I’m talking about anti-procrastination this month, and I’ve got another link-heavy post, but I hope you find it useful. Last week I talked about using hypnosis to boost your motivation. I know it sounds crazy, but many writers talk about how the process of writing is a trance. In this YouTube video, Stephen King said, “You fall into a kind of a trance if you do the same passes over and over.” He’s talking about setting up habits and triggers. Eating breakfast with his wife, having a pot of tea, and so on. These things tell his backbrain, it’s time to write.
Musician and novelist Nick Cave also called the creative process “an altered state in itself” when he talked with NPR recently. “I wake. I write. I eat. I write. I watch TV.” It’s worth listening to his interview to get a really no-nonsense sense of process (and be sure to read the transcript for extra thoughts).
So, if writing is a trance, it helps to set up triggers to put you into this trance. Triggers can be habits, talismans or conditions of the environment, and I suspect that most writers fall into them by accident, and use them almost superstitiously. If you want to go about deliberately creating triggers, I think it’s worthwhile to consider the conditions you find yourself writing in.
So, while some writers may go to great lengths to create a writing office, I want to be able to write on the go. I have a “magic carpet” mousepad that puts me in the mood for fantasy, and a mini-ritual of unpacking my computer and setting up music that tells me it’s time to write.
Talismans come in all shapes and sizes. In Edward Gorey’s The Unstrung Harp: Or Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel, Mr. Earbrass has a lucky sweater that he wears backwards. (He also uses talismans for the final draft process: fresh ink, pheasant-feather pens and “two reams of the most expensive cream laid paper” – yes, this graphic novel of a novelist’s journey through a book is set in the pre-electronic age.) Other talismans could include a lucky cup or drink, or even a real talisman. I bought a good luck charm from a temple in Tokyo that is supposed to encourage enterprise, and tucked it into my computer bag. It would probably be more effective if I took it out and meditated on it for a few seconds before I began a writing session.
Habits are probably one of the most important triggers. I’ll talk more about timing next week as a trigger because it’s such a big subject.
But I think the very best trigger is simply re-reading a bit of the work, then plunging in – promising yourself that you will write 500 words, or 300 words, or 100 words, no matter what needs to be deleted afterward. Starting is often the best trigger of all.