Why staring out the window is working

One of my favorite writer-ly quotes is this one, from Burton Rascoe:
“What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.”

Whether it’s because our unconscious brains continue to mull over problems even when we’re not actively thinking about them, or because we think before we type, I find that the best work happens when I spend a lot of time not working.

Ideally, whenever I’m working on a piece about a new topic I like to spend several days researching and learning about it, then give my brain a few days to process all those new ideas before putting fingers to keyboard. I frequently come home at the end of the day and just lay on the couch, letting my brain wander where it may. Then, after relaxing almost entirely, I’ll get an idea.

Sometimes that idea is a concept for a new article; a new subject I want to write about. Other times it’s just a neat turn of words that expresses perfectly something I’ve been struggling to get out or a solution to a writing problem that suddenly lines up mentally, like solving a Rubik’s cube made of words. Then words flow from my fingertips and TA-DA! I accomplish something in half an hour that I’ve been trying to do for days.

Writing is funny that way.

I think, as a writer, it’s important to learn how to judge when you need that “downtime.” You have to know when you walk away from a deadline, even if only for ten minutes, so that you’re words don’t come out forced.

I’d like to say that that’s what I’ve been doing and that’s why I haven’t put up a new post yet this week, but in truth that’s not the case. In truth, I’ve been crazy busy. First I got a call from someone interested in having me do some work for him because a friend had recommended me. Then I got it in my head to read a book on SEO (I’m reading The Art of SEO – so far, it’s fantastic).

Then two different people I met at a networking event almost three weeks ago contacted me and asked for estimates. I’ve also written two articles for iGrad in the past two weeks – one on networking and one on loan consolidation – and oh, yeah, I’ve been dealing with my student loans coming due (aka I’ve been consolidating loans, which spurred the topic for the article I wrote and serve nicely as research).

All that’s really good news. But it means I haven’t had that downtime I mentioned above – so the ideas have sat stagnant instead of coming out properly. I’m ready to flush them out and get some words on the screen though; in fact all the time spent working on projects means I have a lot of ideas I’m dying to puzzle out.

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