Writers and the scattered mind

Posted: March 11, 2011 in process, thoughts
Tags: , ,

Having the kind of mind that flits instantly round the various aspects of a topic is a writer’s supreme asset – usually.

Suppose you’re writing a piece about a planned motorway for a local paper. You instantly think of the pros, the cons, the people to get quotes from, the history of its planning permission, the sequence of protests already made and other relevant topics. Then assemble them into some kind of order with a brilliant first sentence and, if you’re dead good, round it off with something that links back to the opening. Submit, and await cheque. The scattered mind has paid off.

Yet I’m wondering if the modern brain is becoming something “other”. We writers now network, check emails, add a few sentences to a story, tweet, edit a second draft, finish the dinner, input comments on a child’s homework, dream up the next idea, and generally manage to swig red wine at the same time. But not necessarily in any particular order within that time span. So long as it gets done, fine, we tell ourselves.

But is it becoming a problem?

Possibly. I imagine people will visit therapists in future with a “scattered mind” complaint. “Please help me – I simply can’t focus.” Maybe there will be an official mental health diagnosis about it. Some medicine to force the brain into channels again. A facilitated return to the 1950s post-war, determined creativity that managed a combination of sweet rationing and rock-and-roll creativity without diverting to a pinged tweet or inbox chime.

These somewhat panic-struck thoughts stem not simply from being in attendance on my mother’s dementia for a few days, but from the fact that I need to accomplish certain writing deadlines bunched around the same time. And instead of focusing relentlessly and exclusively on each in turn (column for Therapy Today, one article, one novel, one short story, some paid editing, and the York Festival of Writing “extras”), I find myself flitting mentally from one to the other, fretting about dates, and generally progressing less well than I did pre Twitter, pre WordPress, pre AOL and pre anything else that craves my attention (JacketFlap, SCBWI-UK, Linked In…).

So focus, you say. Well, is the modern brain geared to this any more? Maybe we’ve gone too far down this tech route. But even if not, one thing is certain: the creative scattered mind does need boundaries put in place. In this way, it can offer the greatest benefit to the writer without allowing him (me!) to disintegrate to a non-earning, non-achieving “would-be” writer status once more.



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