On a recent road trip, I loaded the “up next” feature of my podcast player with every episode that sounded intriguing. One episode would play after another without my having to touch it.
Hours of Filling the Mind
As I rolled down the freeway, I listened to hours and hours of podcasts, filling my mind with interviews, ideas, tips, and strategies related to writing and publishing, creativity and productivity, social media and marketing.
That continuous input felt like taking back-to-back sessions at a conference or classes at college. Hungry to learn, I gorged on the steady diet of nourishing information.
Hours of Stilling the Mind
When I arrived at my destination, I turned off the podcast player.
My brain grew still.
That’s naturally what happened at the end of my long journey. But of course that’s exactly what I needed next. After filling my mind, I needed to still my mind.
I needed to build in space and time to process and ponder the content I had taken in. I needed time to decide which ideas I could “own” for myself and integrate into my life and work. How could I test them out without some degree of stillness?
Hours of Input Need Hours of Silence
My outing was my Grand Gesture, if you recall from the last episode. I was near a beach. I made a commitment to walk every day, at least an hour. Sometimes two.
As I walked, all that input from hours of listening and learning tumbled around in my mind, mixing with whatever I’d dropped in there over the years.
Waves spilled against sand and lulled me into a relaxed state of trust in the directions my mind meandered. Freed from overthinking and overanalyzing, I solved a few sticky issues and casually outlined a few projects. I gained excitement and vision for the year ahead.
Fill + Still = Breakthroughs
While I have a lifetime of input floating around inside me, I believe in the importance of continuing to fill myself with more. I’m a lifelong learner, I guess. I want to keep my mind sharp.
But I also see the value—the necessity—of following the filling with a stilling my mind, giving it space to make connections and arrive at breakthroughs.
We have those a-ha moments while walking, showering, folding laundry, washing dishes. When we aren’t actively problem-solving, our minds are still enough to wander, think, make connections. This is a valuable state for a writer in need of breakthrough for a sticking point in a project.
After a period of filling the mind, take time to quiet the noise. Turn down the volume, whether literal or figurative. Give the brain some down time. In the stillness of those quieter, less mentally demanding times, we figure it out:
- I just realized how my heroine will escape the trap!
- Ah! I know the third stanza in the poem—I can hear it in my head.
- For that essay, I’ll allude to a line in a play and write a section on how it resonates with our society.
Our rested state allows us to arrive at clarity and vision.
Filling and Stilling, We Write Unique
With your insight, you can put the idea together in a way that only you can. That’s why you and I could both write about the same topic or respond to the same prompt and your final product would be completely different from mine.
Not only are our styles different, but we’ve filled our minds with different content.
You read this book while I read that. You came across a quote in your travels and I found one in a letter my mom wrote to her best friend when she was in college. You pored over medical research, while I had a conversation at a party thrown by a friend.
We have it all inside, ready to increase the clarity and quality of our writing.
Know When (and How) to Fill
One time I came across a quote attributed to Anne Lamott: “Sometimes you’re not blocked; you’re empty.” When you feel empty, dry, lacking inspiration, spend some time filling your mind.
- Read great books
- Listen to great books
- Subscribe to podcasts
- Listen to music you know well and music that’s new to you.
- Attend a poetry reading
- Attend author lectures
- Sign up for a conference
- Visit an art museum
Fill the library of your mind with beauty, creativity, art, and inspiration.
Know When (and How) to Still
Then make time to still your mind.
- Wash the dishes
- Fold laundry
- Walk in the woods
- Take a shower
- Take a nap
- Walk the dog
To increase your writing quality and output—and have more fun as a curious, lifelong learner—develop a healthy, ongoing practice of filling and stilling your mind.
- Newport, Cal. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Grand Central Pub, 2018. Kindle version. [Affiliate Link: if you click through and purchase via this link, I receive a small percentage as an Amazon affiliate]
- Naps for Better Recall (via Scientific American)
- All podcast episodes
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