Finding the Right Headspace

Dun Luiche, the mists of Donegal
Dun Luiche, the mists of Donegal

Currently, in mid-September, my great mojo has ebbed. The book project and writing are still top priorities; what changed? Just the calendar.

September is the return of school and sports for my children and the official kick-off of the busy season at work. It’s exciting and fun and exhausting. My morning writing time is safe (I’ve engineered my life to allow for at least 45 minutes most mornings for pecking away at the keyboard). Now this time feels rushed, like another task in a very long list.

Programming and writing share common attributes. Both are creative and need planning and, well writing (it’s called “writing” code). And the head space required for doing this work (Cal Newport calls it Deep Work, others call it flow) is the same. When I wrote code daily, I sought deep concentration where the minutes and hours would fly by while I locked into the problem. Same with writing… my best work comes when I know what the story is doing and let the words rip. I rarely have a lyrical writing style, but in these states, the words pick up a distinct rhythm.

The biggest blocker to entering this Deep Work/Flow state? There are a few, such as not being in a good place, distractions, insecurity, or lack of direction. But my biggest blocker is context switching. When I wrote code, it was hard to go from meetings or conversations about larger topics, big objectives, etc. to worrying how to set up a web form and optimize the database connection. It is the same with writing.

I hoped setting up my primary writing time in the early morning, before I open my work email or confront pressing home issues, would reduce the shifts. This month, I find my thoughts upon wake-up, focus on work and home items. To-do lists, meetings, workpeople and their reactions, college applications, evening driving schedules, soccer and band performances. I’m starting the day in one head space and trying to shift over to a creative zone for writing. In the summer, I wouldn’t wake up with these thoughts. I reflected on my dreams and quickly thought about characters and writing.

Part 2

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