Sharing My Process: The Power of Moodling
By Paige Britt
As a writer, one of the most difficult parts of my process is time. There’s never enough of it! How do I finish my never-ending to-do list, both at work and at home, and find the time to write?
When I first started getting serious about my writing, I thought my time had to be spent, well, writing. Butt in chair, fingers on the keyboard. If I wasn’t writing—filling that white space with little black letters, watching my word count rise—then I felt like I hadn’t been productive.
I had taken what I’d learned from the corporate world and applied it to the writing process. In one of my jobs at an Internet startup, I had to log everything I did each day in fifteen intervals. I was constantly on the clock, trying to achieve measurable results.
When I started working on my first novel, part of me felt like writing was supposed to be that way, too. That I had to work fast and be efficient. But then one day my husband brought home a book by Brenda Ueland called If You Want to Write. In it she said, “The imagination needs moodling–long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.”
Dawdling? Puttering? Moodling? Did I really have permission to do that?
Ueland described moodling as a kind of creative idleness. Not the idleness where you flop around, looking at your phone, searching for some sort of distraction. She was talking about an idleness where you drop your focus on a goal and instead become curious and engaged in your present moment experience. Maybe you go for a walk or stare out the window or (horrors!) do nothing. Instead of being a waste of time Ueland said, “this quiet looking and thinking is the imagination; it is letting in ideas.”
Ueland’s words changed how I viewed my writing process. In the first place, I stopped feeling guilty about working slowly. I also stopped worrying when ideas didn’t come immediately. I trusted they would emerge in their own time.
My writing process began to include going for walks. My feet weren’t the only thing that wandered; my mind did, too, and when it did I followed it to see where it went. I was usually surprised by the journeys it took. They were fascinating and lively and unexpected—just like the stories I wanted to write.
I started to keep a moodle notebook. I took my own sweet time, jotting down ideas, drawing pictures of my characters, and outlining my stories. But these outlines were different. Instead of being a list, they looked more like maps or elaborate doodles.
Ueland’s belief that creativity needed moments of quiet contemplation touched me so deeply that she became the inspiration for the Great Moodler in my book, The Lost Track of Time. It’s the story of a girl named Penelope who longs to be a writer but has run out of time and of ideas. She must fight the tyranny of Chronos and his Clockworkers to find the Great Moodler and discover the story inside herself.
Whenever I visit schools, I always teach young writers about moodling. They are usually already experts! We spend time letting our minds wander, coming up with ideas of what life would be like if they were the hero of their own story and anything was possible. They explore the far reaches of their own imagination and along the way, lose track of time, but that’s ok! It’s part of the process.
Paige is the author of WHY AM I ME?, a picture book celebration of unity and diversity. It received four starred reviews and was named a Best Book of 2017 by Publishers Weekly. The New York Times called it one of five new picture books that “not only embolden children to think, but inspire them to feel.” She is also the author of the middle-grade fantasy, THE LOST TRACK OF TIME, “an exuberant homage to the power of imagination and creative problem-solving” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).