Hacking the Magic – How to Quickly Get into the Writing “Zone” Every Single Day
I’m currently reading and absolutely loving BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’m always dazzled by her books, but this one especially is resonating with me. I love the way she demystifies the mysteries of the creative process while at the same time paying homage to them and embracing the fact that sometimes the art of creation is just pure magic, so we might as well kneel at its altar and pray for pixie dust.
But what happens when the pixie dust just doesn’t come? What happens when your creative muse decides to high-tail it to Vegas for the weekend, taking all of your inspiration with it? Is there a way to manufacture your own pixie dust? Maybe, even at the touch of a button?
I say, yes. Yes, there is.
And the reason I say this is because I do it. All the time. And in this post, I’m going to tell you how.
You see, while I wholeheartedly believe in the enchanting, magical fairytale of inspiration, I’m also a big believer in hacking the creative process in any way that I can.
Hacking?! Did she say hacking?!
I did indeed say hacking. And allow me to explain.
I use the term “hacking” in the absolute computer sense. For example, when you can’t get access to a server or a file that you desperately need, you’re forced to find another way in. You’re forced to “hack” the system.
And for the sake of the metaphor, the server or file that you so desperately need access to is your creativity.
Because sometimes when you’re pressed to make a deadline, or you’re trying frantically to finish that novel before the clock strikes midnight at the end of NaNoWriMo, or you’re following my sage advice of writing every single day, even if what comes out on the page is complete and utter crap (wow, that is good advice!), then a little hacking is exactly what you need to make it through.
The sad reality of the writer life is this: we don’t always have time for the magic of creation to strike. We don’t always have the luxury of waiting for our muse to get off its butt and show the f#%k up. Sometimes we have to sit down and do the work alone. And I’ll tell you from years and years of experience, writing without your muse is a cold and barren place to be.
Which is why I’ve found ways to trick my brain into feeling motivated and staying focused on the project at hand. I guess you could say, I’ve found a ways to manufacture inspiration, like a mad scientist in a lab (with the goggles and the crazy hair and everything!) And sure, it may not be as good as the real thing (because, let’s face it, it never is), but sometimes when you’re hungry, you just have to settle for the Very Berry yogurt parfait when all you really want is the triple-fudge ice-cream sundae. Sometimes, you have to get the book done. Sometimes you have to keep writing (even if it’s terrible!) and fix it later. Or at the very least, sometimes you have to keep that word count up until your muse decides to come back from its extended Italian vacation that it completely forgot to tell you about (or even send a postcard).
Four years ago, I wrote a blog post called “How to Trick Your Brain Into Writing” and received a lot of great positive responses from it. Although these tips absolutely still apply and can be used by any writer, my process is constantly changing and transforming. Plus, I’m always finding new tips and tricks for hacking my own brain that I want to share with other writers.
In this post, I’m only going to share one trick with you. But it’s a big one. It might be my biggest one and it might just change your life.
I recently went on a writing retreat, in which, I told several authors about this trick. A few of them decided to try it the next day and these were some of the responses I got: “Oh my God. This is a game changer!” “This worked so well, it scared me a little.” “How am I only learning about this NOW???” And my favorite of them all, “Um, is this magic?”
Yes, it works that well. Yes, it’s a game changer. Yes, it often feels like magic. And yes, this is the reason I was able to finish the 85,000-word rough draft of BOYS OF SUMMER (my upcoming YA release from Simon & Schuster) in only 6 weeks when we were on a super tight publishing schedule.
So you’re probably thinking, okay, enough hype already. What’s the trick? What’s the secret?
Well, I’m almost there. But first, the science!
Wait, there’s science? Of course, there’s science! Do you really think I would try to sell you some new-age spiritual woo woo? Okay, yeah, that sounds exactly like something I would do, but not this time. Not this blog post. This is legit. This has been proven. By people with letters after their names.
The science is called Brain Wave Entrainment. You can Google it if you want and find all the articles with the big words and fancy sciency lingo, but I’m going to break it down simply for you right here:
For every activity your brain performs, it vibrates at a certain frequency. This includes sleeping, meditating, reading, watching TV, and yes…tada! Writing! You know when you fall into one of those amazing trance-like states when you’re writing like the wind and the words are flowing and you’re laser focused on the page and World War III could be going on outside and you wouldn’t even notice? I call that state “being in the zone” and yup, your brain is vibrating at a very specific frequency when you’re “in the zone.”
So wouldn’t it solve all of your writerly problems if you could just “induce” that state? As in, simply tell your brain to go to that exact same place every day?
Well, abracadabra-huzzah! You can.
It’s called Brain Wave Entrainment. Essentially, it’s the act of stimulating your brain with the exact frequency you want it to match. So if you put on a pair of headphones and you play that desired frequency into the headphones, your brain will automatically pick up the frequency and sync to it. Because brains are just awesome like that. And within a few minutes, you’ll be physically in that desired state of mind.
It sounds like magic, doesn’t it? Well, it sort of feels that way. But it’s actually a pretty old technology that’s been around for decades. There was an article about it in the Scientific American in 1973 but now, combined with the power and convenience of apps, it’s easier than ever to take advantage of it.
There are several apps that do Brain Wave Entrainment. I’m going to share with you my favorite, but there are also tons more in the app store that should do the “trick” just as successfully.
The magic app I’ve been using for the past year (in fact, I’m using it RIGHT NOW while I write this blog post!) is called Brainwave: Sharp Mind by Banzai Labs. It’s $2.99 in the Apple app store* and here’s how to use it (in 3 simple steps):
1) Choose your Brainwave or Program
This is the frequency that your brain will “sync up” or “entrain” to. In other words, the desired state of mind that you want. On its own the brainwave sounds like a low rumbling or a vibration. But don’t worry if it sounds odd to you, in step 2, we’ll be adding sounds to mask it.
Below is a screenshot from the Brainwave: Sharp Minds app, where you see I’ve chosen “Brainstorming” as my program. I use this program for writing too. But other authors have told me they really like the Concentration Boost or Creative Thinking program for writing. If you want more information about the various programs, simply click the little “i” button on the bottom of the screen to learn more about each one. Play around with the various programs and find the one that works best for you.
2) Choose your Ambient Sound or Music
This is the sound that will play OVER the brainwave frequency to help mask it. I admit, for me, the frequency on its own is a little hard to listen to (although you’re more than welcome to try it!), which is why I usually set the ambient sound louder than the brainwave sound. You can see in my screenshot above how I’ve set my volume levels (Brainwave is at about 25% volume, while Ambience is at about 60%). Feel free to mess around with your levels until it’s right for you. But you should be able to still hear the brainwave frequency at least a little bit in the background. I wouldn’t set it so low that it’s completely inaudible.
The app comes with a bunch of really great built-in ambient sounds like waterfall, pink noise, forest, flowing creek, rain, thunder, etc. (See screenshot below). I like using the waterfall sound. I think it masks the brainwave noise the best. But again, play around with it. Everyone is different! If none of these built-in sounds strike your fancy, you can choose any of your iTunes playlists directly from the app and it will play those songs in the foreground instead of an ambient noise. This is great if you’re the kind of writer who likes to write to music or custom playlists while you work.
3) Choose Your Duration
Finally, you can set a timer for how long you’d like the brainwave program to run. If you’re doing a word sprint, or you have a limited amount of writing time, set it for 30 minutes or an hour (or however long you want to write). It will automatically fade out when it’s done. If you just want to go and go until you can’t go no more, then set it for 8 hours and turn it off manually when you’re done.
So, that’s it! That’s the magic app. That’s how to hack your own brain and get into the sacred writing “zone” every single time you sit down at your computer, no matter where your muse has decided to fly off to. (I’m convinced mine is soaking up rays in the Caribbean with a Piña Colada right now while I’m buried under four feet of snow and a second act that never stops rearranging itself.)
I hope this creativity hack helps you as much as it’s helped me. Because although, yes, there are the sky is falling outside your window and you hardly even notice because you’re just so darn captivated by that magic, mystical force we call “inspiration,” those days don’t always happen when we need them to. And we certainly can’t count on them when the clock is ticking or the publisher is waiting or the bills need to be paid.
Some days we just need just a little bit of help. Some days we have to create our own magic.
For more Productivity and Creativity Hacks, check out Jessica’s new online, on-demand course PRODUCTIVITY HACKS FOR WRITERS
*As of the time of writing this post, Brainwave: Sharp Mind did not appear in the Google App store but keep checking! And you can always write to the company here to let them know that you want it! In the meantime, search “Brain wave entrainment” in your app store and find a highly-rated app to use in its place. Filed under: Tips for Writers Tagged with: big magic brain hacks elizabeth gilbert inspiration muse Tips for Writers writing hacks Writing Routines (LMAP) writing tips