Head Space: Conserve Your Writing Energy

Published three years ago today…and I still need it today! Enjoy the reminder.~~~

Writers require “head space” in which nothing else is happening. You must have some mental space that is yours and yours alone in order to create and write.

“It takes quite a bit of energy on your part–a real effort–to maintain that space,” says Heather Sellers in Chapter after Chapter: Discover the dedication & focus you need to write the book of your dreams. “You have to put a wall around a part of yourself and protect it from the world of Needs and Stuff and Functions.”

Where’s the Energy Go?

If you still suffer from the common Being Everything to Everybody Syndrome, you very likely have little head space to call your own. Writers can’t do that all day, every day, and still have enough energy left for writing. Your head space is too full of other people.

One big energy drain comes from greasing the wheels of social interactions. Many of us have this habit, and it is a hard one to break. Some of us “grease the wheels” all day–at home or at work, with our family or friends, even with total strangers.

How do we do this? We see unhappy or uncomfortable people, and we rush in to fix their feelings and smooth their ruffled feathers and raise their self-esteem. We see troubled people and offer all the self-help therapy we can think of, then take them out for lunch. At social gatherings where no one is making any effort to converse, we turn somersaults trying to make people open up and connect.

Head Space: the Solution

We mean well. We can’t stand the discomfort of other people, and we rush in to fix it. Or we hate to have someone mad at us, so we rush in to fix it–even when the other person brought on the problem or bad mood him/herself.

Let’s face it. Most of our unasked-for advice isn’t appreciated. Sometimes it’s resented. And I don’t know about your track record, but 90% of the advice I so helpfully “offer” to others is never followed. It frustrates me, but it’s my own fault since they didn’t ask for my input in the first place.

It’s also a colossal waste of time and energy. And that’s what we’re trying to conserve here: YOUR energy. All this fixing takes place in the psychic head space we need for our writing.

Break Free!

Being able to focus on your writing means learning first to take your eyes off everyone else–and letting other perfectly capable adults figure out their own lives. Only then will you have the quiet space inside your head in which to mull over your writing and let it take shape.

Experiment with this idea over the course of the next several weeks. Each time you are listening to someone’s problems, just be a caring listener and bite your tongue unless you are specifically asked for advice. In a dead-end conversation, be polite and pleasant and say a few things, but don’t invest all your energy in this nonverbal bump on a log. (And if you don’t think you have the right to do this–or the ability–see “Boundaries for Writers.”)

One more warning from Heather Sellers : “We spend so much of our time Being Everything to Everyone, why on earth are we surprised when we have nothing left but the swamp of procrastination to stew in?” You’re probably not procrastinating–she says–you’re exhausted. “Save part of yourself. You must hold yourself back. For the book. Practice giving a little less of yourself to Everyone and Everything (yes, you can!).”

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14 Responses to Head Space: Conserve Your Writing Energy

  1. Vijaya says:

    Oh, goodness, don’t I know about this lack of head space when there’s not that time to be alone and ponder and think. I think this is one of the reasons I am having a hard time writing new scenes in my novel this summer. Revising old bits is fine, but then I come across a gaping hole … and feel stuck. It’s so much easier to work on short stuff.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Oddly enough, Vijaya, I always found this part the easiest when I had a new baby (or grandbaby)….someone who required lots of endless walking or (sometimes) rocking. Those rhythmic no-think times, even when I was exhausted, was my “head space.” Now, even when alone, I tend to be doing “think stuff” all the time…reading, writing blogs, WFH projects, even listening to audio books while I walk. I need to actively create that silent head space even now.

  2. Vijaya says:

    You’re right, of course. It’s not necessarily being alone physically, but being alone with my thoughts. My kids are full of conversation and comments, all very lively, which makes it hard to hear my characters. LOL, they are fictional.

  3. Beth Reinke says:

    Kristi, this is a helpful post. This is something that I struggle with, but never identified or put into words. Thank you! Perhaps this is why writing ideas, just the right sentence, etc. come to many writers at inopportune times of quiet – while trying to fall asleep or while driving. I like your idea of actively creating that silent head space!

    • kwpadmin says:

      Yes, I think that’s true, Beth. And in this day and age, you have to CREATE that silent head space or the media/noise/electronic devices will devour it.

  4. Nancy says:

    You are a wizard, Kristi! Like Vijaya, I think you have struck upon just the problem I’m having right now as I try to settle back into my novel. My headspace is cluttered up with so many other things, even when I’m out walking, my favorite “escape hatch.” I keep daydreaming about going off to one of those fabled writer’s colonies, the ones where they leave you alone in your cabin all day and silently leave food outside the door! Except if my headspace was still packed full of other people and things, I wouldn’t be alone, not even there. So I need to clear the space in my head, right where I am.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Nancy, that is so true! Wherever you go, you take your crowded head with you! That’s part of the reason I wrote “Boundaries for Writers” actually. Even with having an office of my own and staking out the writing time, I took everyone’s problems right to work with me! :-) I needed mental and emotional boundaries as much as the physical ones!

  5. Kristi,
    What a practical, helpful article to help refocus and rededicate our efforts in the right direction. I’ve got several writing projects going right now and distractions, esp those that are self-generated, are a killer.

    Good post.


    • kwpadmin says:

      Thanks, Warren. I think we all struggle with this from time to time. Just when we get it “mastered,” life changes and you’re in another season, and you have to do it again. I’m all for practical ways to be a good steward of the time I have (brief) and the talents (modest) given to me. Best to you!

  6. Bonnie says:

    Great post. I have been a rescuer a few periods in my life and still flirt with it when it comes to my kids and grandkids. I’m one of those people who can’t let a question asked go unanswered. If I’m in a class (usually Bible Study) and there is a question on the floor, I can’t stand to let silence be the answer. I’m perfectly willing to be wrong in order to fill the space. I’ve done that some with people in the past. The idea of conserving my energy by not trying to help everyone else is very persuasive. Now I need to make some head space to think that through. And I will.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Oh Bonnie, we must be twins separated at birth. :-) I’m the same in SS class, etc. and with my kids and grandkids. While they SAY they don’t want you to fix everything, you can get some really weird looks when you don’t do the expected thing! :-)

  7. Damon Dean says:

    Well you tagged me too with this post Kristi. Here at the end of the month with three goals for the month unfinished I realize I have not had my own headtime. Your diagnosis is right on and your prescription perfect if I will but remember to take the medicine.

    • kwpadmin says:

      You and me both, Damon! I’m preaching to myself most of the time on this blog. :-) (Nice blog YOU have, by the way. I used to critique with Darci years ago via snail mail, and I’ve always heard such GREAT things about her revision workshops.)

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