Silas House recently published “The Art of Being Still” in the New York Times. I agree with everything in this intriguing essay about the writer’s need for stillness except this comment: “We writers must become multitaskers who can be still in our heads while also driving safely to work, while waiting to be called ‘next’ at the D.M.V., while riding the subway or doing the grocery shopping or walking the dogs or cooking supper or mowing our lawns.”
Multitasking is the antithesis of the stillness Mr. House so sagely recommends earlier in his essay. Research shows that multitasking fractures our ability to focus our attention not only in the moment, but for hours later.
Recent brain research indicates that roughly 2.5% of the population have a cortex that can truly multitask. The other 97.5% of us shift our focus from task to task. And every time we do, we lose processing speed and accuracy. Trying to simultaneously do multiple things that require cortical attention takes up to 50% more time and creates up to 50% more errors than completing the tasks sequentially.
To make the most of our creative cortexes, we writers must stop attempting to multitask. Yes, we can effectively think about our characters, story or topic while riding public transit or walking the dogs. But don’t be surprised if letting your mind wander while you’re in the grocery store means you spend more time shopping and bring home items you didn’t want and forget items you did.
Yes we can, as Mr. House recommends, function with “a bit of your mind focused on reality and the larger part of it quiet, still, and always thinking like a writer.” But we also need to claim and defend time solely for writing.
You can gain great insight to your character while buying your groceries, but that insight doesn’t do your readers any good if you don’t give yourself time to incorporate those insights into the manuscript.
During the time we reserve for being still and therefore open to our writing, our fingers may fly over the keyboard recording ideas and images (aka “writing”). Or they may manipulate a paintbrush, clay or a crayon in creative play. Sometimes they may lay quiet in our laps as we meditate.
But our minds must not be constantly stimulated by and focused on email, Twitter, spreadsheets, text messages, conversations about writing that don’t lead to actual writing, and the rest of the distractions that constantly swirl around us. Writers need stillness.
How you do create stillness for your writing?