Losing oneself in thought is a difficult task for writers. Yes, we get into “the flow” and type away for hours, accumulating pages like a Nor’easter accumulates snow. But this isn’t thought, it is stream-of-consciousness.
Total immersion in thought takes time. Time away from the keyboard, the pen and paper, and most certainly the ubiquitous internet connection. Writing lists and tapping out bullet points and outlining the great American novel can be good uses of time, but they are brainstorming, not thought.
The prolific author Stephen King writes 2000 words a day, every day, before doing anything else. He also advocates reading. A lot of reading, every day. But he also talks about our need to think, and to think especially like a child – not in straight lines or with perfect logic, but more like a dream state. Let your mind run uninhibited.
That can’t happen in front of a keyboard or a smart phone or a television.
To immerse yourself in thought, go for a walk in the woods. Find a room without distraction. Sit on an empty beach and watch the waves roll in. The location is up to you, but the goal should be to remove all of life’s distractions for a long enough period to allow you to sink into thought.
What you think about is also up to you. Imagine a fantasy world with talking trees and flying anteaters. Ruminate over your childhood memories. Dive deep into personal introspection – what makes you happy, sad, regret, admire, etc. Pick a topic a day. Monday might be your childhood relationship with your parents; Tuesday how humans (or humanoids or flying anteaters) might live on a planet with no gravity; Wednesday placing yourself into your favorite novel (would you have reacted as did Pip in Great Expectations, or would you have handled the situation differently?).
The key is to immerse yourself into whatever thought you choose for that day. Let the world around you move on without you for 10 minutes or an hour or a morning. And while I’ve said stick to a topic a day, don’t take that too literally. Allow your thoughts to wander as Stephen King’s archetypal dreaming child. Don’t stop to write anything down. Just think.
Later, after you’ve come up for air, feel free to write down any thoughts that stuck with you. You might not remember it all, or even anything, but that is okay. The goal is to expand your mind beyond the moment, beyond the distractions, and beyond the present. Doing so will open your mind to greater creativity when you do once again, as you will surely do, sit down with keyboard or pen in hand.
[For more writing ideas, check out my On Writing series (click and scroll)]
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.