Thinking About Thinking

I’ve had a chance to do a lot of thinking lately. Okay, technically we think all of the time. I mean creative thinking. After being a bad master for a number of years, I’ve started to walk the dog for a half an hour or so on most days, and having nothing to clutter my thoughts, I’ve been mentally making, um, mental notes on a future novel project.

The thing is, these notes haven’t been for 8000 Days, which is the next book I plan to finish writing. But I haven’t been thinking about that one. And I haven’t been thinking about the UFO Novel, which is the big project that will follow.

No, I’ve been thinking about a whim I’ve had for a number of years, and it has been taking shape rather nicely on these walks.

But why haven’t I been thinking about the book – one that I’ve got about 1/3 written – that I’m about to start work on? I suppose because it’s such a slight thing. I know where it’s going, I have one-sentence descriptions of what is to happen in each of the remaining chapters, and each of those chapters is pretty much set in my head. There’s not much left in the way of mental gymnastics to perform.

So why haven’t these mental gymnastics covered the UFO novel, which may be my biggest novel yet, and certainly has a lot of blanks to be filled in? It could be that I’m not ready to write it yet. But I doubt it. I’ve got tons of notes, handwritten, typed, odd .doc files here and there, most of which have been incorporated into the book’s Scrivener file. Maybe because the idea has reached critical mass and I’m at the stage where I need to begin actually writing in order for the blanks to be property filled in.

But this notion of working in a genre that I’d never had much interest in, never wanted to work in, and that would involve far more up-front research than I usually perform?1 I don’t know. I thought I was over that whole crazy writer thing.

Maybe it’s because it’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to engage in unbridled, uninterrupted thought.2 See, if I were to list out the times/places where I tend to engage in the most independent creative thought outside of sitting at the keyboard, it would probably look something like this:

  • Driving/Commuting
  • Shower
  • Repetitive/mundane physical tasks (e.g. mowing the lawn)

Unfortunately, most of these have become compromised over the years. The price of gas has seen me carpooling with my wife, so conversation fills the car there. Even so, my car thought was waning because of my heavy use of the iPod. When I listen to music, I do it rather intensely, and it occupies my mind rather completely.3 Having a spouse and two children long ago put an end to the extended creative sessions in the shower, and allergies put a premature end to the lawn mowing.

To make up for this I developed a method of enforced creative thought where I consciously pick a topic and send my imagination down the resulting alleyway. It’s serviceable enough – so much so that I sometimes teach this method to groups – but it lacks the joy one gets from just letting loose with imaginative thought.

And perhaps that’s why my mind has wandered in the direction it has gone… simply because it can.

Whatever the case, it has taught me this: that it is good for creatives to be able to make such flights of fancy. They’re an important part of the process, and I’ve missed them.

But why… oh, why… that idea?

  1. I prefer to do what I call “on-going research”, wherein I simply read about things that interest me, and, well, if the shoe fits…
  2. Except for that close call with the skunk.
  3. While I can listen to music while I write, I cannot listen to complete albums by the likes of XTC and Elvis Costello. Their superb use of wordplay is just too good – and too distracting.
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4 responses to “Thinking About Thinking

  1. There is a small temple in my neighborhood here in Southern Japan with a lock on the outside. If it would help you with your next book, I could become your #1 fan.

  2. This is so familiar to me. Very recently I had an idea. One I did not like and thought was super cheesy… at first. Now I want to write it. I want to dive into this idea for splendid story. I might just go take my dog for a walk specifically for creative thought and exploring this odd idea that came to me when my mind was at it’s best: dreaming.

    I like yours posts Mr. Joe. :]

  3. Joe, when I graduated from art school and we came back to Ohio I took a temp job on the midnight shift in a plastics factory and I discovered how deeply and how widely my mind could wander during those 8 nearly uninterrupted hours of mundane repetition each night. I would spend each break and lunch jotting down the cartoon ideas I entertained myself with.

    After landing that first Graphics position at Star Bronze, home of Zip-Strip, I got into furniture refinishing, natch. After a day of phone calls and meetings and work where I was continually engaged, I would spend hours just sanding my latest project to set my mind free, having learned the value of putting my body on autopilot. And I did some research into the phenomena, discovering there is lots of study on why farmers who spent their lives working fields and harvesting crops by hand, why women who churned butter, could memorize vast portions of the Bible, the constitution, poetry, music. There is a reason why people who lead simple lives are often thoughtful and wise.

    Today we spend so much time engaged in activity that requires constant attention we don’t allow our minds time to roam, and I think that may be the way God designed us to function. It’s important for creative people especially to give themselves a hobby or outlet that puts them on autopilot for some wandering time. These days I love where my brain goes when I’m cutting firewood or digging in the dirt.

    I think it would probably be profitable for most manufacturers to reap the brain-power of their employees on the line in just that way. Present them with a problem that needs a solution at the beginning of each shift, and then harvest what they’ve pondered at the end of the day. So many people get paid for what their hands do, when the true value is probably in where their minds have been in the meantime. Not every person every day is going to solve world hunger, but just imagine the great ideas that never get developed! We have think tanks and imagineers whose function is merely to ponder, and there are thousands of workers who do just that every day, but nobody is gathering the wool!

    Ah, Joe, you always make me think. It’s why I keep coming back! Well, and you make me laugh, too.

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