28 March 2024

Forget "Time to Write" – What About Headspace?

 Hello fellow Sleuthsayer Faithful!

Feels like forever since I jumped into the swirling maelstrom of thought and discussion which is our beloved Sleuthsayers blog!

Anyway, let's get to it.

I was thinking just today about this passage I read a long time ago, I'm not sure where:

"On the 49th day there under the fig tree, the Buddha finally silenced his mind."

I'm certain the quotation isn't exact, but "mindfulness" and the benefits Buddhists believe accrue from protracted periods of silence really aren't the point I hope to address today.

I'm talking, of course, about headspace.

Heh.... I wish.

I once took just eight weeks to write 80,000 words. I had a two-book contract on which I was past deadline: word count for each? 40,000 words. The only reason I was able to pull it off is that both books were nonfiction.

I currently find myself close to missing another deadline. The reason?

How long have you got? Excuses? I have none.

Reasons? I'm positively lousy with 'em.

I probably ought to add that when I wrote two books in two months, I was single, between girlfriends, no mortgage, and aside from a serious falling out with the editor originally assigned to me by publisher (new to the business. I was her first "project." Talk about GREEN!), I was pretty much the definition of "care-free." Just me, the day-gig (For those of you playing at home, I teach history), and my writing time. Oh, and my crippling student loans. That's what I wrote all that nonfiction for. To supplement my paltry day-gig income and help stay on top of my student loans. So, still mostly "care-free."

That was then.

Next week I turn 59. And although I have never been happier in my life than right now, this moment, I am no longer "free from care."

I'm happily married to one of the best people I know. I'm the father of an 11-year-old boy who by turns both delights and confounds me.

And because I'm a parent now, and a husband, and a devoted son to parents staring down the onset of their 80s, and brother to a great guy currently living and working out of state, I worry.

I know some guys feel it somehow unmanly to admit to worry, or even to talk about things like anxiety, but the older I get the more I've come to think that's hogwash. If you're a private person, that's one thing. Keeping a lid on what's going on with you emotionally is just a recipe for a stroke.

Anyway, the worst part?

I used to be able to silence my mind. Not like the Buddha. Forty-nine days to get it done and find enlightenment? That guy was a boss for that alone. Mad respect.

But I could shut everything out when I had to and just do, as the late G.M. Ford so often put it: "Ass. Chair. Write."

It's all laid out there, just waiting for us, right?..... RIGHT?

Not anymore. I have more and more trouble shutting out the things that worry me. Plus, I have a lot going on: family members with a variety of ailments, concerns that arise at the day gig, the thousand course corrections required of a responsible "middle school parent" these days.

Don't get me wrong, I still have my good writing days. And my wife, who knows me better than anyone (which is as it should be), has said many times that I "thrive with a deadline."

Which reminds me....that deadline....yeah.

If you read this far hoping that I'd reveal my discovery of some magic bullet that could help grant instant, deep, abiding and never-ending headspace, sorry to disappoint you. In fact I wrote this post hoping to crowdsource my dilemma.

So how about it, friends? Got any semi-secret tips on getting into and remaining in a writing headspace? Or not-so-secret ones, for that matter? 

If so, please feel free to drop a suggestion into the comments. And failing that, if you're a fellow traveler on this perplexing road of perpetual distraction, feel free to come to the comments if only just to commiserate!

And that's it for me this go-round. 

See you in two weeks!


  1. When my wife was fighting cancer, I could manage to write, and do everything else that needed doing. After she passed, I could do nothing. It has been more than six years now, and I am not much better. All I do now is miss her and worry about everything and anything. Whatever headspace I had, is gone.

  2. No tips, no tricks, just slog through it. Last year my husband was in the hospital 4 times, and while I managed to get my SleuthSayers columns written (there really is nothing like a deadline for motivation), I wrote one story. That's it. I am trying meditation, once a day. Will keep you posted.

  3. Oh wow. Kevin, I hope you're reading this. I lost my husband 5 years ago to cancer. I wrote 2 books that year, reading to him what I had written that day, every night. It became our routine to keep us sane. After he died, I was a zombie. For over a year, I couldn't write a thing. Then, gradually, I was forced back into it, by agent/contract deadlines. I still have days I can't focus, and where it doesn't seem worthwhile. It's a long road, and I'm not back to the way I was even yet. Brian, thanks for this column - it does make us feel not alone. Melodie

  4. I bought one of those guided journals that you do a mini gratitude/plan/avoid list--it's helped me focus on what I really want to do & get out of my head. And I joined an accountability group. I'm 60 w/family I'm helping get health care & work part time and am still working to finish/edit my first mystery novel. Wrote about 3 novels but never took them anywhere b/c procrastinating is a big problem.

  5. The comments are just what I need also. My husband died less than two years ago, and while he was declining (dying) I wrote a novel, which didn't sell, and then after he died I just stopped writing. I fussed with his photography and mine, and only now, almost two years later, do I hear a story taking shape in my head. So far I've been ignoring it, but this one seems to have a feeling that won't go away. Before my husband got sick, I could work all day, come home and write for an hour, and feel I'd done my day's work of writing. I haven't felt that way in years. You'll write when you're ready, and that's when you feel you have to or want to. When I didn't feel like it, I remembered that once I got into it I loved the escape from the real world. I love hiding out in my imaginations. I love the headspace, as you put it.

  6. In a word: routine. Every day without exception I wake up before the rest of the house to write before my head gets cluttered with to dos. It’s invariably the best hour of the day.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>