“Book 3” – Blog post #3

Another fruitful brainstorming session yesterday, but I want to talk about what got it started as it provides input into our (esp my) method.

I have a system I use when I’m actively writing a book. I dedicate 1 hour a day, 6 days a week to “writing time”. I try to do this about the same time each day and I follow a routine. I think this helps “prep” my brain for the task.

Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame, but also a bestselling non-Dilbert author) recounted his method for keeping up an exercise routine. Each day, when it’s time to exercise, he puts on his workout clothes and drives to the gym, regardless of whether he actually feels like working out. He gives himself permission to turn around and drive home if he still doesn’t feel motivated when he arrives. But he said he’s only done that a couple of times in all the years he’s been working out.

The key is that the process of dressing, gathering his stuff, and driving to the gym boots up the “workout” routine in his brain. Research demonstrates that our brains are wired for routine. Common actions get transfered to the “basal ganglia” at the base of the brain – the “habit zone”. Once stored there, the habit routine can be kicked off easily and the basal ganglia will take care of getting everything ready to go, and even performing the actions, if appropriate.

This is why you can drive somewhere while thinking of something else. Your “habit loop” in the basal ganglia is doing the actual driving.

I try to use this brain bug to my advantage to get the “writing loop” running.

If I sit down to write and I don’t feel very motivated, which happens a lot, I don’t worry about it. I keep a list of non-creative tasks, like research, for times like this and work on those. After a while, I often find my creative juices flowing as I imagine the characters in these environments.

Or I just start reviewing and editing what I wrote the day before. Often I’m “in the zone” before I realize it.

This is the first book where I’ve tried to apply this disciplined approach to the story creation process. I still allow the natural, back-and-forth-over-dinner process to take place, but I also put in my hour at the computer.

Yesterday, I was feeling unenthusastic. At this stage, there’s plenty of research to be done, so I picked up one of those tasks. Avoiding spoilers, it had to do with learning about a venue important to the story.

Very much to my surprise, I found something inspirational almost right away. By researching real things in a real place, I was soon bubbling over with ideas for our fictional story. I finished my hour by showing all this to Jean, and the brainstorming really got into high gear.

These new, more real, venues suggested new aspects for the story, and I had that wonderful feeling of things slotting nicely into place.

In a future post, I’ll talk about some of the other things I do to keep myself motivated and keep the project moving forward.