W.H. Auden’s Desk (copyright F.C. Malby)
I know there are many lists of ‘to to-dos’ and ‘not-to-dos’ for writing and endless amounts of advice, but I just wanted to add a few things which I have found really helpful (some of them dietary!)
- Write first thing in the morning if you can. I know that people work to different schedules and many people are writing around full-time jobs and some, well into the night. If you have the time, though, I think the mornings are a time when your mind is fresh and uncluttered from everything you might have read on email, twitter, facebook, and the news. Interestingly, I have heard several writers this week saying that they are pulling back from the internet because it is hampering their creativity (but that is another post all together).
- Cut out caffeine for a while. Yes, I really did say that. I know it sounds like a lot to ask and, believe me, I LOVE coffee but before Christmas I was feeling tired and lethargic and I realised that I was drinking far too much coffee in the form of very strong nespressos. I’m now having a detox for a few months and it really does help. I can only do this because I know that it won’t be forever. I wake up feeling less tired and my mind is much clearer. The difference to my writing output is phenomenal. Since the New Year, I have written 9 short stories, 9 pieces of flash fiction, and mapped out the next novel. I drink peppermint tea and water and I can’t tell you how much it has helped. Getting enough water is really important for brain function. When I teach, I can spot the children who haven’t had a drink in the mornings. They can’t focus.
- Have a rough plan of where you are going. Whether you are a detailed planner or are more relaxed with your writing, it helps to know where you are heading for the day/week/month. I carved out time during January and February to write short fiction and have achieved my goals. Your targets can be large or small, long-term or short-term but I would encourage you to make some goals rather than to drift through the days.
- Use visuals to help with details of characters and settings. I use mood boards and Pinterest to give me the fine details, especially for short fiction. See the article I wrote recently on using Pinterest to help your writing. To be able to see images, beyond what is already in your mind, can give a fresh perspective and trigger new ideas.
- Take a break. You can’t really focus for more than 90 minutes without loosing a certain amount of efficiency and concentration. Some people use timers but you’ll have a clock on your screen/wrist/wall, so make sure that you get out of your seat and move around. It will get the blood flowing to your brain and your muscles, especially the leg muscles which have been squashed into a chair for longer than they were designed to handle.
All these are great tips! I agree with the first thing in the morning. I definitely am more productive if I take the time to start writing before I do anything else in the day. I don’t drink caffeine, so I guess I wouldn’t know if it’s made a difference or not. I love planning a little (at least a broad outline) of where I’m going. And I love visual stimulants! I’m artistic, so I’ll draw a scene or character or just whatever I need to make things come alive. And taking break are essential. I can make myself sick, I get so concentrated on writing. But it hurts me in the end.
I’d add: Find good music to write to. Sometimes, music can help inspire me or push me creatively (I try to find music to match the tone of the scene).
Thank you, Teryn. I’m glad they were helpful. Working first thing in the mornings can be pretty productive. I’m not a huge morning person but I still write my best work first thing without any distractions. If you read other writing (news, blogs, email) before you start work, your mind is not as fresh and it is often tinted by what you have read, rather than your own thoughts. I’m very visual, too. It’s great to be able to draw scenes sometimes. I do the same thing. I write to music if I’m in a cafe but I prefer to work in peace when I start. It depends what I’m working on as to whether I can handle the distraction. I listened to a lot of music while writing my last book but I’m writing this one without.
I am trying to get off caffeine, too, because of migraines. I am in the middle part, where I am beginning to get more energy, but still don’t have the “caffeine mind” for writing. I’m looking forward to getting that back–without the caffeine.
It’s really difficult but so worthwhile. In the long run your head is much clearer and you don’t have to rely on a caffeine shot each morning.
Hey, I just saw your book trailer. Pretty fancy production! Looks as good as some movie trailers I’ve seen.
Thanks, Tom. I’m realy pleased with it and it captures the book very accurately. A difficult thing to do in this medium.