Learning From Maya Angelou.

Oof! Today I (finally) updated to Windows 10, but a glitch happened that caused a blinking screen, leading me to allow my computer to be taken over by a lovely guy from Microsoft. I’ve never dealt with remote assistance before, so it was fun to see my computer being taken over by another person from who knows where. Such excitement.

All is well now, however, so without further ado, lets begin the long-postponed seventh post in my twelve-part “Learning From” series.


I keep a hotel room in my hometown and pay for it by the month.

I go around 6:30 in the morning. I have a bedroom, with a bed, a table, and a bath. I have Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary, and the Bible. Usually a deck of cards and some crossword puzzles. Something to occupy my little mind. I think my grandmother taught me that. She didn’t mean to, but she used to talk about her “little mind.” So when I was young, from the time I was about 3 until 13, I decided that there was a Big Mind and a Little Mind. And the Big Mind would allow you to consider deep thoughts, but the Little Mind would occupy you, so you could not be distracted. It would work crossword puzzles or play Solitaire, while the Big Mind would delve deep into the subjects I wanted to write about.

I have all the paintings and any decoration taken out of the room. I ask the management and housekeeping not to enter the room, just in case I’ve thrown a piece of paper on the floor, I don’t want it discarded. About every two months I get a note slipped under the door: “Dear Ms. Angelou, please let us change the linen. We think it may be moldy!”

But I’ve never slept there, I’m usually out of there by 2. And then I go home and I read what I’ve written that morning, and I try to edit then. Clean it up.

Easy reading is [dang]* hard writing. But if it’s right, it’s easy. It’s the other way round, too. If it’s slovenly written, then it’s hard to read. It doesn’t give the reader what the careful writer can give the reader.

While her story about having her own hotel room is lovely, and there is good stuff in the idea of having one space for sheer creation and another one for the work of editing, the real “craft” of writing, the thing that really grabs me about this quote is her idea of the Big Mind and the Little Mind.

As a person whose mind runs on about eight different tracks at any given moment, which can be interesting, but very often exhausting and frustrating, especially when I’m trying to fall asleep, I think I know exactly what she means. While one part of my mind is working hard on the big things, like plot problems or moral themes, another part (or parts, in my case) is frittering around the edges of all sorts of things, like my plans for the rest of the day, the fact that somebody is chewing noisily in another part of the house, or digging a specific groove in my brain for the Oompa Loompa song to spend eternity in.

So, the Little Mind’s job is to keep all those other parts occupied with some little chore. In Maya Angelou’s case, with mindless games or puzzles, and in my case often with music, knitting / crochet, or some kind of low-pressure art project. Anything, really, that provides my brain with a focus, but not an all-consuming one.

I’m not procrastinating, people. I’m letting my Big Mind work on the problems of the universe.


*No, “dang” was not the precise word she used. Yes, I am a confirmed Bowdlerizing prude.

This post is the seventh in a series based on this article by James Clear, featuring quotes and reflections on the routines of twelve famous authors.


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