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Endangered: Open Attention
Anne Janzer -- Membership Expert Anne Janzer -- Membership Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: San Luis Obispo, CA
Tuesday, February 8, 2022

window open to blue sky and clouds

“Stop looking out the window and work on your task.”

Startled, the young boy looked up at the preschool teacher next to me, then returned to sorting the blocks on the tray in front of him.

The preschool teacher had spoken gently, but the words landed with a discordant crash on my ears. And I felt indescribably sad—for this child and for all of us. I decided, in that instant, that this was not the right place for my son.

This happened years ago, but the words stay with me.

If we cannot daydream in preschool, when can we daydream?

child daydreaming while reading a book

Unfortunately, society doesn’t look favorably on wandering minds. Preschool is only the beginning.

When we gaze out the window or let our minds wander, it seems like we’re not doing anything. We don’t feel “productive.” Yet, that kind of open attention is the source of much creative insight. And we have less and less of it with each passing year.

The disappearance of mind wandering

We have limited windows for letting our mind wander. And we may think of this as “wasted time” and fill it. When waiting in line, we grab our phones and check email or social media. When taking a walk or driving, we bring along a podcast or audiobook.

According to research by the Audiobook Publisher’s Association published on Findaway Voices, audiobook sales are growing every year. More than half of audiobook listeners are making “new” time to listen to audiobooks.

Don’t get me wrong—audiobooks and podcasts are great for authors. I love listening to podcasts and taking part in them. All of my books are available as audiobooks. The more ways I can reach people, the greater the impact of my ideas.

But where does that growing amount of listening time come from? According to the report cited above, people make time to listen to audiobooks:

  • While doing chores or housework
  • While exercising
  • While going on walks

What do these activities have in common? They don’t demand our full attention. (That’s why they’re great for audiobooks and podcasts.)

While these trends favor authors, they endanger writing and other creative endeavors. If we weren’t listening, we’d be letting our minds wander, in a state of open attention.

Open attention isn’t a waste of time for writers. It’s how we fuel incubation and creativity.

Protecting open attention (and creativity)

How can you protect your mind-wandering time?

Go outdoors without your headphones. Take a walk. Research from Stanford University shows that the act of walking improves divergent thinking — a hallmark of creativity.

A trail near the ocean
One of my favorite places to walk … and let my mind wander

Balance open and focused attention. You don’t have to give up the things you love to listen to. Give yourself time to daydream or think about your writing before listening to that podcast or audiobook.

Let go of the guilt. If you remind yourself about your writing projects during these unstructured times, you’re not being unproductive. On the contrary, you’re fueling creative productivity.

Protect and defend the windows of open attention in your life. And then use them to seed your writing.

Related content

Read the book Bored and Brilliant by Manoosh Zomorod. Read my review here.

Finding your pace when writing.

Cuesta Park Consulting & Publishing publishes books and online courses for writers and marketing professionals. Books are available in print, ebook, and audiobook formats from a wide range of retailers. For more information, visit AnneJanzer.com.

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Anne Janzer
Group: Cuesta Park Consulting
Dateline: San Luis Obispo, CA United States
Direct Phone: 4155176592
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