The laziness of the long-distance thinker

The mind is lazy. The mind is treacherous. The mind is – sometimes – your worst enemy.

The mind likes the quiet life. It seeks the easy way out. And, if you’re not careful, it can lead you way off track. There is a sign I’ve begun to recognise and look out for. When the eye slides off the screen and when you start scrolling through, skipping paragraphs, that’s a sure sign that there’s something unright about that section. The mind is trying to avoid noticing it. It doesn’t want the conscious mind to see because then it might have to actually stretch itself and think.

This is an endemic quality of the brain. It likes to burble through the days on automatic and to avoid engaging with anything really work-like. It leads to a tendency to accept poor quality writing and pointless scenes. It won’t allow actual mistakes, you understand: they stand out still. But as soon as the eyes begin to slide down the page I’ve learned to stop, to take a break, maybe, and re-engage.

No-one likes to work. Not real brain-work – not on everything, certainly. You’ll take every excuse for the easy way out. It’s a natural human trait and it only gets worse if you’ve shown the piece to others and they’ve not objected, not highlighted the section you’re trying to ignore. Hey – someone else has read it and they’ve not complained, so it must be okay, right? There are always other, more obvious errors to fix. And yet you continue to have a sense of disquiet.

The only answer is to challenge the mind. To show it the offending section in front of it, direct and centre, and to make it do its damn job. You find your eyes sliding away – well, just get them back on centre. The work has to be done. Because even if no-one else comments, you know. You know there’s something not right. And you’ll be faintly embarrassed every time to get near that section. And heaven help you if you find you have to read it out loud. No avoiding it then. Everyone will know that you’ve left a placeholder in your finished piece of work. And the mind likes that even less.

So every time you find your mind shying away from a paragraph or a scene, or every time you find yourself saying ‘yeah, that’s okay, I can skim that,’ hold on. There’s something wrong there. You know it. Something is trying to get your attention, but your lazy arse of a mind is seeking to sleep. Don’t let it! Make it work. It can do it – it’s good at it really. It’s just after a quiet life.

It’s up to you to show it who’s boss. You can do better. It can do better. And between the two of you, you will. Once you’ve recognised the signs you can use your blindness as an alarm: let the moment you start to skim sound as a siren. Eighteen-to-one that’ll be a place that needs improvement.

Intermission

Apologies for the erratic posting recently. I got married at the weekend and am spending a few days off with the other half. It’s lovely to be able to take the time just with her, but it does take a toll on the old writing.

Writing requires regular commitment. After only two weeks away from the page I’m finding it hard to get going. For the first time in I-don’t-know-how-long I’m catching myself looking for excuses not to write. But at the same time I’m feeling an enormous pressure to get on with things. I’ve got work to do. I’m mid-project and these few days off are perfect for getting down to it.

But thinking is hard work and the brain is lazy. How many times to you actually think, actually work your mind every day? Not many. It’s so easy to go through life on automatic that weeks can pass without doing any actual brain-work. You have to train your mind into the habit – and that, as much as anything else, is what writing is. It’s thinking, it’s working; it’s finding that moment when the brakes come off and you find the flow – where the mind ticks into a higher gear and you can sweep a perfect paragraph onto the page.

And so I’m struggling to find the will because being comfortable and loved and lazy are so pleasant. But the tendency to be idle is bashing against my love of writing and my guilt – I think that’s the right emotion – at not getting words down. So I am gritting my teeth and I’m beginning to realise how determined I am to get this work done. Not because I have to but because I want to. Because I love to create.

But of course the missus comes first. We’re going on a mini-moon tomorrow, just a few days away to celebrate – please don’t for a moment feel all this angst and firstworldproblemery comes from anything other than the joy of the marriage and my beloved – and I’ll be missing writing again.

Monday. I’ll be back and working on Monday, and every weekday thereafter.