Like many writers, I spend much time researching and preparing to write, and my office is quickly littered with stacks of books, folders, and scribbled pages. What might appear as disorder is actually a reflection of my exploration and is an essential part of my process. Unfortunately, though, as my desk disappears beneath all my notes, disorganization threatens to undermine my ability to focus.

If a cluttered desk were a physical manifestation of my thinking, Buddhists might call it the “Monkey Desk,” a play on the Monkey Brain – or the chatterbox wreaking havoc in one’s brain. One way I’ve found to clear the “Monkey Desk” is to leave the room, find a clean sheet of paper, and, after taking a few deep cleansing breaths, begin to create a Mind Map.

I focus on the essential idea for my writing, draw a circle in the middle of the page, and begin connect this idea to what I have learned in my research. As I proceed, I find my heartbeat slowing and key points surface readily. This exercise help me gain “composure” or the calm so essential to writing clear, connected thoughts.

When I am done, I return with Mind Map in hand to my desk and organize the clutter.  Very consciously, I move beyond the paralyzing chaos into terrain open for writing.

Allowing a certain amount of disorganization frees the explorative mind; however, we all need to rein it in when ready to compose.  Acknowledging my process, I understand that taking time to refresh and silence the Monkey Brain will lead to unified prose. For me, the Mind Map is one viable way to reach clarity and focus.

Happy Writing!


By Anne Maxham, Ph.D.