Let there be light!

Word count: 758 words

Reading time: About 3 minutes

When I remember to use my SAD light, it helps me. But what else am I forgetting about?

Vancouver has mostly a temperate climate. Crocuses start to poke through the dirt in late February or early March and people can be found playing tennis outdoors — in shorts — in just about any month, unless there’s snow. Which there seldom is.

But in November, when a cold, steely grey grips the skyline and sheets of rain drench us like soaker hose in the sky, I often feel gloomy and exhausted. I’m writing this column by the glow of my new SAD light. (SAD stands for Season Affective Disorder and it’s a common affliction in rainy places like Vancouver, Seattle and Portland.) The light helps.

But here’s my embarrassing admission. I had to buy a new light this year because I’d gotten rid of the old one. Bound and determined to tidy my office, last year I had hired a professional organizer who helped me get rid of boxes of junk, books and old papers. I felt liberated! But I made one mistake. I threw the SAD light into my “give away” box.

Why on earth did I do that? I can only assume we must have had an extra sunny autumn because I don’t recall having the least bit of remorse (or even any lingering doubt) about pitching the lamp. Essentially, I had forgotten what the rain and grey skies do to me every year.

And when it comes to writing, I think the same forgetfulness affects many of us. We learn a trick or a technique that makes writing easier or faster. We use it. Perhaps we’re even surprised that it works. But we’re happy – so happy. “This is the ticket,” we tell ourselves. And then we forget to do it again.

Here are my five nominees in the most forgotten writing technique category:

1) Preparing a mindmap: I’m mournful I forgot about this technique for so long – some 20 years.  In the early 1980s I wrote a piece for a national magazine about the doyenne of mindmapping for writing (she called it “clustering”), Gabriele Lusser Rico. Her book, Writing the Natural Way, provides a compelling argument for mindmapping but – get this – it sounded too easy to me. “How could anything so simple be so effective?” I wondered. I wrote the piece about mindmapping (without a mindmap, of course) and promptly forgot about the principle. I finally remembered — and started using it — in the early 2000s.

2) Monitoring what I’m saying to myself: I still sometimes forget to check what my internal editor (AKA the nasty devil on my shoulder) is saying. But I’m getting better at doing a quick check whenever I sit down to write. I still find the best thing to say to my evil twin is: “I don’t have time to talk to you right now. Let’s chat when I’m editing.”

3) Taking my ideas for a walk: Sitting at a computer is about the world’s worst place for dreaming up ideas. You’re better getting away from your desk and doing something else while your brain is free to think. I’ve found that having a treadmill in my office (I have to walk past it to get to my desk) is an excellent reminder of the value of walking. It’s also a dry place to walk when the sunshine is liquid.

4) Refusing to edit while I write: Periodically, I still forget about this one. Even though I now enjoy writing (I hated it for so many years), I still find editing slyly seductive and sometimes catch myself spending far too much time rereading what I’ve just written and then – quickly – fixing it. This is a losing game. At least, when I’m conscious of what I’m doing, I now know to stop myself by placing a towel over of my screen so I can’t see what I’m writing.

5) Rewarding myself for writing: This is still my biggest oversight. I will push myself to achieve difficult tasks and meet punishing deadlines and then utterly forget to give myself some sort of reward. This is not about being cheap. I honestly don’t remember how important it is to give myself modest rewards for small jobs (a latte, a magazine) and more generous reinforcements (theatre tickets or a new shirt/sweater/scarf) for bigger accomplishments. Thank goodness I have friends to remind me.

Here’s the bottom line. I bet that you, too, have learned some good habits that you’ve completely forgotten about. Think about them now. Let there be light!

What are the good writing practices that you’re most likely to forget about? Please comment below. (If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.)