Unwrinkling the Brain – Why I Write

The Morro Bay rock in Central California.

The Morro Bay rock in Central California.

Writing is taking crumpled up pieces of paper with my brain’s content on them and smoothing them to tape to a wall to review. Some are shreds of thoughts, and other pages may be creased, unintelligible content and smeared ink, but at least some of it is discernible.

If I skip this, I start the day with a head like a frustrated author’s garbage can, stuffed to the brim with balled-up attempts to convey a thought. Allowing (sometimes forcing) myself to write flexes the muscle in my brain that brings thoughts to the page in a linear fashion. I’ve noticed a correlation between not writing and scattered, unproductive days when I jump right into my email morass. I’m far more productive when I write for myself first.

I’m working on making writing an indispensable part of my life, but I’ll admit that it hasn’t been easy. Like meditation, it feels unnecessary when events in my life stack up and I get busy.

Yet it usually is the one thing I truly need. Similar to when Gandhi told his advisors that he needed to meditate an hour a day and they told him, “Oh no, you are too busy for that!” he responded,  “Well, then I now need to set aside two hours a day to meditate.” My goal is for writing to feel as necessary as eating and giving Chelsea a hug every day.

If there is one recurring theme accomplished writers recommend, it is to write every day. No matter what. Sit in front of a keyboard for an hour and just stare at the blank screen doing mental pushups to learn to write through the periods of disenchantment when it’s the last thing you want to do. Many of them describe the feeling of not writing similar to the way I feel when I don’t exercise for a few days – cranky, unfocused, angry. The morning pages from the amazing book “The Artist’s Way” hone that clarity, blowing away the chaff to leave the golden kernels, and that’s what keeps me coming back to the keyboard.

Hiking on the east side of Glacier National Park.

Hiking on the east side of Glacier National Park.

At this point, I’m not satisfied enough with my work to publish more than about ¼ of what I generate. Entire pages languish in draft form, and sometimes I’ll take an entire attempt and condense it down into a sentence to add into another composition. As Mark Twain said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Writing concisely is something the best authors do in a way that makes it seem so easy. Yet millions of words practiced daily and 7-8 revisions of their manuscript sculpt that “ease.” They don’t call them wordsmiths for nothing – those skills were honed in a dedicated apprenticeship.

I’ve found building a routine is making it easier. Headphones with classical music playing is my new muse (sorry Macklemore – you still get airtime in the van). While the morning is my clearest time of day, I find popping in ear buds in the afternoon or evening is beginning to trigger the same place of clarity. Phone on mute, piano plinking away, I can sort out things I read and conversations I have. You may sense my writing serves to share my thoughts, yet it’s also a proactive journey for me, a pause in the tumult of the last six years as I changed careers, failed a few times, built a business, got married, and designed my life to make a trip like this possible. Writing is helping me pause and sift through events and likely come out of our journey a different person.

Sometimes I think of my brain as a parachute stuffed in a backpack. Crammed inside, it isn’t much use. Pulling the ripcord and unfurling it to soar above life’s landscape is the only way to access all the connections and strings that connect back to my core. I write to access the power of cruising under that parachute canopy, to think and make sense of the jumble in my mind.

If the results are garbage, I know it was still productive, just like a hard run when it’s the last thing I wanted to do. And that’s what keeps me coming back to a blank page and blinking cursor. Even on the days where the last thing I want to do is write, it’s worthwhile. So here I am.

As my pen pal buddy Pam (an excellent writer) says, Write On!

Cycling in Glacier.

Cycling in Glacier.

8 replies
  1. Pam Salling Fulton
    Pam Salling Fulton says:

    You’re on to something; I’ve learned that it needs to be a daily pursuit, and there are no shortcuts to this writing thing. Keep at it, Dakota, you’ll get there. Write on! — Pam

    Reply
    • Dakota Gale
      Dakota Gale says:

      Thanks Pam! You’ve been an inspiration to sit down and just wriiiiite, even if I don’t feel like it. No shortcuts to most anything worthwhile it seems…and that’s ok!

      Reply
      • Pam Salling Fulton
        Pam Salling Fulton says:

        Some of the best stuff comes from those times that I don’t “feel” it but write anyway. You’re farther along than you realize, there are some real gems in your blogs. Now, as far as writing a novel, well, that’s a whole different discussion 😉

        Reply
  2. Stevie
    Stevie says:

    Couldn’t have said (or, written) it better myself. Gorgeous metaphors… I love the unwrinkling balls of paper and the parachute backpack. Bravo! I’m still working on the daily discipline, but like you, I intuitively know that if I write everyday, no matter what, I will see much better results. Go fight win!

    Reply
  3. Luke
    Luke says:

    Great post Dakota,

    It’s always been easier for me to appreciate the value of consistent exercise. My body has been in constant motion since I was a child, so I feel the pain when it’s not. I’ve tuned into myself well enough to know that if I don’t want to run, then I absolutely must.

    My forays into consistent writing have been short enough that the value of fully developing my thoughts through writing are still undervalued.

    This post has illuminated the value of daily brain maintenance. Now I just need to integrate the daily habit!

    Thanks for the inspiration. btw, this was my favorite metaphor:

    “blowing away the chaff to leave the golden kernels”

    Reply
    • Dakota Gale
      Dakota Gale says:

      Thanks Luke! I’m right there with you – far easier to exercise for me than to just sit my butt in a chair every day and get after it. Hope you find some golden kernels!

      Reply
  4. Ryan Snyder
    Ryan Snyder says:

    Great reminders here. I often get out of the habit of writing, and once I’m out of the habit, it takes a while to get back into the swing of things. In particular, when I’m out of the habit I forget how important it is to trash some of the things I’ve written. Sometimes writing’s only purpose is to get it out of my head, not necessarily to get in other people’s heads. 🙂 Thanks Dakota.

    Reply

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