What do you do to focus and start your writing day?

Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Stormsong07, Jan 11, 2019.

  1. Rzero

    Rzero Active Member

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    Music!

    It varies from piece to piece, but my current project is all about high-energy bebop: Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, etc. If I start writing because I had something I was dying to get down, but forget to tell Alexa to play me an album, my momentum wains as soon as I've gotten out that paragraph or two. Starting cold without some Mingus has become extremely difficult too. Music activates memory and emotion better than almost any other stimulus. You've heard of "state dependent memory?" It's the principle in psychology that states something to the effect that you're more likely to recall information you learned if your mind is in the same state as it was when you learned it. This is most often sited in reference to things like narcotics and alcohol. If you study stoned, take the test stoned. Obviously that's not the best recipe for success for most people, but whatever state you were in before is the best for repeating the process as rote later.

    This is just as true when trying to jump back in on a project. It's infinitely easier to continue where you left off if you feel the same as you did before. When I was in my twenties, I thought I could only write drunk. I now know that was ridiculous. Routine and consistency in environment are just as effective and come with fewer inherent problems. I read a swath of articles and interviews culling every bit of advice I could find from professional, published authors. Music as an essential writing tool was mentioned frequently, and if you need a good place to start, the most often used by these authors was by far The Beatles.

    I sympathize with your distraction and procrastination issues. I am the undisputed king of tangents. I can find hours worth of distraction in a stray length of thread, so imagine me on a computer. I currently have seven tabs open in Firefox and eleven windows underneath. It's only eleven o'clock. When I sit down to write though, that's what I do. I let myself jump around when I need to though. If I try to concentrate too hard for too long, I loose all forward progress. It's an ADD thing. Getting lost on Wikipedia for ten minutes is as good as getting up and stretching, just so long as I come back, and again, momentum created by routine and environment is a big help in bringing me back to task.

    Lastly, and this probably wouldn't work for everyone, but it's absolutely worth trying: I used to do little writing exercises before I tackled my project for the day. I'd write three haikus or start a timer for five minutes and write stream of consciousness nonsense until the alarm went off. It sounds ridiculous, but pick any exercise a high school English teacher might give you. It's like warming up before a workout. The end product can be, and often is, hilariously bad. It doesn't matter though. It's just an exercise. You might be surprised how much easier the words come after priming the part of your brain that writes.

    In the end though, you have to follow the old cliche: Just write! Another thing I learned from all those writers talking about their processes is that the beginning of a novel especially, but also the first few paragraphs of a chapter or scene are often the worst prose in the entire first draft. You just have to get something, anything on the page to get going. Edit later. Finally following this advice after ignoring it for years has helped me immensely of late.
     
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  2. Rzero

    Rzero Active Member

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    Sorry. I know I already went on way too long (editing for length in the second draft of my book is going to be a bitch!), but I wanted to add that the whole "just write" adage is especially important when, like me, you usually find your first paragraph of a session cringe-worthy when compared to what you wrote when you were really in the zone last time. Apparently most writers feel that way. You just have to push through it. It's been working for me, anyway, and it was encouraging to know that even Stephen "I write 2000 words a day even on Christmas" King complains of this same phenomenon.
     
  3. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Part of my goal for the Highly Flavored thing was for writing to be sufficiently enjoyable that it would compete with time-wasting activities. So most of my scenes are written sitting on the couch puttering on my laptop while the TV is on. Glueing them together and solving problems requires more focused attention—problems are often solved while digging beds in the garden and discussing the problem in my head with Columbo. When I have an idea I drop the shovel/fork/broadfork and run to the garden rocker to type a skeletal scene or set of notes into my phone.
     
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  4. Cephus

    Cephus Active Member

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    It's all about self-discipline. Writing is a job like any other. You show up on time and you get to work and you don't stop until you've accomplished something. It helps if you have things in your head that you just have to get out, it stops being a chore and starts being a necessity.
     
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  5. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Or a hobby. Or a craft. Or an art. Or an avocation.
     
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  6. zoupskim

    zoupskim Contributor Contributor

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    Unless you have a very specific format or plan for your book, DO NOT write your first draft by chapter. Write the narrative first; get the story down. During editing you can figure out how to organize your story into chapters.
     
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  7. Cephus

    Cephus Active Member

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    Anyone who is self-employed knows that it doesn't matter if you want to work, you have to work. At the end of the day, your job as a writer is producing words. If you can't produce words, if you are not disciplined enough to produce words, then you're not a writer. You're unemployed.
     
  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    As you yourself said moments ago, writing rarely pays the mortgage.
     
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  9. Night Herald

    Night Herald The Antagonist Supporter Contributor

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    Or, you know, alternatively, you have a whole other job besides writing, and there's no relation between number of words written and the amount of bread on the table, and you can produce those words whenever you damned well please. It's great if you have this attitude towards writing, but it's hardly universal. Many of us make liberal use of the fact that we're allowed to drag our heels, and I don't think the story suffers for it. It's like slow food, right? More time, better taste. Sometimes. Potentially.
     
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  10. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    Several of my friends who have ADHD or anxiety and have difficulty focusing use Mozart piano concertos. There were some studies in the 90 about music and concentration, and apparently, Mozart seemed to help people with focus. I had a college professor who used to play Mozart during our exams for that reason.
     
  11. Night Herald

    Night Herald The Antagonist Supporter Contributor

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    Vivaldi works better for me, to be honest; but classical, broadly speaking, is a pretty safe bet.
     
  12. MusingWordsmith

    MusingWordsmith Lively Fred

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    I have tried music a bit today, and I think I am on to something! Feel like I need to do some set-up of playlists and whatnot, because so far I was fiddling with youtube and youtube is full of other distractions, but I'm excited to have a new route to explore!
     
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  13. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Senior Member

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    I could not write in the mornings - in the morning I have the brain function of a dead fish so I do mundane tasks and all the stuff I want too do. Like hang out on here, watch movies and so on.
    At night, after diner, my brain wakes up and I can work. So maybe look at when you're brain functions the best?
     
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  14. Rzero

    Rzero Active Member

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    Congrats. I know it's been a big help to me. Experiment a lot. The best music for writing isn't always your favorite music (especially if you're a person who pays attention to lyrics). I don't know how diverse your taste is in music, but I find different genres, and different moods especially, work better for different projects, which is also a good way to discover new favorites or learn to appreciate things that were previously more peripheral to your sphere. The horror story that keeps sidetracking me from my WIP, for instance, seems to benefit from industrial and trip-hop that I haven't listened to much since the 90's and was never as into as several other things at the time, which also makes Slacker Radio and Spotify two of my favorite writing tools. Music discovery is so much easier than it was back then.
     
  15. Cephus

    Cephus Active Member

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    Most people do have other jobs, writing very rarely pays the bills unless you're a big name. But it doesn't really change anything, if someone is serious about writing as more than a hobby, then they have to have self-control and be able to produce words on a page. Wanting to write doesn't make one a writer. Only writing does.
     
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  16. Rzero

    Rzero Active Member

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    Emily Dickinson and Franz Kafka were practically hobbyists. They were still writers. Mark Twain had discipline and follow through problems. He shelved projects for years at a time and went broke and had to take other jobs when he was barely writing. He was still a professional, published author.

    Those are of course examples of people who did put words on a page, as you say, even if sporadically in the latter case, but writing can be a profession, a hobby, a calling, a therapy tool, etc. You don't have to enter the Tour de France to be a cyclist. Granted, you do actually have to ride a bike. I'll give you that. But you don't have to ride and train every day. I think some people frequently mix up the word "writer" with "author", "novelist" and several other words that denote professional aspirations, which is more a matter of semantics than philosophy, really, and therefore hardly worth arguing over. That's just an opinion though.
     
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  17. Cephus

    Cephus Active Member

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    I'm talking about writers in the sense of people who produce saleable works. Clemens couldn't have become a published author if he never produced a finished work. Yes, you can set things aside, but if you never come back to it, if you create a million first chapters and never create a last one, then you're not going to be successful. You have to sit down and write. That's true if you're just writing fanfic or if you're writing professional novels, those words don't get there if you don't write them.
     
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  18. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    And to write, one has to "show up on time" as you said in an earlier post? It's not writing unless it happened on a schedule? What if I write only when I feel like writing, but I do produce lots of words? Do those words not exist?
     
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  19. MusingWordsmith

    MusingWordsmith Lively Fred

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    I got my dad to put me on the family Spotify plan today, lots of exploring to do now! I've already got a few different playlists for different moods made, just need to find/add songs to them. I don't think I will do well with lyrics though- I'm very attuned to pay attention when I hear voices. I found one song that didn't even have lyrics but it had someone vocalizing musically and that didn't work for me. Too distracting.
     
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  20. Rzero

    Rzero Active Member

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    Again, I'm not arguing whether success requires work. Nobody is.
    @Cephus, this is more what I'm talking about. You're telling people, not people in the abstract, but actual people on this forum, that they don't get to call themselves writers because they don't adhere to your work ethic. Do you really think that's right?
     
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  21. Cephus

    Cephus Active Member

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    I don't care what people call themselves, they can call themselves a chicken dinner for all I care. I am saying that if you want to be a writer, you have to write. It's in the definition of the word. Virtually any professional writer will tell you the same thing. Look at Stephen King, who has said things like "Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work" and "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut."

    Far too many people expect writing to be easy and it's not. It's really, really hard. But the only way to get better at it is to do it. That means having the self-discipline to put your butt in the seat and your hands on the keyboard and just write. There are all kinds of ways to trick yourself into doing it, but at the end of the day, unless you write, you're not a writer. Far too many people today seem to think that everything has to make them happy and be easy for them to accomplish but that's not how the real world works. Writing is hard. You can't get better at it by thinking about it, only by doing it. Sorry if that makes some people unhappy.
     
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  22. SoulGalaxyWolf

    SoulGalaxyWolf Active Member

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    Yeah! It kinda takes away the whole "staring at a blank page" thing.
     
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  23. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    You’ve created a straw man here. You blustered that we have to show up on time arrr gnash spit!!!! And when we say that perhaps not everyone has to follow your personal decree to the letter, you claim that we don’t want to write.

    Stop tantrumming and go write something. On schedule, of course, or it doesn’t count.
     
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  24. Rzero

    Rzero Active Member

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    No vocals, huh? Yeah, a lot of people can't tune it out. Do you like jazz? I mentioned bebop before. I recently discovered that the energy level and frantic nature of Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis and the like are exquisitely conducive to productivity, at least for me. If those guys are too experimental though, try Count Basie - he's more blues-y - or Duke Ellington. His later work is almost classically composed. People actually called him the American Bach. All of these guys recorded with vocalists periodically, but the majority of their work was purely instrumental. That may all be completely useless information for you, but if you're into it, let me know. I'll PM you a list or something. I missed out on so much great music for years because I didn't know where to start, and I didn't know anyone to ask about all the different types of jazz, which are almost as varied as all of pop and rock combined (genres I also have a great deal to say about, but they almost always involve lyrics, so that wouldn't help you much here.)
     
  25. MusingWordsmith

    MusingWordsmith Lively Fred

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    Hm I don't really listen to jazz, I'm very selective about music- most of what I listen to is Gospel honestly, so even just finding writing music is a bit out of my usual zone. (So far I've just grabbed a lot of Mozart songs.) I might give those folks a try though, although at the rate I'm going I'm going to get overwhelmed with songs.
     

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