead for the
DIY Brain Dump.
For me, the only way to get anything done is to honor the hyper-attention-seeking parts of my brain with one simple ritual to satisfy them both, and then focus on what I want to do while they quietly nap in the background.
When I say simple, I mean simple. Overwrought rituals are counterproductive. I talk about this in Some Things Lie: the Ritual Bait & Switch.
Because I’m not alone – most of my clients and fellow writers have some kind of quirky brain stuff going on – I developed a strategy for gathering everyone’s focus at the beginning of my workshops, labs, retreats, and salons that honors their need for space to shift gears and settle in.
The goal is to bring everyone into a state where they feel good about making a commitment to being 100% present for themselves and their writing when they’re with me, and can let go – for an hour or so – of their sense of responsibility to the bazillion random thoughts floating around in their heads.
When it comes to my writing + creativity sessions, out of love and respect for our curious, playful, enticeable brains, I insist on a 3-minute brain dump right before we begin.
After a round of hellos, I set the timer. Each person pulls out a piece of scrap paper and a pen and dumps words on the page. Scattered thoughts. Not-so-scattered thoughts. Shopping lists and errands vying for attention with texts to return and subscriptions to delete. Quick notes to capture ideas you don’t want to lose.
It’s important to do this exercise by hand because free-form mind mapping, scribbling, and spontaneous font changes help the subconscious retain, release, and connect all kinds of things. Making new connections is at the heart of creativity, after all.
When the timer goes off, I give everyone a few more seconds to finish their thought or wrap it up. Shifting writers and myself from one activity to the next requires patience and a little floaty fluidity. It also gives a little more room for introverts and newbies to feel into their surroundings and get comfortable with new faces.
What goes into a brain dump?
It depends on the day and the person. Sometimes my brain dump becomes a list of tasks I need to remember and part of me is afraid I’ll forget. My brain is a hampster wheel unless I write stuff down, like the need for an oil change, inflating my tires, putting flea stuff on the cat, taking the garbage out.
This morning, I started with a mini-rant about why people hold onto pens that skip or have run out of ink. This one will become a blog post, and maybe a longer personal narrative, because it connects back to my grandmother and WWII on the Homefront, if you can believe it.
Every so often, I just need to doodle
to reign in my thoughts. And once I wrote ugly things about the aggressive driver who refused to wait his turn at a 4-way stop and almost caused an accident.
It could be anything. You just pick up your pen and let your brain have its say. What comes out is not the point. So, what’s the point? The act of giving your background thoughts attention for a few minutes so they’ll agree to be quiet for a whole lot of minutes, that’s the point.
Some brain dumps you keep, like the list of errands or the spark of an idea for a short story. You put it aside on your desk or tack it to the wall, able to let it go for now because it’s safely out of your head and in a place to be remembered.
Other brain dumps you gleefully crumple up and throw away.
Toss it across the room for the cat to chase because it’s lighthearted babbling. Throw it away from your personal space because it’s icky.
Let it go and forget it! This feels incredibly good.
Occasionally, a brain dump will bring up something uncomfortable, unbidden, and unresolved. Circle it. Put it where you know you will get back to it later, reach out to me if you’d like ideas for what to do with it, and move into what you really want to do, knowing that bundle of thoughts and feelings is waiting safely for you, for when you’re ready to look at it again and not before.
Remember: Using scrap paper is important; it eliminates your resistance to tearing a page out of a notebook or journal. Seriously, the way we hold onto things has insidious roots in the weirdest attachments. Use scrap paper.
Bonus: Using scrap paper is an act of recycling.
The result is, ideally, a somewhat more quiet brain that is ready and willing to enjoy new information and explore its own creativity, as absent as possible, for the next little while, of the anxiety triggered by scattered thoughts.
This is an exercise you can do for yourself
any time you feel your brain overcrowding with miscellaneous thoughts. I find it extremely helpful. This little tool has improved my life beyond measure.
A simple ritual is really just a simple habit. Once you do it enough times, the signaling becomes automatic. It’s one thing you do, with purpose and intention, to move you from what you were doing into what you want to do now.
DIY Brain Dump:
- Sit. Or stand if you’re at a standing desk. Or lean over the hood of your car. I don’t know; you do you.
- Grab a piece of scrap paper and a flat, hard surface if you’re not at a desk or table. Like a notebook or chess board or an old Encyclopedia. I still don’t know you; but you get the point. I hope.
- Set a timer for 3 minutes. Or 3 minutes and 33 seconds. Or 3 minutes and 45 seconds. Again, you’re going to do this your way. Just keep it under 4 minutes, okay? You don’t have all day.
- Pick up your pen.
- Write what comes to mind: You’re having a bad hair day. Your ass looks great in these jeans. Your left sock feels thicker than your right sock. You need to stop for batteries and bread. Now you want a sammich. Is the donut place open? Damn, this pen writes like butter. Still want a sammich. The blue ink is deep but the pressure is light. Like midnight. When’s the next full moon? Was it last night? Are werewolves real? What if you’re part werewolf but they forgot to tell you because you’ve never turned … yet? Is it okay to eat a sammich on a Zoom call?
- When the timer goes off, finish your thought and take a breath.
- Put the scrap paper aside if you’re going to keep it. Crumple it up – gleefully – if you’re going to toss it, then toss it.
- Shake it off and begin what’s next.