Training your brain to write

I’m still glowing after an awesome experience at Phoenix Comicon. I got a major brain overload of writing/author information from everyone there, along with enough Darth Vader and Pokemon…One panel discussion gave me much food for thought. Not only was there interesting information on what to write, but each author was very forthcoming with the intricacies of how they write. That fascinates me… I want to know how others do things, how they struggle, tricks they use, etc. What I found interesting was a question on discipline as it relates to writer’s block. The panel, consisting of Leanna Renee Hieber, Aprilynne Pike, Jeff Marriotte and Sam Sykes, basically agreed that there is no such thing as writer’s block. The secret, according to the panel, was to keep writing no matter what comes up. Make it a habit if you want to succeed. Now, don’t stop reading because that sounds too simple. There is more…

Like any muscle, the brain has memory. Keep writing in the same way at the same timeย  and your brain is now trained to write according toย  these rules. For instance, Leanna Renee said she drinks a certain type of tea while writing each book. This way, when she brews that tea and sits down to write, her brain is hardwired to create that story. New book = new tea=Brilliant. Many famous writers use this routine as well, preferring to write at the same time at the same place each day. I’ve always been impressed by that.

This explains why so many people can finish Nanowrimo but not finish editing the work once it’s over (including myself). For those 30 days, no matter what, my butt was in that chair at 6 a.m. with a cup of tea, punching out that story for two hours before waking my daughter. I wrote sometimes at night also, but always in the morning. I became accustomed to writing like this for 30 days. What happened when it was over? I’m sure you can guess…I stopped. I figured it was time to catch up on my sleep and to hell with getting up at 6 a.m. I don’t get up that early for anyone, not even myself. (and do not call me before 8!)

This reminds me of a trick I used to use in college while studying. I gave each subject a different snack or gum while I studied. That way, when I ate that snack while taking the test, the material came back to me much easier. For instance, while studying sociology, I ate Twizzlers. Then, during the test, I ate a Twizzler and bam…it all came back to me. M&Ms for another subject, Juicy Fruit for another. Sounds strange, but it really works. Your brain associates this snack with the material you were reading. Just as a smell or song takes you back to a special time.

For that reason, creating a routine is essential to writing. My proof is quite simple, no routine = no writing. It’s not months after Nanowrimo and it’s been hard to get back into it. I know that I have to set aside a certain time each day, with a certain drink or aroma, and get my ass in that chair. Simple.

What’s your writing routine? How have you trained your brain to write and get into the mood?


16 thoughts on “Training your brain to write

  1. I haven’t quite created a writing routine for myself yet but it is definitely something I want to do. My own problem is that I have been finding it hard to settle on when I want to set up my routine. I am a college student and with that comes a constantly fluctuating schedule.
    Do you have any suggestions?

    • Good question, I think the most important thing is test out what works for you and that might take a few tries. Getting up early always worked for me, but now I’m more of a night owl. Can you get up early? Doesn’t matter when you have to get up and that may fluctuate, just make it one hour earlier and work then. Also, take an hour before bed and write then. Just try to find something consistent. I know a lot of people who write in coffee houses and that seems to trigger their creativity. Is there some place you can take your laptop and write for a while? Once you find what works, stick with it.

  2. Lovely post and great insight once again. I’m not a potential book writer, but I think these tips hold true for any type of writing. Plan it, schedule it, make time to focus and you’re less likely to be up at 2am trying to cram hundreds of random words onto a page or screen hoping that in a few days when you read them back they string together in a coherent manner.

    So true that the brain is a muscle and needs to be exercised. Just like we remember a phone number from 15 years ago but not our keys we set down 15 minutes ago, it’s b/c we’ve played that phone number over in our head a million times. But those days are often gone with the smart phone. No need to keep saying the phone number a hundred times before you find something to write it down on. Instead, our world is very instant and often our brains don’t need to work to hard and, well, we don’t force the issue.

    Thanks for sharing such great information not only for future authors of printed material but also for bloggers.

    • Thanks Sara. So true about memory. I still remember my address as a child, but can’t remember what I wanted at Safeway! And it’s true that this advice works in all areas of life. Thanks for pointing that out, and for following the blog!

  3. Valerie,

    I want to thank you for sharing what you gleaned from the panels, and for mentioning us panelists, its so wonderful to know what we said struck a chord and was in some way helpful. I think the best thing for writers to do is to commune and talk with one another as its such a solitary and difficult business, we need to have each other as a support group. While writing really is a unique and personal process, it never hurts to gather material and know that our respective quirks just mean we’re that special kind of ‘writer crazy’. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Glad you found the tea idea brilliant, it really helps as scent is so powerful in evoking memory – for me the specific scent of a specific tea per fiction series is hard-wired now to a specific fictional world rather than a personal memory, interesting how that has worked for me as a vivid trigger. Pavlovian creativity. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’m very glad to have met you at Phoenix Comicon, I’m currently slammed on deadline so I’m definately having to put my money where my mouth is right now! ๐Ÿ™‚ Blessings and best wishes on your every endeavor, be it creative or otherwise.

    • Thanks so much for your insight. I learn so much from published authors and I’m always grateful when they share what they have learned. I loved the tea idea, it really made sense. Keep up the good work and I’ll be watching for more books. And thanks for your encouragement, it means a lot!

  4. This is really fascinating! And now I know my life-long problem since college . . . I never had a routine or a certain food for studying or writing! (Smacks forehead!) ๐Ÿ™‚

    It really does make sense though. My family life has always been so crazy, I’ve never been able to have a set routine. Ever. So my writing has always been come and go – unless I’m on a publisher inflicted deadline. Then I write in panic mode!

    • I know what you mean. It took me a long time to figure this out, and I still fall off the routine and have to start again. Human nature, I guess. But at least we know what to do. Thanks.

  5. Anytime I smell Constant Comment tea, I remember visiting my sister at her college dorm. We would drink that and eat Sara Lee pound cake!

    Shades of Proust, eh.

    Your post points out to me what has been missing in my situation. A set routine. A ritual.

    I find that I procrastinate so much, not with nonsense but with things such as reading blogs and finding very interesting information and advice – heh – and further researching.

    For me, it’s just getting that first spark of idea that is troublesome. Once I have it, then writing – while slow and steady – is not so bad. Revising is fine, too.

    It’s just hearing the idea that hidden within.

    • So true, the Internet is a time sucker! I need a routine so I don’t get sucked into it, as I am doing right now! Thanks! Glad I found your site too, love your work!

  6. Until reading this post I never thought to assign a new taste or smell to different projects. I always listened to the same CD when writing my first novel. I do think of my characters when I hear that particular music play again. Interesting revelation!

    These are great tips Valerie. I’m glad you are sharing your discoveries with us – Thank you!

  7. I wrote a lot of the first draft of my novel in bars or hotel lounges. I now do a lot of editing of it in similar places. I don’t know how healthy this is, but I do write better with a pint of beer in front of me. But I can only do it for two beers and then the brain gets too fuzzy. So if I have to do extended writing, I try to go somewhere with coffee instead.

    • Do you like writing with a crowd around you? I find it hard to do that for long periods of time. But the beer/wine works for me. I like your idea of the hotel lobby, I’m going to try it sometime.

  8. Pingback: Changing my morning habits day 3 « Beneath the Lamp Post

  9. Pingback: Morning Chatter day 4 « Beneath the Lamp Post

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