Building a Mind Palace

Why do all of my very best writing ideas come in the shower? Or, you know, when I’m driving? For some reason, being distracted and unable to jot down any sort of notes is the exact moment when my mind is popping off with wonderful ideas, for academic research as well as for creative writing (heck, even for blog posts!).

Are you like me? I think this is a human thing, not just a weird Amanda thing, so I’m here to offer up some solutions.

First, you can drag your significant other, child, friend, roommate, or paid note taker around with you everywhere you go. Taking a shower? Have them wait outside of the door with a pen and paper in hand to jot down everything you shout out while taking a shower. Driving home? That’s not a problem, because they’re in your passenger seat, with that pen and pad of paper ready to go.

That’s probably not a very viable solution, I admit to that. A tape recorder would probably be a little better, or now of days, a digital voice recorder, but even then you’d have to listen to your own voice on tape (who likes doing that? I don’t) and it’s still not a very viable solution for the shower.

No, what I think writers all need to develop and strengthen is their mind palace. And yes, if you watch Sherlock, I am talking about that kind of mind palace.

I’m only listening because you’re Benedict Cumberbatch.

Let’s get some definitions out of the way, when I say mind palace, I mean:

In basic terms, it is a method of memory enhancement which uses visualization to organize and recall information. Many memory contest champions claim to use this technique to recall faces, digits, and lists of words. These champions’ successes have little to do with brain structure or intelligence, but more to do with their technique of using regions of their brain that have to do with spatial learning (Wikipedia).

So, in other words, a mind palace is a place a person, using their spatial learning capabilities, can store information to recall later. It’s like having your own tape recorder built into your brain. And, as writers, we all need to develop this. Not to the level that Sherlock is at, but you know, enough so to where those shower epiphanies and car ride moments of genius don’t get lost forever due to the lack of time to write them down.

WikiHow has some simple steps to getting your mind palace started, and other sites like Britain’s The Independent offers some tips for its readers on building a “Sherlock” style mind palace, and there’s even a whole Tumblr dedicated to mind palace creation.

I think this level of detail is great, although I don’t know if I personally have the time to master it. For me, just being able to recall phrases and ideas, maybe outline and organize a piece of writing that I can recall in detail later would be enough.

For other writers, creating a whole world within their head is the end goal. So go for it. What you use your mind palace for, and how vast and detailed you make it really depends on you.


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