Sometimes my mind wanders.
In writing, this can be a creative bonus. My thoughts venture far enough to see the subject from a new angle. After a leisurely stroll or vigorous hike through my imagination, I return to my writing project renewed, ready to breathe new energy into the message.
But sometimes the schedule leaves no room for daydreams. What’s that I hear? The deadline’s toe tapping beside my desk? Or just the clock ticking? Either way, I don’t have time for mental getaways. I need words.
At moments like these, I put my mind on a short leash.
I give myself a tight assignment, with such close boundaries that my mind must stay close to the subject.
You can do this, too.
Suppose your first draft (of an email, report, presentation, blog post, article, whatever) is due by end of day. You’ve known about it for a week, but your brain has focused on everything but the project. Now you’re out of options. You absolutely have to rein in your brain and find the words. Try this:
1. Choose one of the following extremely limited formats:
- Tweet: Deliver your message in 140 characters or less.
- Six-Word Story: Following the convention of the six-word memoir, present your idea in exactly six words.
- Haiku: Say what you need to say in 17 syllables. Don’t mess with conjunctions or punctuation. Just write three lines where the syllables add up to five, seven, five.
2. Set a timer for just a few minutes—three, five, maybe ten. No more than that.
You’ll be surprised what your focused mind can do in a fraction of an hour.
Tight assignments are great mental exercise. As your brain jumps over, around, and through the message—with no liberty to stray—you’re likely to see quick results.
So, when the timer rings, take note of what you have. Maybe those words will find a place in your final work. But don’t pause to wonder about that. Shift your now-focused attention to your first draft, and let the words flow.
Try this, and let me know the results. Better yet, share your ideas for other short forms we can try. What boundaries can we use to contain the brain and frame the message?