✍️ Your Writing Thin Place: A Step-by-Step Guide to Walking Through that Door
or, How to Enter Dreamland Using Only a Pink Elephant, an Ice Cream Cane, and Cardamonohubbabaloooo...
I’m going to start off by quelling the rumours. No, I have not read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. But I intend to.
The reason I bring it up is because while researching this topic, she and her book kept lighting up my Google results. I’ve heard of the book before, but I didn’t realize that she has a whole section or chapter specifically on “writing frame of mind”. Apparently, that chapter is quite... esoteric. Some people on the inter-ma-webs have called it confusing. Others openly mocked it.
Having not read it, I can’t comment on it as a whole. But I have read snippets that others have cited, and I’m intrigued. Why not talk about that misty, dreamy, nonsensical part of your brain using misty, dreamy, nonsensical language? Maybe if we as writers can get in tune with what she’s saying, we’ll have an easier time pushing open that fairy door.
That’s the real crux of the problem. How do you pass from this real world into that dreamy writing frame of mind? It’s sort of like looking at those 3D Magic Eye posters back in the 90s – you stare and stare at them until you go cross-eyed and a squirrel leaps out at you. You have to lose focus to gain focus. (You put it that way, and it’s a little more apparent why the inter-ma-webs people were confused...)
Here’s the thing with those Magic Eye images. Even when you learn the trick, it doesn’t mean you can find the 3D image immediately the next time. However, it does get easier. Likewise, with practice, it also gets easier to step into this comfortable Neverland place in your mind where your creativity frolics fancy-free.
Writing Thin Place, Writing State of Mind, Flow State, In the Zone...
...no matter what you call it, we all want to get there. That can be difficult in today’s world with all the distractions we have. It’s not just Netflix, social media, and kitten videos on YouTube. It’s also priorities like kids and holidays, work, the daily “what’s for dinner?” conversations, and, well, Life with a capital “L”. As we talked about in a recent post on accountability, it’s important to recognize Life but never to make it an excuse.
Recently, I have been reading about thin places. It’s a quasi-religious term from ancient Celtic that has now been adopted by Christianity and perhaps other religions I don’t know about it. The proverb goes something like, “The distance between heaven and earth is three feet; in thin places, it’s even closer.”
I’m not a religious guy, but I have felt thin places before – and often in religious places like the top of Mount Sinai, Notre Dame, and a fairy circle in Ireland. It is hard to explain to people who have never felt them. There is a “realness” and/or a “closeness”. Sometimes there’s an unseen presence. Time seems to slow or stop – it is like living in the moment, but spiritually. The experience can be both unsettling and comforting at the same time. But again, these are scant words to describe an ineffable and intensely personal experience.
I believe “thin place” is another way of describing a writing frame of mind, too – at least for me. If you have trouble getting “in the zone”, try following the steps below and see if they work for you.
Five and Two-Half Steps to Finding Your Writing Thin Place
A caveat: this is only one possible path to your writing thin place. The thing about writing thin places is that we often have to stumble on these little hollows in our minds all by ourselves. But we can learn how to look for clues and at least get a vague idea where we are going as we fumble through dark. Start here, but modify these steps to suit you best.
1. Schedule writing time – schedule a time for your next writing session at the very least, and more if you can. And unless someone’s in the Emergency Room, stick to it!
2a. Take a shower – or go for a walk, or do some other activity before you write. You know that thing that you do that seems to trigger a bunch of creative ideas? Do that. When the ideas come, hold onto them and start writing in your head until you sit down. (Or better yet, make a note of it.)
2b. Find a ritual – like making tea. Showering or going for a walk can be part of this ritual, or instead of.
3. Find a quiet place – a room with a door you can close is ideal. Otherwise, you can turn an out-of-the-way nook in the basement, in a library, in a coffee shop, etc. into your Everywhere Office.
4a. Put on big-ass headphones – they do a better job of covering your ears and shutting out the world than earbuds. When you’re writing in public places, they also act as a quasi “Do Not Disturb” sign.
4b. Put on music – yeah, you’d assume headphones means listening to music, but it doesn’t have to. (I’m wearing silent headphones as I write this...) Instrumental, jazzy, thin-placey... whatever you can play in the background that won’t distract.
5. Write. And write. And write. – Write with wild abandon. Don’t read what you’ve written. Don’t edit. Write with the screen off. Write with the power off. Write with paper over your monitor. Write as if you’re in the movie Speed – if your typewriter falls below 50 wpm, your desk blows up. Use the Pomodoro Technique. Do whatever it takes to keep yourself writing. The idea is to just throw down a bunch of ideas onto the page with little rhyme and no reason.
This last step is crucial. The best way to getting into that writing frame of mind where you are so focused that you cannot help but write is to start EFFing writing, even if those words are gibberish. Like the 3D image above, you have to “concentrate” to “lose focus”. In writing, this means concentrating on just getting words down onto paper, regardless of what those words are. Most of it will be crap. But you’ll also get gems like you’d never get otherwise. The more you do it, the more you’ll see gems, and the less you’ll see crap. It is magical in that way – much like a thin place is.
Remember, your writing thin place can be an elusive place to visit. Sometimes, even when you know the way, you can’t always find it again on demand. I have days where nothing is really working for me at all. That’s okay – that’s natural. Like most things in art, any “science” you try to put on it will quickly fall apart. But keep at it, and you’ll find it come eventually!
Key Takeaways: Your writing thin place can be an elusive place to visit, much like finding the 3D picture in those Magic Eye posters – but it gets easier with practice. Experiment with the right combination of scheduling, rituals, and writing with wild abandon to help you get into the writing frame of mind where you are your most creative.
Over to You: Where’s Your Writing Thin Place?
How do you get into a writing frame of mind? Do you have a piece of writing that you’re particularly proud of, and wonder how it came to be? You likely were in your writing thin place then. Try to find your way back!
I leave you with Anne Lamott’s TEDTalk video, below.
Until next time, I’m wishing you a productive 2024. Keep writing with wild abandon!
email me if you get lost.