Tips for Writers: How to Trick Your Brain into Writing

Writers are very good at coming up with clever ways to procrastinate. Ask any writer and they’ll immediately recite off the top of their head five useless things that they can easily do every morning before tackling that looming daily word count. Which is why I’m always trying to come up with new ways to trick myself into writing…as opposed to out of it.

Over the years, I’ve found that I tend to write most efficiently and quickly when I’m “in the zone.” Meaning when I’m fully focused on writing, the rest of the world has disappeared, and it’s just me and the story. But as a full-time writer with tight deadlines, I can’t always count on that zone to just magically appear and for me to just magically fall into it. For most writers I’ve spoken to (myself included), the “zone” seems to be this far-off fantastical place (like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow) and we’re lucky if we happen to stumble upon it once in a blue moon (and always when we’re not looking for it) let alone every day.

Obviously that’s not the most effective way to write a novel…waiting around for a fantastical place that may or may not exist. So throughout the course of my six years working as a full-time author, I’ve come up with several methods that I use to literally “trick” myself into the zone. It may not be as wonderful as the real thing, but it’s worked for me. So I’ve decided to share. Here are my top three favorite:

1. Location! Location! Location!

Reserve a place in your house or a local favorite coffee shop that is designated for writing and writing ONLY. Nothing else can be done there. No emailing. No Facebooking. No TV watching. Just writing. (Oh and cell phones should ALWAYS be turned off in this space). It can be a spare bedroom that’s rarely used, a small fold up table in the corner, or even a linen closet! But it has to be RESERVED for writing. After a few days, just entering that space will automatically jump start your brain into writing mode. You’ll feel less prone to procrastinate because your mind and body will know it’s time to work. If you need to take a quick break, LEAVE the space and come back only when you’re ready to write again. Don’t take email or twitter breaks in your sacred space, only write there.

Living in LA, I don’t have a huge house with idle bedrooms to spare, so I use a coffee shop down the street from my house. I never go there with friends. I never go there just to read the paper. I ONLY go there to write! Now, the moment I step foot in there, I’m instantly in work mode.

2. The Magic of Food (and Beverages)

Along the same lines, I will always eat and drink the same thing during the course of writing a book. I also have a rule that I only drink coffee when I’m writing. Not when I’m blogging, emailing or doing any other work-related things (I usually drink tea then). Only when I’m chipping away at my word count do I allow myself a cup of joe. So now my mind automatically associates the caffeine buzz from coffee with working. And I get so much more done that way.When writing MY LIFE UNDECIDED, every morning for three months I would eat the same two mini brioches and a cup of coffee while I wrote. And I never ate this UNLESS I was writing. This further helps in getting your brain into writing mode. Not only are you in your little writing “sanctuary” but now you’re eating your writing food. Your mind is tricked into thinking it’s time to write! And it is. It doesn’t matter what food it is, just make sure you only eat it when it’s time to write. And don’t cheat and start chowing while you’re finishing up that email to your mother! All other windows should be closed and your manuscript should be open on your screen and ready to be tackled before you take that first bite!

3. The (Artificial) Ticking Time Bomb

This third one, I actually found out the hard way. When writing MY LIFE UNDECIDED, I had this old laptop that only had three hours of battery life on it…tops! And my writing café doesn’t have any plugs. So I had exactly three hours to get my word count done or I was done. (Or rather my computer was.) This ended up really helping me focus. Every time I would feel inclined to check email or surf the net, a little voice in the back of my head would chime in (or maybe it was just the ticking clock of my battery) and say, “No, no. You only have 2.5 hours left!” This forced me to focus on writing and nothing else. So I encourage you to leave your plug at home. Or even in another room of your house. It may take a few drained batteries (and zero progress on your book) or your brain to catch on, but pretty soon, you’ll train yourself to write more efficiently and with less pointless procrastination breaks on the internet. Because when you’re “in the zone” there is nothing else. The internet doesn’t exist. Email is a foreign concept. And anyone who lives outside of the world of your book is forgotten. So the key is to do your best to emulate that state.

And voilà! Those are my top three “mind tricks” for getting into writing mode. If you’re having trouble getting your butt in the chair and finishing your novel, try one or all of these and see if they help you as much as they help me. The first book I wrote employing all three of these tricks was MY LIFE UNDECIDED which releases next month and I finished writing it in 3 months (writing only 3 hours a day). And for me that was proof enough that it worked.

Good luck and keep writing!

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  Comments: 6

  1. Martha Ramirez


    These are great tips, Jess! Wow 3 hrs a day only? That is a great accomplishment. It is a great reminder when taking a break do not check your email. I find myself guilty of that.:)

  2. Martha Ramirez


    I left a comment but I don't see it here now:( I know Blogger had some problems. This was an excellent post, Jess!
    Thanks for sharing. Lots of great tips. Excuse me while go try to trick my brain:)


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  5. Lovely, now only if I had a laptop… :/

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