However, while the creative side of writing can be sudden and effortless in moments of inspiration…there’s still a process that we all have to go through in order to get the words from our hearts…to our brains…and out on a screen for other people to see. And I believe that the easier that process is for an author, the easier it will be for that author to blast out their best work.
That’s not always something that’s easy to achieve. ‘Life’ is a great big attention whore! Hehehe! And so is creativity! So, there are going to be times when it feels like you’re being torn apart by two narcissists at a dinner party. You’re going to have to choose one. Sad, but true. And when it’s time to write…life gets put on hold. It takes focus, and quiet, and a certain degree of isolation, to effectively pour your heart out on the page. But, if you can find a few hours to sit at your laptop and give your writing process your all? The end result will be SO worth it!
This week…I’m talking about eight things that I did to help my own writing process a little easier to deal with. Not the actual writing itself, but the process of translating my thoughts and emotions for my readers to absorb, with as few obstacles and interruptions as humanly possible.
It may make a ‘recluse’ out of me from time to time…but if I’m going to claim to be a writer, even unprofessionally, then I’m going to give it my all and do it right. And with a little preparation and a touch of writer discipline…I can smooth out the writing process itself, and pour all of my energy into my work instead of stumbling every five minutes and disturbing my train of thought.
Let’s get started…
#1 – Eat something first! I know that I probably sound like you mom and dad when I say this, but it’s true. Feeding yourself will give your brain the nourishment and your body the energy to sit down and create your masterpiece. Have dinner, have a snack, keep a bag of chips nearby…whatever. Your body is burning through a lot of mental and emotional energy when you write. Give your body what it needs to function, and your mind won’t wander off while you’re writing. Not only will you be fed, but you won’t have to worry about stopping mid sentence later to make yourself a sandwich when you, inevitably, get hungry later on. Also…keep a drink within reaching distance. Whether it’s an ice cold bottle of water, a warm cup of coffee or tea, or a few beers and a glass of whiskey…whatever your flavor is, have it handy. There’s nothing worse than getting on a creative streak, typing out words as fast as your fingers will allow…while struggling to ignore hunger pains or a deep thirst. Keep it close. Have these things ready, or taken care of ahead of time. So once you get ‘in the zone’…you can stay there.
#2 – Work in a clean space. Clutter, whether we realize it or not, hinders creativity. I know it sounds weird, but it’s true. Clutter in your work space leads to clutter in your thoughts. Get rid of it. If you feel cramped or like the messy clothes on the floor, or dirty dishes, are closing in on you…take a moment, and clean your space so you can feel free and comfortable to operate without having to look at it. Even if it’s just in your peripheral vision…lose it. If you’ve got a bunch of notes scribbled on pieces of scrap paper and grocery store receipts and candy wrappers (As I often do), just stack the ones you need at your side, and put the other ones elsewhere. Set a positive atmosphere for yourself. Give yourself some room and feel good about the atmosphere that you set for yourself. You’d be surprised how much it helps to clear the mind. Again…the goal is to make your writing the ONLY thing on your mind while you’re pouring your heart out. I always feel that I write much better and much faster when the clutter is gone. Give it a try.
#3 – Turn all of your distractions…OFF! Every last one of them. We live in an era where everybody seems to treat everything as though it was a dire emergency and they NEED an instantaneous reply fro you. It’s not. And they don’t. “I texted you and you didn’t get back to me within the first 12 seconds of me sending it! I know you’re online! I’m stalking you!” Hehehe, really? Come on. Nope! Cell phone? Off. Television? Off. Radio? Off. Skype, Facebook, Twitter…anything that will ‘alert’ you to a new message within seconds of you receiving it, and will cause you to agonize over what it says and who it’s from? Lose it! If you want to concentrate…then concentrate. The world can wait for a few minutes while you follow your passion and say what you need to say with your art. Now, obviously, if you have to look out for actual emergency situations for work, or for kids/family, and you need a line of communication open ‘just in case’, then that’s fine. But unless you’re an on call paramedic or heart surgeon or something…don’t let people treat you as one. It may sound harsh, but please don’t interrupt my flawless writing streak because you were bored at home and just wanted to say hi. Send me a message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I’m finished. Promise.
Also, there’s no such thing as effective multitasking when it comes to your writing. Don’t write two or three sentences and then look back over your shoulder at the TV. Turn it off. Don’t divide your attention. It’s sooooo easy to do these days, but if you want to write…then write. Either save TV for later, or watch TV first and then write. You can’t do both. Trust me. Millions of dollars are paid to psychologists and social analysts every year to make every last commercial on TV as eye catching and distracting and loud and obnoxious as humanly possible. It’s their JOB to take your attention away from whatever it is that you’re doing at the moment. So cut that influence out of your writing time, and focus.
#4 – Learn to say ‘no’. Now, this is one of the most difficult parts of clearing the runway for your writing process. At least it is for me. When it comes to your family and your friends and your job…it can be difficult to stand up and simply say ‘no’ when they come looking for attention. I don’t mean that in a bad way. They want to spend time with you, and you want to spend time with them in return. I get it. I definitely advise us all to crawl out from our holes and get some sunshine every now and again. It’s good for us. BUT…if your muse is jumping and you want to sit down and really express your current feelings while the juices are flowing through you…it’s OK to tell your friends no every once in a while. Don’t feel bad about it. Maybe you don’t want to go to the movies tonight. Maybe you don’t want to go out partying on a Saturday night, or have company, or get into a two hour phone conversation. Say no. “Hey, I’ve really got something that I want to do right now, and maybe I’ll catch up with you guys on another night.” That’s all you have to say. No long list of excuses are necessary. Sometimes, you just want to write. So do it. What’s wrong with saying no to a distraction from what you really want to be doing tonight? You know?
You see, I think that a lot of people work at daily jobs…and at the end of the day, they punch out, and they’re done with it for the rest of the evening. They can’t imagine wanting to be there all day and night and sacrificing a good time out on the town for more ‘work’ if they didn’t have to. Makes perfect sense to me. But I think creativity and passion works differently. I like to go out and have fun just like everybody else. And yet, writing ‘frees’ me. It’s something that I truly LOVE to do, as often as possible. There is no punching in and punching out. I can do it all day and never get antsy or bored with it. So…there are going to be times when I don’t WANT to stop writing my new story to go to a party. I don’t want to gab on the phone, I don’t want to go shopping, I don’t want to go out to lunch. I want to sit right here in front of this laptop and spill my heart and soul out on the page for the next few hours. That’s my idea of fun for the evening, and I hope my loved ones will be able to understand, or at least respect, that.
Sometimes you just don’t want to miss your creative moment. Sometimes…you just have to tell them ‘no’. There’s no love lost, I love my friends and family dearly. But…for right now…LEAVE ME ALONE!!! Hehehe!
#5 – Create a playlist for yourself. A BIG part of my personal writing process is music. It always has been. I can guarantee you all that I have a personal playlist for almost all of the stories that I write on my website. They range from happy, ‘mall friendly’, boy pop…to dark and moody, instrumental, movie scores and ambient horror. Music is a part of me setting the mood for what I’m writing in whatever scene I happen to be tackling at the moment. If I need something sad and dramatic? I have a playlist for that. If it’s for something comical and playful/flirtatious? I have a playlist for that too. And when I need something ‘sexy’…hehehe, well, let’s just say that I’ve got songs for that as well. Find songs on your computer that give you a certain feel or inspire a certain emotion inside of you. Some songs might make you want to get up and dance. Some might remind you of an action scene where your main characters walks into a room and kicks ass. Find songs that fit a certain mood, and put them all together in a single playlist, so you can play them while writing. We all have ‘anger’ music. We all have ‘heartbreak’ lullabyes. We all have confident anthems of triumph and achievement. Find yours, and put them into a single folder so you can put them all on repeat when writing certain moments in your story.
Sometimes, having song lyrics helps. Other times, I find them a bit distracting, and go for instrumental scores instead. It all depends on what it is that you’re trying to say. Get on Youtube! Think of movies that really got you revved up, or moved you to tears at one time or another. Then look up music from that movie in the search! If you’re looking for a song by a particular artist or band, with lyrics and all…look up (Movie title) + soundtrack! If you want an instrumental part of that same movie…look up (Movie title) + score! Chances are you can find anything you want, and that musical backdrop will help to keep you in the same frame of mind while you write or edit your work. Give it a shot! It works wonders! 🙂
#6 – Always have your notes within reach! If you guys keep handwritten notes like me on multiple scraps of paper…get ALL of them together before you start writing, and keep them in a nice little pile next to your laptop or PC. I can honestly say that there is nothing worse than trying to write, getting some nice momentum and flow going…and having to stop to go searching for notes and details at the last minute because you forgot how you pictured the scene going! Arrrghhh! It sucks! It totally takes you out of the moment. I’m constantly writing stuff down as I think about it, and any time that I have to stop writing to go searching for those scribblings…I end up losing some of the fire that I got burning bright for the next few paragraphs I had planned. So keep them close.
Also, I’ve found it really convenient to keep ‘character profiles’ in my online files for each story. These are very short descriptions that I line up under each story title and can bring up and look at any time that I need to. Basically, I can look up “New Kid In School” and look to see if Ryan’s eyes are brown or hazel. I can see how old “Billy Chase” is, or what side of “Jesse-101’s” forehead has that tiny scar on. Just make a short list of details that you can pull up if you’re drawing a blank on anything. Is this character blond or brunette? Are they right handed or left handed? Do they live with both parents or just one? Whatever details that you may need to jot down for continuity’s sake…put them in the profile. That will save you the time of going back through earlier chapters of your own story to find any details that you may have forgotten over time.
#7 – Take breaks! Psychological studies have shown that concentration and focus is actually MORE effective when we indulge in a few breaks every now and then. Even if you’re trying to rush through and reach a deadline or get something finished…always remember to take a moment to breathe. I know that we all get in the mode of, “I’m going to sit right here, and just pour six hours of HARD work into getting this done tonight!” every once in a while. Ummm…don’t do that. LOL! I don’t know how YOU guys might look at that, but it never ever works for me. Forcing myself to completely ‘mad dog’ my computer screen for endless hours on end without a break just leads to burn out and mental/emotional fatigue. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be determined about what you want to accomplish. Just…write for an hour, maybe two, and then take a short break. Ten to fifteen minutes. Go on Youtube and find something fun to watch. Lean back and listen to some good music. Play a few video games or go for a short walk or drop by a chatroom for a bit. Just ‘disengage’ from your main focus for a little bit so you can recharge your creative battery, and then jump back in with even more tenacity than you had before.
Seriously…if you’re on a roll and don’t want to stop writing, then that’s cool. Follow your instincts. But I wouldn’t advise writing for more than an hour or two straight without at least giving yourself a chance to relax for a little bit. Otherwise, you know what happens? You get drained…your butt hurts, your shoulders hurt, your fingers get tired, carpal tunnel settles into your wrists…and you might get a lot done for that one day…but then you’re sore and miserable and don’t want to type another word for a WEEK! Hehehe, that’s counterproductive. Do a little bit every day, and you’ll make better progress that way. Just don’t get distracted to the point where you forget what you were supposed to be doing in the first place. Ten minutes here, twenty minutes there…then get back to work. I’ve learned that this works wonders when it comes to me getting stuff done.
#8 – Know when to fold ’em! Yes, ladies and gentlemen…the old gambling anthem works here as well. Believe me when I say that I completely understand the desire to chase your muse and keep writing until the sun rises and the letters on your keyboard have been rubbed away from overuse! LOL! You should see the first WebTv keyboard I had (And still have! Because I’m sentimental)! The letters have been scrubbed off of the keys, and there is an actual groove in the spacebar. I definitely abused that thing when the site was young! 😛 BUT…you’ve got to know when to stop. When to pack it up for the night, shut it down, and have faith in your ability to pick up where you left off ‘tomorrow’. Don’t force it. Sometimes, the mind is willing, but the body can’t keep up. If you’re falling asleep at your computer? If your face is pressed against the keyboard and you wake up to 75 lines of the letter ‘Z’ because you just couldn’t TAKE anymore? Then you’re doing too much. Let it go. Pushing yourself too hard can lead to the same burn out and fatigue that I mentioned above. It’s good to be ambitious and to give it your all…but you’re only human. You need rest. You need food. You need to practice proper hygiene rituals. Hehehe! There comes a point when you need to call it quits, save what you have, and shut it all down for the night. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.
There have been countless times where I’ve actually gotten soooo MAD at myself for literally nodding off in my chair when I desperately wanted to get something done. Even now, I treat sleep the way bulimics treat food. I HATE it! I wish I didn’t need sleep at all! I have WAY too much to do to waste hours and HOURS of my time sleeping. Grrrrr! But…nobody wants to read the half-baked ramblings of an author who’s barely conscious while writing the next chapter of his/her story. Hang it up for the night. Go to bed, and come back when you have the brain power to put your best foot forward. K? It’ll be there when you’re ready to tackle it again.
Besides, chances are you’re just going to have to spend twice as much time editing the story when you finish. So you’re not really saving yourself any time at all in the long run. So you might as well keep a healthy sleep schedule and get it right the first time. Right?
Alright! So those are eight little tips that I’ve learned that will help to make my writing process a little bit easier on the body, mind, and emotions. Give these a look whenever you’re having a bit of difficulty with getting that new work started or finished. I hope this will help! And happy writing, you guys! I wish you the best!