Do you sit down to write and it seems like a million thoughts are dancing in your head? You know, they’re just there having a loud obnoxious party. With all those bouncing thoughts, it's hard to focus on writing.
There are lots of distractions to keep writers from writing. A busy mind can really put damper on your creativity and focus. If you’re like me, you’re being pulled in a thousand different directions, and trying to sit down in the middle of all that and write is, well, a challenge.
The Distracted Writer
I like to write first thing in the morning. It’s the most distraction-free time of the day for me. I’m up before everyone else so there are no requests from me to cook, find something, fix something, or play taxi to my children.
But sometimes even the quiet of morning isn’t enough to keep my mind focused on my story. I usually wake up and a million little things start running through my mind: the crazy dream I had, what do I want to make for dinner, that crazy looking bug I found in my garden that I need to look up, and the list goes on.
Those little niggling thoughts push me off course. The next thing I know, I’m busy with my day. Then I go to bed disappointed that I didn’t get my word count in for the day.
Before I know it, one missed day of writing turns into two, then four. Then the guilt of not writing really puts a damper on things, and it becomes even harder to focus on writing.
Ray Bradbury's Distraction Solution
One day while I was reading about Ray Bradbury and how he wrote, I stumbled across something he did every morning. You know Ray Bradbury, right? He wrote a lot of books, one of the most notable among them being Farenheit 451. Yeah, that guy.
He had a morning routine that he stuck to no matter what. It was such a simple thing that he did, so simple that I didn’t think it would work for me, so I dismissed the idea. For almost a year.
But the seed was planted, and the idea kept niggling at the back of my mind.
One morning I woke up and decided I wasn’t going to spend another day not writing. I had missed enough opportunities.
I sat down at my computer and opened my word processor. I found a timer online and set it for fifteen minutes.
Then I did what Ray Bradbury did, just to try it on for size. Just for a week, you know, to see if what worked for Mr. Bradbury would work for me.
I was sceptical, to say the least, but decided that there was no harm in trying it. If I didn’t see any results, I only wasted a week of my life. No biggie (insert sarcasm here).
Bradbury's Secret: Write Aimlessly for Fifteen Minutes
Wait. What? That’s it? That’s the tip? Yup.
Simple, and yet it seems so counterintuitive. You’re probably saying, “Writing aimlessly isn’t going to help me focus on my writing.”
It can and it will. Work with me here, writing comrades.
When you sit down to write, set a timer for fifteen minutes. Then let your fingers fly across that keyboard with reckless abandon and dump anything in that miraculous brain of yours onto the page.
Don’t worry about grammar, sentence structure, or spelling. Don’t look for any connection in what you write. Just write.
I call this my “morning storm writing.” It’s a brain dump, just getting all that noisy crap out of your head. Write and don’t stop until you hear that timer go off.
After you do that, save your work.
Yes, save it. It may seem like random nonsense now, but trust me on this.
Go back and read your morning storms every so often and you’ll find the most wonderful ideas for stories hiding in those pages, just waiting to be turned into books!
From Nonsense to Stories
I’ve been doing this for a year now and half of the short stories I’ve written have come from these storm sessions I do each morning.
That crazy dream you had? Write it. Your crazy in-law who works your last nerve? Write it. The sea of toe nails you find under your son’s bed? Yup, write that too. Get it all out of your system.
Once you’ve done that, go work on your short story or novel or blog post. I promise you will be so much more focused. That fifteen minute exercise is like stretching for your brain.
Sometimes I do these storm sessions when I am stuck on a short story I’m writing. I’m always amazed at the ideas that pop up when I do that.
Two Story Ideas
One day I took a drive and stumbled upon a house that was for sale. It was in the middle of a neighborhood and was on two acres. All the other homes around it were on only a half acre. That was curious to me.
When I woke up the next morning, the house was still on my mind. I wrote about it in my morning dump session. I came up with my own reasons why this one particular house had so much land.
Guess what happened?
That turned into a short story about a former plantation home haunted by the ghost of a slave. I shared it with a very honest friend of mine who said it needed to be a full novel and The House on Horace Street was born.
I had no idea writing about that house would turn into my first novel, now in the process of publication.
Another morning, I woke up from a dream that took me back to my childhood. There were a lot of emotions swimming through my head.
I couldn’t shake them, so I folded them into a short story about a little girl whose parents moved her to a new school. She had trouble adjusting because she was the only Black girl there.
Inspiration in Your Gibberish
Still skeptical? I was too, until I tried it. Now, my morning storm writing is an integral part of my writing routine.
If you've ever gotten distracted when you just wanted to focus on your writing (and let's face it, who hasn't?), give Ray Bradbury's tip a try. Put all your random thoughts down on paper for fifteen minutes before you start your “official” writing.
And who knows? Your next great story idea might just be hiding in those pages!
Do you have a free writing habit? Let us know in the comments.
Right now, take fifteen minutes to write down anything and everything that's on your mind. Don't censor yourself or go back to fix anything. Just write.
When your time is up, read through everything you've just written. Does anything stick out as the seed of a story?
Share a portion of your free writing and any story ideas you find in the comments below. And be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers — do you see story ideas in anyone else's free writing?
Bonus: Keep up the habit and do this every day for a week. Before you work on any of your writing projects, do fifteen minutes of morning storming. Be sure to save each session so you can go back and read all the wonderful, zany things are in that brain of yours!