Smokin' and Thinkin'.
June 10, 2008 5:58 AM   Subscribe

What to do while noodling?

When I'm thinking something through, I smoke. I hate that I smoke, I want to quit, and I realize that part of my thinking ritual, particularly when I'm working on a writing project, is to smoke my way through to completion. I also pace and google things, two habits that I'd like to replace with something more productive, or, really, just something new.

I'm curious what others around these parts do when you're noodling over a project, a problem, a puzzle of any sort - do you go for a walk? Do you make pasta from scratch? Do you occupy your hands with knitting or some such? What are your healthier habits? Ideas and experiences would be appreciated. My lungs, my wallet and my brain thank you in advance.
posted by TryTheTilapia to Writing & Language (31 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Go for a run.
posted by OmieWise at 6:06 AM on June 10, 2008

Pet your cat.
posted by uandt at 6:09 AM on June 10, 2008

I don't know if this is necessarily healthy, but I do pace around quite a bit.
posted by divabat at 6:09 AM on June 10, 2008

Running is the thing, man. Maybe hit the weights. Also, but more expensive and less beneficial, go for a long drive on back roads.
posted by ewkpates at 6:10 AM on June 10, 2008

Personally I do something rhythmic and repetitive, like knitting or crocheting. I get into a 'zone' and the thing starts to knit its self, and then my mind gets focused.
posted by gwenlister at 6:10 AM on June 10, 2008

posted by desjardins at 6:12 AM on June 10, 2008

It could take time, but you might have to create a new ritual for yourself. For me, walks work best to help me ruminate, but it's different for different folks. I've never smoked, but sometimes other oral activities have helped friends who are former smokers -- brew and drink some tea, chew gum, eat carrot sticks/celery. Some work out, take a shower or bath, or they have a particular piece of music they listen to (classical or jazz pieces seem most often mention in my anecdotal experience) that fosters a creative mindset. Or, and I don't say this to be critical, but because I sometimes have found that the things I have done in the past were just procrastination and not actually part of the creative process at all, learn how better to simply discipline myself to get back to work, to make myself refocus more quickly, when the train of thought breaks. (Along those lines, I find indulging the urge to google or surf can be very counterproductive.) In any case, good luck.
posted by aught at 6:15 AM on June 10, 2008

I chew on toothpicks. You can hold it like a cigarette both in your hand and in your mouth. And as long as you don't swallow any of the wood you should be fine. Although the plastic ones can test better...
posted by theichibun at 6:17 AM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Shower or cleaning (mostly Swiffering, though)
posted by spec80 at 6:23 AM on June 10, 2008

I think better while walking. Pacing works. Going for a walk works too.
posted by winston at 6:42 AM on June 10, 2008

When I was writing my dissertation, I installed a dart board in the study. It was just enough of a distraction to clear my mind, but didn't take any real time commitment. Plus, darts practice!
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:14 AM on June 10, 2008

I play mindless video games. Audiosurf is my current favorite.
posted by gnomeloaf at 7:19 AM on June 10, 2008

If you're at home, there are a few mindless tasks that can get you up from your desk but not interrupt your thoughts, like: watering plants, taking a shower, making tea, hard-boiling eggs, chopping vegetables, emptying the dishwasher, ironing. I think the key is that the task has to be pretty simple and not require making any/many decisions. For example, I find cooking to be too complex to keep my thoughts on my original topic. Cleaning up has the same problem, because of the decisions about where things should go.
posted by xo at 7:24 AM on June 10, 2008

Keeping my hands and mouth occupied can help with the ciggie desire - think lollipops, straws or toothpicks as mentioned above.

When I get the urge to Goog, I write down what I want to look up. Sometimes it becomes a long list. It can satisfy the initial urge for info and help me continue on with what I was doing.

Sometimes I just have to stare into space for a while as part of the whole "noodling" process. Sitting on my porch swing - or any swing - helps my body feel occupied while I can just space out. It's weird, but I find it's easier for me to really think when I've got something else going on while I'm thinking.
posted by lucyleaf at 7:25 AM on June 10, 2008

Nthing walking, but do it on a treadmill so your mind doesn't have to do anything except noodle. Keep a pad and pen handy for noting ideas.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:42 AM on June 10, 2008

Cleaning. Dusting, laundry, organizing, sorting files.

Also cooking. Gonna make some muffins later today.

Productive? check. Mindless? check.
posted by amtho at 7:44 AM on June 10, 2008

I did most of the deep thinking about my thesis while walking the dog.
posted by booth at 8:16 AM on June 10, 2008

For me, when I have a long, complex train of thought to work through, it is swimming; does a similar thing as walking/running, I suppose, but feels nicer in the summertime -- and I like to think floating acts a little bit like sensory deprivation, putting me inside my head more thoroughly, but that could just be me.
posted by obliquicity at 9:31 AM on June 10, 2008

Seconding toothpicks. They were the final step on my nicotine withdrawal plan.
posted by gergtreble at 9:42 AM on June 10, 2008

What's helped me the most is going to a coffeehouse. Nothing like being surrounded by strangers for mindless people-watching and letting your mind roam. Also, caffeine (in coffee or tea form) gets the mind pacing. Also, can't be too fidgety because then people will stare. If it weren't for coffeehouses I would never have finished the first (or second, for that matter) draft of a novel.
posted by Kattullus at 9:46 AM on June 10, 2008

I get away from the computer: knit, walk, go to the gym, cook or vacuum. For me, it has to be something physical (preferably with my hands). Lately I've taken to carrying my cell and leaving myself voicemails with the incredible insights that appear while I'm doing whatever.

Usually these insights are things like "buy laundry detergent", but sometimes I get a good one.
posted by catlet at 10:24 AM on June 10, 2008

Weeding my garden always works for me, especially if there's an area that's totally overgrown and I can just go at it without worrying too much about what good plants I might accidentally pull out.

Swimming also works, but that's harder to do at a moment's notice.
posted by dizziest at 10:40 AM on June 10, 2008

I do whatever I can that occupies my body but frees up my mind. These activities usually involve something that I'm so familiar with that my body just goes on autopilot. So, showering, organizing and tidying up, walking/running, folding laundry, chopping vegetables, even driving over long distances with the radio off (which isn't to say that I'm not aware of my surroundings; that would be dangerous!). I will say, however, that some of my best and brightest ideas occur to me while I'm in the shower. I've developed full arguments for various papers while washing my hair.

I love to knit, and find that it can be very meditative if I'm familiar with the pattern or stitch. If it's a new or particularly involved/challenging pattern, however, it seems to require more of my attention, thus diminishing its meditative aspect. YMMV.
posted by numinous at 11:02 AM on June 10, 2008

nthing cleaning, particularly scrubbing of any kind. or vacuuming. the noise makes it easier to noodle without distraction or having to pay attention.

also going to a mall or similar seems to help me - the choices, displays, lighting, people, etc. usually help me process and unlock things.
posted by alpha_betty at 11:04 AM on June 10, 2008

Shower! I would not have finished college if it wasn't for long random middle-of-the-day showers.

Bicycling helps me a lot now. Also laundry or washing dishes; other cleaning takes up too much of the active bits of my brain. Weeding the garden (vs other gardening) is similarly good.

Walking = pacing in a direction, BTW. :)
posted by epersonae at 11:55 AM on June 10, 2008

I thought this thread was going to be about Noodling!
Maybe you should just go fishin'.
posted by headless at 12:48 PM on June 10, 2008

Nthing brisk walk/jog. Especially if you have access to a treadmill...ponderous, repetitive...the brain kind of goes ...out there...
posted by foxydot at 1:03 PM on June 10, 2008

Shower. I do my best thinking in the shower. Also, cleaning. It gives me something to do with my hands while I mull things over.

Other than that, I force myself to either work on something else or do something fun. I find that the further I can step back from the problem, the more likely a solution will just come to me in time.
posted by geeky at 1:07 PM on June 10, 2008

Pacing, walking, running, driving, Solitaire or other simple, non-timed computer game, and occasionally a bath sans the usual book. Also, I talk. Out loud, usually. (Not while running or walking so much, although occasionally I catch myself gesturing and/or grinning at whatever conversation is going on in my head.

I am convinced that taking time to let my brain freewheel maintains my sanity. Besides, it keeps the cats entertained.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:30 PM on June 10, 2008

When I need to think, I take a shower. I expect that that's no help but, hey, you asked.
posted by dbarefoot at 7:56 PM on June 10, 2008

Response by poster: All of these are wonderful. Every one is a best answer. Thanks to all.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 8:43 PM on June 10, 2008

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