If you think about a professional athlete, they always have some sort of method to getting ready for their game or event. They stretch, they run a bit, they warm up, etc. They may even play a practice game before they go out for the real one. Do you think a professional boxer is just sitting in a McDonalds, eatin’ a hamburger, and then gets up and walks over to the stadium, tosses on the gloves, and says, “Alright. Let’s do it”? Probably not. Whatever it is, they do something to get into the mindset that they need to be in. Right?
Well, writing is the same way. You can’t, or at least shouldn’t, just be going about your day, decide to write, pop open the old laptop, and pick up your chapter where you left off. Now why is that Mr. Tankersley? Good question, my inquisitive and handsome reader! Think about it this way. Let’s say you’re writing a thriller. And where you left off is right at an incredibly intense, super important, nerve racking scene. If you were just standing around in the kitchen, washing the dishes or slicing a tomato, do you really think you’re in the right state of mind to be thrilling your reader? Probably not. When you write, you need to remain in the same tone, the same style, and be able to deliver the same energy. You need to be in the writer’s state of mind.
So how does one do this? How do you go from slicing a tomato to clacking away on your keyboard safely and consistently? How do you go from the mundane to the extraordinary mentality? (If you find slicing a tomato to be extraordinary, I apologize. Replace my example with something you find humdrum, like, I don’t know, folding clothes. If you find that extraordinary, I’m two for two and I suggest you stop reading before I dig myself any deeper.) I think there are probably hundreds of ways to get your mind where it needs to be to pick it back up, but I have a few that I think are especially useful.
- Read over the last few chapters you’ve written: This will allow you to get back into the scene. You’ll remember the tension, the darkness, the heart pounding thrills or the sloppy love smooches. This is one of my favorite techniques. This tip is good for SO many things. Not only are you getting back into character, as well as remembering where the specific tone or tension is, but you’re also -wait for it- looking for things to edit! That’s right. While you’re getting your mind right you’re also going to notice a lot of errors (if you’re like me). Things like misspellings, forgot words, awkward sentences, or repeated phrases. This is a good opportunity to fix those little things as you go. It saves you a lot of time in the future. Plus, while you’re rearranging those awkward sections, you’re getting back into that zone. Reading over your last few chapters lets you see where the conversation was at, where the scene as a whole needs to pick up, and a plethora of other things. This is my trick of choice.
- Do some free writing– If you’ve never done it, try it. Open a blank document, or take out a sheet of paper, and write. Not about anything in particular. Don’t focus on a single topic, or your story in particular, or anything for that matter. Just write. Let your mind wander, and follow it with your fingers. This is a stream of consciousness exercise, and I’m willing to be bet that you’ll be surprised at what you actually write. If your mind ends up on your story and you have ideas, go ahead and write them down! But don’t be afraid to just be typing away about nonsense. Free writing is an amazing way to get those creative juices flowing, it produces (sometimes) useful lines or ideas, AND it hones in your stream of consciousness, making your mind a calibrated machine that thinks in lyrical ballads and poetic expressions. (Okay, maybe not that last one. But seriously, it will train your brain to think more like a writer!)
- Talk to someone about your story- Now. Hold on. You have to be careful here. You don’t want to be “that guy”. You know the one: The guy who never stops talking about his own work. Unfortunately, I’m kind of that guy and I hate myself for it. Find someone who is willing to talk to you about writerly things, wants to hear about your story, and knows that you’re talking to him as a way to help the story grow. As you talk, you’ll find yourself thinking of new ideas, developing the plot even further than you imagined, and getting excited about the story that you’re writing. Not only that, but if your friends are like mine, they will ask a lot of questions. They may try to punch holes in your plot, ask about things they don’t understand, or point out contradictions. This is great! It really helps to solidify a consistent plot. If you can find someone who enjoys hearing about your work (as I’m sure everyone does!) this tip is for you. It can be far more helpful than you think!
- Final Tip! Think about your writing: Whenever you find yourself stuck doing something that you wish you didn’t have to do, like washing dishes, walking the dog, or spending time with your mother-in-law, use it as a writing tool! This is a fantastic time to zone out and start thinking about your work. In the same way that discussing your story with a friend will help, simply thinking about your work will help to develop characters, solidify your plot, and make your story stronger over all. At one point in time I had a job at a clothing store. (I folded clothes. That’s it. They literally paid me money to fold clothes.) Now, if you’re in that position, I feel you. I know how terrible jobs like that can be. You’re constantly dealing with angry customers, or fixing things that you JUST fixed, etc. It’s awful. BUT, there’s hope. If you use these types of mind-numbing jobs as a way to improve your story, the time will fly by. Anytime that I’m doing something like this I carry a notepad with me. (Well, I used to. Now I have a smartphone. But I digress.) When I’m thinking about my story and something new or exciting comes to mind I write it down. You’ll be surprised at how much you can develop your story while you’re away from the computer. And when you finally do make it back to the old laptop, you’re ready to get to work and already focused!
So, if you’re like me you write scenes of intense action and high emotion. When you’re in the moment it’s easy and it flows out of you. But, if you get interrupted, you may come back and botch the whole ending of it. By using these tips you’ll be able to find ways to stay in the writer’s mindset while you’re going about your day, and be able to come back to your story and pick it up without hesitation. Hopefully these helped you as much as they help me! Let me know it the comments!