Shifting brainwaves is time well spent

by Kristin on July 12, 2011

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by nicolasnova

I thought I was doing everything right.

After lunch I packed up my computer and left the house for a change of scene. I had two ideas jotted down on paper, and two hours carved out of my schedule. And I was setting out to do something I’ve done hundreds of times before: write a blog post.

But it didn’t work.

I pushed my way into one idea about 300 words before tripping myself up on my own tangle of thoughts and abandoning it for a fresh screen and idea #2. With that second idea, I got a bit further—about 500 words—but the kernel of idea I had started with suddenly seemed drastically out of place with where I was headed. And where was I headed, anyway? I cut and pasted, prodded and revised, but it just didn’t feel right.

Finally, I packed up and walked back into the oppressive heat toward home, a few hours poorer and nothing to show for it. In frustration, I sent out a tweet: I wrote and then abandoned two blog posts this afternoon. now trying to convince myself that the past 2 hrs were somehow not a waste…

Back at home, I stretched out on the sofa with a book, trying to forget my sorry afternoon and lose myself in words written by someone else—words that work the way they are supposed to.

The power of an outside perspective

About an hour later, I looked at Twitter and saw these responses to my earlier, frustrated tweet:

@katiengibson: Argh. I know that feeling. Maybe those abandoned posts will lead to some good, rich stuff. (Still stinks though.)

@jnswanson: nope. not a waste. You are a different person than before, even if we didn’t see the words. Because you said them.

@genevievecharet: Consider them therapy!


@shawnsmucker: You processed something in those two hours that needed to be processed. The trajectory of your brainwaves will not be the same.

Wow. I was stunned and grateful, and wrote this in response: thank you for the encouragement—it’s possible that your words have led me to my next post.

No struggle is a waste

I mean, how great is that? Not just the encouragement, which was great for me in that moment, but also this concept, which we all need to hear from time to time: As long as we struggle and think, push and create—even if we try and try, and then seem to “fail”—there is no such thing as a waste of time.

As I get ready for bed tonight, I am not two hours and a blog post short. I have learned something—about those particular ideas I was struggling with, and about the writing process. The “trajectory of [my] brainwaves” has shifted. Those thoughts I pursued have progressed, even if they haven’t been shared. And I practiced letting go of traditional ideas about productivity, and grasping the encouragement of others. I’m pretty sure I needed all of that more than I needed the satisfaction of a quick and painless 600 words, all neatly tied up with a bow.

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  • Shawn Smucker

    Well said, Kristin. Just because we are writers doesn’t mean that all the work is done by writing.

    “What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.” ~Burton Rascoe

    I tried to insert “when he’s on the internet,” but my wife is a writer herself and didn’t buy it.

  • Katie

    I will come back to this when I’m in the same place. Good stuff here – good words to remember. (And thanks for including mine! I blush.)

  • Genevieve

    Aw, thanks! You absolutely HAVE to count those hours, or you’ll drive yourself nuts. Writing happens long before pen hits paper (or fingers hit keyboard).

  • Jennifer

    One thing I have always loved about you is your willingness to be challenged, even when uncomfortable. “Letting go of traditional ideas of productivity…” resonated with me personally as I get caught in a flow of time that stops, as they say, for no one.
    Well done.

  • Meredith

    I love the title you chose for this post: “shifting brainwaves is time well spent.” This is exactly what I’ve been working on for the past couple of months. Since I’ve lost my job, I’ve had to rethink how I spend my time and how I think about what I do spend my time on. What can feel like a fruitless or pointless job search or professional development exercise may actually be just the thing I need to get to the next step in this whole “finding a new job” process.

    Sometimes we’re just too close to the situation to see it for what it can be, instead of what we think it is. It’s so great that you had friends to help you look at the same situation from a different perspective.

  • Kristin T.

    Shawn, I think you’re the one who gets the “well said” pat on the back! You helped write the post, after all. (I also like the Burton Rascoe quote, and your wife seems like a smart one, too!)

    Katie, it’s sort of nice, in that not-alone way, to realize that other writers find themselves in the same place from time to time. We’re so hard on ourselves, aren’t we?! Thanks for the grace you showed me—may we each show ourselves more grace moving forward, too.

    Genevieve, you’re exactly right: “Writing happens long before pen hits paper (or fingers hit keyboard).” I regularly “write” a post while I’m taking a walk, and then rush to my computer when I get home so I can get what I’ve “written” in writing. :)

    Jennifer, thank you for saying that! I think my tendency would be to “get caught in a flow of time that stops…for no one,” but thankfully the challenges and discomfort have a way of presenting themselves, making me stop and struggle.

    Meredith, that’s such a tough place to be in! I’m so glad you’re realizing this: “What can feel…fruitless or pointless…may actually be just the thing I need to get to the next step in this whole ‘finding a new job’ process.” I hope this time challenges and changes you in all of the best ways!

  • The Modern Gal

    I agree with your Tweeps — all good writers have to work through their thoughts, discarding a few that don’t seem to work along the way. It’s totally part of the process!