Scatterbrain is real and it impacts us all in some way or another. Especially us creatives. We have so much swimming around in our brains and are desperate to get it out. Our creative work, our writing and so on, tends to be the proposed outlet for all of that noise in your mind. The thing is, we need to make sense of it all BEFORE we sit down and engage with the work.
There are days when I wake up and I honestly couldn’t even tell you my own name, let alone spell it. On those days, anything I create tends to be of a lower standard of quality and I often end up binning it all. I existed in that state for years (my yelp review - would not recommend) and it ended up being quite overwhelming. I had so much I wanted to share, so many thoughts and feelings that were just desperate for their moment in the sun.
There was a time in my life when I was about as disorganised as a human being could be. It was a stressful time, to say the least. I am still a person riddled with chaotic thoughts and feelings, just not on the same level that I was in my youth.
I have been called scatterbrained, stupid, unfocused, and generally a bit of a waster throughout my time on this big blue rock we live on. That was unpleasant. Every time I would hear something like one of those statements it would cut me deep and make me question if they were right.
The reason people used to say those things is because I lacked focus and everything inside my brain seems to go at an overwhelming pace. I didn’t quite realise it when I was young though, I just thought I was broken.
I met a chap one day who taught me something.
The man in question initially bought me a coffee from a coffee shop in kings cross train station. I was soaking wet and freezing my tiny behind off. A drowned rat. He was sitting outside the little coffee shop in the station and, for reasons that are still unknown to me, he called me over to buy me a coffee. I always assumed that he felt a bit sorry for the scrawny, soaking wet kid before him.
I sat with him while he was waiting for his train and we started to talk. At that time in my life, I had a terrible habit of changing subject part the way through a conversation. A new thought would cross my erratic and chaotic mind and I would jump on it for fear of losing it altogether.
I must have changed the subject of our conversation ten plus times. We only talked for maybe a quarter of an hour. It must have been exhausting for him. I know it was for me.
I finished my coffee and he had to go and get his train, as did I.
I walked round to the platform, it was so long ago that I couldn’t tell you which platform I was heading to. I needed to catch a train to Cambridge. When I arrived at the platform I saw the chap I had just been talking to. He waved me over and asked if I would be getting the same train as him, to which I replied yes. He then wandered off without a word. I thought for a moment that maybe I had irritated him to the point that he would rather get the next train instead.
As I was about to get on the train itself I felt a hand on my shoulder. As a kid, I was super aggressive and defensive so I intended to yell at whoever had put their hand on my shoulder. I hate to be touched in any way, and I am also not fond of surprises. This moment was a combination of the two. Not for me, thank you.
As I span myself round to yell I was shocked to see the chap who had just bought me a coffee. I immediately stopped myself from yelling like an idiot. He smiled and apologised for startling me. He also handed me a ticket for the first-class carriage. I am terrible at accepting kindness from people, I don’t know why. I tried to refuse but he was quite insistent. He told me he has already paid for it, so it will go in the bin if I don’t use it. Not wanting to waste his money being an ungrateful little toad I decided it would be best to just accept it.
As it turns out, first-class isn’t that different to the rest of the train, it just has fewer people in it. Fewer people crammed into the carriage makes for a much more pleasant journey, who knew?!
I talked with him on the journey from Kings Cross, in London, to Cambridge. He asked me about my life, how I spent my time, and what my interests were. All pretty standard stuff. When I had run out of things to say in response to his questions he would then jump in with another relatively generic question. It took me a while to figure out that he was analysing and studying me. An odd feeling for someone as self-conscious as I.
When we got near to the station at the Cambridge end of our journey he told me something based on his observations of me.
He said that he could see that I had a lot of potential locked away in my brain. He said he could practically see the thoughts swimming around my mind, moving like lightning, making connections at light speed. He could also see how easily I became overwhelmed by it all, the bombardment of sensory input plus the thought soup that was my mind was a recipe for disaster.
He shared with me something that was, at the time, a completely new concept to me. He told me about it and I listened intently intending to implement it in my life.
Sadly, teenage me was a bit of a mess so it took some years before I actually implemented it. I can honestly say that I was blown away by the power of such a simple exercise.
I bumped into the chap a few years later, after I had started implementing his advice, and I was shocked that he even remembered me. But, he did. We had another chat on that day and I told him about how his advice had helped me to make better decisions in life and learn more effectively. He just smiled and nodded, I thought he had forgotten what he had told me in our previous encounter.
I started to tell him what he had told me in our first encounter but he stopped me to tell me he remembered. He shared some other things with me that day too, but that is another story for another day.
The technique itself is very simple. It is a brain dump. Well, it’s two brain dumps. Neither of them takes long at all. One is a daily brain dump and the other is a task-focused brain dump.
Both of the brain dumps I will be telling you about include an infinitely repeating sequence. An infinitely repeating sequence is just a sequence of words that can be repeated over and over. Some people like to use the colours of the rainbow. I like to use numbers, although I am aware that it is technically not a repeating sequence, but, it is infinite.
You will see what I mean when you read about the braindumps.
This particular brain dump should be done either at the beginning of your day or the end. Both are fine, just pick whichever one feels right for you. I like to do mine at the end of the day.
Find somewhere nice and quiet to do this, distraction is your enemy. Pick a room, shut the door, turn off/silence all devices. Grab a pen and paper, set a timer for 10-15 minutes.
For the duration of the brain dump, you are going to write without stopping. You will spend your 15 minutes writing every thought and feeling you have in your head, exactly as it is in your head. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense, so don’t try to edit it as you go, just keep writing.
It can be difficult to keep writing for the duration of the timer. Sometimes you will sit and stare at that paper and your mind will go blank. When that happens, it can derail you because it negatively defies your expectations and creates unnecessary pressure on you. This exercise is supposed to be a release, not a crushing defeat from writer’s block. With that in mind, we will use our infinite sequence to create and maintain the flow of writing.
“One... two... three... four... I am hungry... why is the cat making that noise... five... six... I’ve got too much on today... no... yes... I think I can do it all... I want to do it all... Is the backdoor still open... seven... eight... nine... ten... eleven... there is no wind... the birds are so loud... I think I failed... maybe not waiting long enough... why is my body broken... Is Lucas embarrassed by me in front of his friends... he should be... I am... twelve... thirteen... fourteen... two appointments today at the same time... cancel them both... fifteen…”
That was a little excerpt from one of my recent daily brain dumps. As you can see, it is quite random. Every thought is put down as it appears in my mind. It doesn’t matter, I just get it on the paper.
Now is not the time for the review process. Not at all. You need some separation between it and you. That separation is needed if you are going to have any hope of being objective in your review process.
As I mentioned before, I like to do my brain dumps at the end of the day. As a result, my review process takes place the following morning. So if you do your brain dump in the morning, then review it in the evening. Without separation, the braindump just becomes another pointless exercise that eats up your time, energy, and creativity.
When it comes to reviewing your braindump, the purpose is to reflect in as objective a manner as possible. There will be groupings, or points of commonality, between various items in your brain dump. Separate them into their newfound groups. From there, split each group into the events, factors, and so on that make up the group while removing the emotional component of each in the process. This will help you separate events from their emotional baggage. This will bring you objectivity.
Rinse and repeat, every single day.
The basic premise of this brain dump is the same as the daily brain dump, with one minor difference - this one is specific to the task at hand.
Imagine this scenario - you have promised yourself that you will sit down for an hour today and write. You have a project that you are working on, your latest novel or short story, but you also have a head full of other stuff. Life, the universe, and everything are floating around in there. How on earth are you supposed to sit down and write if the waters have been so badly muddied?
That is where brain dump number two comes into play.
So we will start in the same way that we did for the daily brain dump, i.e we will find somewhere quiet, shut the door, eliminate distractions, grab a pen and paper, set a timer for 10-15 minutes, and start writing our infinitely repeating sequence.
This time, instead of writing every thought and feeling that comes to mind you will only acknowledge and record those thoughts and feelings relating to your creative writing that you wish to engage in.
You will need to do this brain dump a little while before you plan on sitting down to write your next masterpiece because you need to create an element of separation between you and what you have just written in your brain dump. I like to do mine an hour or two before I sit down to write.
“one... two... three... four... five... six... seven... eight... nine... Raphael is transported to earth with no memory... that' stupid... I am... ten... eleven... twelve... thirteen... John is an exobiologist working in Antarctica... remains of unknown creature found under the ice... facility loses contact with the outside world... unaware time has stopped or slowed... fourteen... fifteen... john has vision/dream... spoke with a voice but saw nothing... vision changes john by unlocking hidden knowledge in his head... sixteen…”
That was taken from a task-focused brain dump that I did a while ago. I chose to share this one specifically because it was the beginning of uncovering what I hope will be a great story, eventually.
As you can see, it took me a moment or two to get warmed up. With this particular brain dump, I managed to find the bones of a story, separate those ideas from how I feel about writing, and identify and eliminate negative self-talk.
Give yourself some time, and another task, between doing the task-focused brain dump and reflecting on it. The separation that little break offers you is non-negotiable. Without it, there is little to no objectivity and it quickly turns into added stress and pressure; the complete opposite of what you are trying to accomplish.
When you reflect on your task-focused brain dump you will be presented with things that are in some way connected to what you want to write and the rest will be the emotional component. You need to separate them into two different lists. One list for all the things relating to your writing, and another list of how you feel about it.
Splitting them up like this allows you to look at the story elements with a logical and objective eye, and it also helps to identify the negative self-talk and limiting beliefs and emotions relating to your ability to write well.
This is how clarity is discovered. By investigating. Figuring out what matters, what helps, and what holds you back.
The braindump techniques that I have shared with you today are not a new idea, I do not own them, I did not create them, and I claim no credit for them.
The idea of a braindump is a well tested one. It is, to a point, a form of journaling. There has been a multitude of studies into the effects of brain dumps and journaling, which have shown there are strong benefits that come from engaging in such practices.
As someone who often helps people with improving their productivity and creativity, I can assure you that I have seen the wonderful impact that such practices have had on people. I have seen authors go from good to great by implementing the two different brain dumps into their routine. I have witnessed entrepreneurs go from struggling to success, thanks in part to the brain dumps. I have, myself, found that my mental health, my physical health, my productivity, and my creativity, have all improved massively thanks to the brain dump techniques.
Written By Mike on 25.05.2021