Tools to Tame My Toddler Brain

By Amy K. Nichols

This week we’re talking about setting goals. On Monday, Amy McLane gave great advice about not biting off more than we can chew. I took her advice to heart when I sat down to write last night, and I set only one goal.

Keep my butt in the chair.

I mean this both physically and metaphorically. Keep my butt literally in the chair, and keep my mind focused on writing.

Writing for me has been difficult the last couple of weeks. I have lots of excuses: spring break, house guests, family responsibilities, large home improvement projects. But really, the truth is I’ve just been fickle about my writing. I’m at a place where I’m not sure what comes next in my WIP; and we all know it’s much easier to go work on no-brainer things than sit by yourself and listen for your characters’ whisperings.

Then, when I do sit down to write, I’m my own worst enemy. My brain betrays me at every step. I try to find the next sentence and my brain comes up with all kinds of shiny things to distract me. My brain is like a toddler being told to sit still in church, but squirms in her seat and chatters non-stop and eventually wiggles free and runs around the room laughing.

Parents learn quickly to take things along with them when they go out in public. Quiet activities to keep their kids entertained. Rewards for good behavior. Things they know will help ensure an enjoyable outing.

Last night when I sat down to write, I tried a similar strategy. I test-ran some tools to see if they could help me reach my Butt In Chair goal. These tools I used were:

If you haven’t tried Write or Die yet, definitely check it out. You can either use the free, online version, or pay $10 and download an install copy for your machine. I use Write or Die like jumper cables. It forces you to write a certain number of words within a certain amount of time. It definitely gets me over the starting line, regardless of where I am in my project.

If you’re working on a Mac, check out Freedom. It’s a program that blocks you from your internet access for the amount of time you specify. So while you’re working, you’re not hearing your email ping every time you get a new message. And when your brain gets antsy and whispers, “Go check Twitter” or “Google your topic so you really know what you’re talking about” or “Go watch that silly Youtube video” you can smile and simply say, “Sorry, can’t. No internet.” And keep writing. Brilliant. (If you’re not on a Mac, try turning off your computer’s internet connection and setting an egg timer.)

Raise your hand if you’re a fan of the good, old-fashioned list. Yep. Me, too. I make lists for everything. Last night I wrote a writing list. It didn’t relate to the plotting of my chapter; it related to the structure. I knew this chapter had a certain scene sequence. So I made a simple list of three scenes to check off as I wrote them.

Beside each item on the list I set a piece of chocolate. Go on and laugh; but I know some of you are seeing the logic here. Micro-rewards. They work for toddlers. They worked for my toddler brain. When I finished a scene, I got to eat a piece of chocolate. Little rewards to keep myself going. To keep my brain focused.

Guess what? The plan worked. I kept my butt in the chair. I reached my writing goal instead of squandering my time. Rock on.

Does your brain act like a squirming toddler when you sit down to write? Try treating it like a toddler. Give it boundaries, give it rewards and watch your word count increase.