Friday, October 15, 2010

PROTECT YOUR MIND

© Leander Jackie Grogan 2010 all rights reserved

What is a writer’s most important asset?

Depending on where you are in your writing career, you might answer: your computer, agent, publisher, reputation, industry connections, etc. Though some might disagree, your most important asset is your hemispheric, neurotransmitting, cranium-enclosed encephalon. Okay, that might be my only chance to sound real smart, so I had to take it.

Your most important asset is your mind. That's where the creative magic takes place. That's where hundreds, sometimes thousands of decisions are made to reach an amiable conclusion to each project or assignment. Sometimes these critical decisions are made with the conscious mind where the writer is fully aware of the options and painstaking process of elimination that renders a single solution. Other times, it’s the subconscious mind that sorts through an endless array of possibilities and then awakens the writer in the middle of the night with an unexpected epiphany.

The creative process is elusive and difficult to characterize. Scientists often attribute creativity to the right hemisphere of the brain where holistic, intuitive, synthesized thinking takes place. But most writers will tell you when it comes down to the rationale and logic necessary to construct a believable, sequential, detail-oriented plot, the left brain is fully engaged.

The point is no matter what you’re writing, to create the best results, your total mind needs to be functional. That's not to say you can't limp through with one engine out and make a crash landing. But what writer wants his or her end result to reflect a minimized creative process? We all want to showcase our best work each chance we get.

A huge part of achieving this objective centers on being able to protect your mind. There are many ways to accomplish this. Considering the scope of this article, I will talk about three of them.

First let's establish the difference between a distraction and a deterrent. Though they sometimes overlap, a distraction is usually a temporary event that pulls you away from your train of thought. A bird flying against the window, a screaming child on the sidewalk in front of your house, an unexpected phone call from your son’s principal, or a spouse that barges into your writing space and proceeds to share the news flash of the day would all be considered distractions. For the most part, they have no lasting effect. When the event is over, you're able to get back to work.

A deterrent, however, is more long-lasting, more systemic in nature, and more damaging to the psyche. Sometimes it's a stolen or fried laptop with all your chapters on it or an accident that affect your vision; or worst, the irreversible news of death in the family or a love one who’s been raped. Other times, it's tied to the perpetual pounding you endure for declaring yourself a writer with nothing tangible to show.

Many distractions and deterrents are unavoidable. But in most cases, you have far more control over them than you exert.

Let’s start with rule #1: Anticipate distractions in advance, give them a numerical value and cut them off at the pass.

Let's say you've had a long talk with your neighbor about his dog pooping in your yard. You're sitting at your desk writing, when suddenly you look out your window and see your neighbor, walking his dog in front of your house and now, there he is ... pooping on your lawn again. What numerical value (1-10) would you assign to that distraction? Let's say smelling gas fumes coming from your downstairs kitchen is a ten. What value would you give the neighbor and his dog? Would it be a four or five? If your spouse calls and says she has opened the credit card bill and the interest has doubled. What value would you assign that irritating discovery?

The point is you should determine, in advance, the level of distractions worthy to pull you away from your writing. So you say, "Unless it's a seven or higher, I'm not bulging until I finish this chapter". So when you see the neighbor and his dog, you close the blinds. You deal with your credit card company at the end of the week. You make a decision to stay with your writing until the distraction is worthy of your attention.

When I was writing my latest e-book, Exorcism At Midnight, I got to a real critical, spooky part, but couldn’t remember the name of the official Catholic exorcism manual. When I went up online to check, there was an email from an important agent for which I’d been waiting from months. Did I open the email? Absolutely not. At best, nine out of ten agent responses are rejections. In other words, there was a 90% chance it was bad news. I had control over that distraction. I didn’t let it stymie my process. And yes, it was a rejection. As a writer, you must learn to take control.

Rule #2: Classify your deterrents into three categories: unavoidable, avoidable, and manageable. Determine, in advance, how you want to deal with each.

An unavoidable deterrent might be your daughter moving back home with her three unruly kids. Besides the noise, the displacement of familiar boundaries, and realignment of finances, there's usually this agonizing period of self-assessment as a parent, wondering whether you did all that you were supposed to do to equip her for the real world. In other words, whose fault is it that she's fallen off the beaten path? Your writing’s going to suffer until you've come to terms with the answer.

Let's say you take your speed bike out to the park and run into a tree. Your typing/ mouse hand is banged up and in bandages. Except for the good decision not to get on a bike at your age and ride like a demon fool, this is also an unavoidable deterrent. But the objective is to move it to the manageable category. So you go out and buy a copy of Dragon NaturallySpeaking and you start to dictate your words onto the screen. Now the deterrent is manageable.

Of course, avoidable deterrents offer more latitude. You don't have to deal with them at all. There are people who take great care in demoralizing your writing dream. You have the option to remove them from your circle completely. (God forbid this article fuels thoughts of divorce.). This is very important because each person has a threshold of tolerance, a point where repeated messages alter their perception of truth. There will come a point where you actually believe you don’t stand a chance. Maybe you don’t. But this realization should come from within, not from without. We used to read about the famous old writers going off to their winter cottage to write. Now you understand the principal they employed. They were protecting their minds.

Rule #3: Give yourself a chance to win.

After so much rejection, your mind needs a chance to hear something positive. That means getting involved in a situation where someone appreciates your talent. Go read at the senior citizen’s home. Help young writing students at the YMCA. Do a free article in a newsletter. Give people a chance to balance the perpetual bombardment of negative news, swirling around in your head, with something positive.

Before my father died, he let me in on a profound secret. He had wanted to go to work on the Alaskan pipeline. It was one of the few places in the world where color didn’t matter and he could earn a decent wage. But people talked him out of it. And so he took that deep sense of regret to his grave.

His message to me, and now, mine to you is simple. Protect your mind. You are a great writer until further notice. And that notice has to come from you.

About the author: Leander Jackie Grogan is a graduate of Texas Tech University and twenty-year veteran in the communications industry. He has been recognized in Houston Business Journal's WHO"S WHO IN HOUSTON series and The City of Houston/ Guaranty Federal Bank Business Person of the Month Awards.



Grogan's excellence in writing extends over a multiplicity of genres. His first novel, ORANGE FINGERTIPS (ISBN: 1-4137-7871-2) has been distributed in five countries, four different languages and about thirty different bookstores. He has won numerous local and national awards in creative writing for radio, print and the web. Besides having authored a number of nonfiction articles in such national magazines as AdWeek and Jet, he has written and produced three local spiritual comedies, and some years ago, had a work of fiction published in Hustler Magazine.


Grogan's favorite writer, and most preponderant upon his current style, is Sidney Sheldon. Specific works such as Dead Zone by Stephen King, The Terminator by James Cameron and Deep Cover by Michael Tolkin have also had a great
influence on his commitment to rich multi-layered characterization and intricately crafted plots.

7 comments:

Mano said...

Hi,

You've got an incredibly great weblog. To grow to be a prosperous person the simple issue is to have positive thinking.

Marta Stephens said...

Jackie, I appreciate your "rules." You've made me take a look at the things that keep me from writing and look to change them ASAP!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Leander,

This is a fantastic piece. I'm going to link it to Facebook and tweet it, as well. I love your examples of distractions and deterrants - and could SO relate!

Guess what? My daughter and her three children moved back in last December. Yes, there were adjustments to be made, and yes, my "me" time squished down to half of its usual, but my creative juices are so galvanized by having three lovely children around, by dealing with the inevitable problems that arise, and by aching to write so badly, that when I do get to write, it's charged and feels wonderful.

By the way, I love your book title and cover. Spooky!

Kim Smith said...

Fascinating! I am sitting here wondering just where the sitcoms every night fit into this. I know they are not just distractions because I am just simply NOT able to write whilst they are on. They have to be deterrents. And so how to stop them from killing writing time??? Turn off the tv? Maybe so. Maybe so.

Leander Jackie Grogan said...

Thanks Aaron. Glad it was helpful. I guess peeping through your window paid off. Actually, I have a friend that has the same situation. I don't think she and the kids are adjusting quite as well.

Leander Jackie Grogan said...

Marta,

I'm thrilled to be a part of such a great site. I read some of the other articles which were helpful to me.

Thanks for having me.

Leander Jackie Grogan

Leander Jackie Grogan said...

Hi Kim,

You have no choice but to finish watching if it's Scrubs. Everybody knows that.