The Write Way: Every Writer Needs a Mind Palace

Watch Sherlock Season 2: Making a Modern Hound on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.

Last night I watched the newest Sherlock Holmes on P’BS Masterpiece Mystery, an updated version of  The Hound of the Baskervilles.  I love this series.  Sherlock and Watson are a fabulously dysfunctional pair, Sherlock clearly suffering from Aspergers and Watson recovering from PTSD.  The chemistry is terrific, both men sympathetic in their own ways. And the stories are multi-layered and scrumptious.

Sherlock has a habit of going to his “mind palace” to put all the facts together, a place where no one is allowed to bother him or stop the fiercely hyperactive workings of his brain. The term occurred to me this morning when I realized how badly I need a mind palace myself, a place I can go where no one else is allowed, where there are no distractions and thoughts flow without interruption.

Don’t we all?

I’m always interested to know how my friends write, and how they establish their own particular mind palaces. For me, a mind palace is a room with no noise. Unfortunately  since life goes on, my study is  seldom quiet enough to achieve total concentration. Lately I’ve taken to wearing noise-reducing headphones hooked up to an MP3 entitled Concentration. The MP3 uses something called Hemi-Sync signals to focus attention. Maybe this is pure-placebo, but I find Concentration much more helpful than simple environmental CDs/MP3s like ocean waves or rain forest mornings. For more tricks on blocking noise read another post I wrote on the subject.

Lately the headphones have really come in handy, since due to my knee, I’ve been writing on my living room sofa where I can stretch my legs out. Even with my children grown and gone, my living room is not a mind palace, but more like Grand Central Station. Still, so is Starbucks, where many of my friends, including Diane Chamberlain, write their books.

A few months ago I finally gave Starbucks a chance. Although at home I need total quiet, I was blown away by how much I was able to accomplish. For some authors the chatter, soft music, entry and exit of customers builds mind palace walls. I don’t think I’d do this routinely, but it’s nice to know a change of scenery is an occasional option.

Along with an occasional latte.

One option I could never use is rock and roll, yet many of my friends turn up their CD players to max and only write to music. It’s not unusual for them to create their own CD of songs that are in some way reminiscent of the book they’re working on. They play the same CD over and over again to stay in the groove until the book is done. I couldn’t write word one with music blasting away; I really couldn’t, but I think they may outnumber those of us who crave quiet.

As always, what works for one author won’t necessarily work for another. The trick is to pay attention to when and where you’re most productive.  If something’s not working, try something new, even if it seems counter-intuitive.  Figure out what works for you and build your mind palace exactly the way you like it.

You’re going to need it.

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