Writing has always been the art that most intimately reaches out to people and asks them to create. Let’s be honest; we are more than aware when we can’t paint or draw or shade. We have relatively good indications of our futility in a great many arts because commonly, we can’t envision ourselves creating that art. If you can’t dance, you don’t think about your ability dance all day.
Additionally, many arts matter less in our daily lives due to a defined lack of practical application. Sure, you might need to help a sketch artist draw a bank robber’s headshot, but even then, you aren’t doing the drawing. There are rarely times where painting a picture of the snow falling in your front yard would be more practical than simply using your smartphone to take a picture and sending it, with love, to your friend in Florida. Your boss might say “write up a proposal and cover letter by the end of the day” but isn’t likely to say, “Please paint a picture showing how are meeting looked this afternoon.”
Writing is different because while it is an art (think Hemmingway), it is also a basic need (think writing a check or passing elementary school courses). And it can also be vindication (think about that time you went through that breakup and really wanted to put it all into words). The Internet is now in content overdrive. The competition for page views and sales is mostly funneled either via the written word, or video. Because video requires more laborious technological endeavors and skills, a greater challenge exists to accomplish it, leaving writing, once again, as the web’s driving art.
Writing has value in common daily application (think web marketing, your Facebook status, that cover letter) and art application (think that novella about growing up a small town girl in Kentucky, eventually ending up a pilates instructor in NYC, only to suffer the consequences of a fast-life suffering heart).
Because of this, I hear the phrase, “I wish I could write like you do” all the time. The written word is powerful and versatile, and for some, it seems unaccomplishable. Well, being a seasoned writer who has been published in USA Today, among other outlets, I can assure you, writing is something you can do. The problem is, you just don’t know how to hack your writer’s brain. And when I tell you how to mine your brain for writing ability, you may just not want it anymore. That’s because some would view hacking the writer’s brain as something that sits somewhere between an inconvenience and absolute annoyance.
But wait, I’m a writer, so how would I know if these tips work? Because writers just like me get writer’s block and I’ve learned that writer’s block is mostly just not following the below tips.
You decide. Here’s my list of ways to hack the writer’s brain.
1) Honesty Fuels Creativity
Writing, of course, by most every standard, needs a creative infusion. Words don’t just magically appear. But often, people think of “creative writing” as only writing for specific circumstances, such as a novel or a poem. But writing on all fronts typically requires creativity. And creativity is spawned from one’s ability to be insightful. And the only way by which you can be insightful is, to be honest with yourself.
If you want to create characters, the best place to start is by understanding your own self. If you need to write something that manipulates another party’s position (think writing a letter to a landlord), then you need to be in tune with how a real human thinks, not how you want them to think. A strategic writer need not be a seasoned writer, rather, someone who understands the emotions of other people.
You can’t create a character built on human emotions when your own interpretation of human emotions are built on lies. Wait, what? Yes, get over it, we all lie to ourselves about how think, how we feel, how we react to things. We are revisionist when it comes to considerations made about our day’s events.
Really good writers step out of their own body and judge themselves without bias. And they expose themselves to the elements. If you want to learn to write powerfully, start by writing about the real you. You have an inside track to human character (yours), to human emotion (your happiness and sadness and frustrations), and to human error. By writing about yourself in candor, without the constraints of ego, you begin to understand how other’s feel and interpret. This changes how you write a letter to your boss asking for a raise. This changes how you develop a character in your novel.
And what’s great about this? It is what writing classes have said all along: keep a diary. I don’t tell anyone to write a daily journal, but I do encourage writing when you feel impassioned about something in your life. Nobody needs to see it; this is your training to hone a skill.
When you went to the grocery store this afternoon, you might tell people you were savvy and got a great deal using a coupon (you are smart), and on the way out, you gave a dollar to a homeless person (you are giving). These are things, which while genuine and relevant, are often just us living in a shell and protecting our self-worth from being devalued by the world. We want people to think we are great. Great writers don’t think like this; they are commonly comfortable in their own self-deprecation.
“I went to the store this afternoon. As I was checking out, I noticed that the checker wasn’t going to scan in my case of water bottles because they were under the cart. I knew if I could just hold tight, I’d save $8. But I folded, I felt scared of getting caught, so I alerted the checker. Does the fact that I wanted to not alert the checker put me on the fringe of moral depravity?”
That’s loaded with real, human emotion. It is relatable and honest. It’s interesting. An entire character could be built from just that excerpt (I made that up, by the way). By writing honest things, you get access to the most interesting human being on earth: YOU.
2) White Noise Is Writer Brain Food
I can’t write anything while there is a TV or radio on, I tend to start following those scripts or beats. I can work on my laptop at a great non-writing related tasks and have a TV on, but I can’t write a well-thought out sentence if an episode of Friends is on in the background.
Silence is golden, but there might be more gold in white noise. When I used to fly a lot, I began to realize that my creativity seemed to be elevated (pun intended). I loved the sounds of the engine as my background; I felt immersed inside my own little brain. Well as it turns out, that “noise” seems to be pretty healthy for writers. Check out this full article in Fast Company discussing ambient noise and productivity, they related it directly to writing.
This hack is super easy. You can purchase apps, or, do what I do and hit up Youtube.
Here is an Arctic Blizzard, definitely one of my favorites.
Thunderstorms out at sea (this is thinker’s gold).
There are also some cool alpha brain waves one (these don’t work for me, but reviews are insanely good). Here is one.
Just search “white noise” in Youtube’s search bar and find what you like. I have some Bose Noise Reduction headphones that I pair up with these white noise videos, and it feels as if I am in a new world or a far, far away land. My productivity, my creativity, and my focus all feel elevated. This also allows you to work near a TV, radio or in a busy cafe without being subjected to hearing unwanted noises.
3) Reading Can Break Writer’s Block
If you deploy the above tips and still find you are trapped in writer’s block anyway, pick up something creative and read it. Or, if you are attempting to write something more formal, find some formal pieces of writing and read those. The new, focused stimuli will help shift your brain’s mode to that gear. When I offer this advice to people, they often respond with “I never thought of that.”
To be honest, I forget it as well. Its very basic, but very powerful.
4) What You Eat Fuels The Brain (Boost it with MCT oil or Coconut Oil)
We are going to get started where it hurts: your diet. I want to make sure I’m clear here; I’m giving you an essential writer’s brain hack tip, I’m not advising you on health. You can see your doctor if you want to lose weight or develop amazing biceps, I’m here to make you a pound for pound writing champ.
When I was growing up, one of my writing teachers used to tell me that if I wanted to achieve a more creative writing state, I should eat candy. He kept candy on his desk. This might be true, but the problem with it is you will have little endurance. Your writing tank will run out. Refined carbs aren’t great for endurance. Often, we think of diet and exercise as related (because they are). If someone is going to play basketball or run a marathon, they think, “what should I eat that offers me endurance?” The same should be true for writing. Writers need to be able to focus and concentrate for extended periods of time.
Stay with lower carbs or complex carbs. This means proteins such as meats, or carbs such as raw (or unsweetened nuts). Your brain will run more efficiently in this mode and eliminate that “crashing” feeling that refined carbs induce. You need your brain to have stabilized energy. The brain, is in fact, a much sharper machine when it runs lower carb. Here’s a great article from Authority Nutrition explaining how the presence of ketones in the brain is healthier for the brain (ketones are the result of super low carb diets that go on for extended periods of time).
So the hack? Get the ketones going and sharpen up that brain for the long haul. You can do this by ordering some MCT oil, or some coconut oil. For added effect, put either in your coffee. Don’t bust out sugary carbs until you are done writing. This focus is so intense that I often find myself 4,000 words deep and not even realizing what time it is, or how much time has passed. Writers, just like athletes, need endurance. And the writer’s main muscle is focus. Often, writer’s block is merely the result of a brain that can’t focus.
5) Hack Your Perception
I’m going to say this as candidly as possible: every person and every situation are interesting. If you think you are boring, it is the fault of your own perception skills, rather than the fault of who you are. If you think the store is boring and without any substance, that’s your perception missing life.
Life is interesting, always, unless you make it not so. I always tell people to go to a store and stop and look around and think, “what could I write that would make this experience more interesting.” This will help tune your perspective on matters to be a bit more intuitive. Most books ever written are about things, people and situations which are boring, the writer chose to not be bored.
Wherever you are, if you see a dull horizon, that’s always on you. Making a habit out of seeing the interesting factors in everyday situations and in yourself will help to hack your writing brain. It grants you greater self-awareness and refined intuition. Practice having increased intuition and watch the words flow for anything you choose to write about.
Conclusion: In the end, everyone is a writer. Sure, some of us are born with a little more prowess than others, but everyone can get better at it with practice and creating the right conditions.
Cory is a seasoned writer who currently writes for a prepping website called PrepForThat.com.
Photo credit: Daniel McCullough
How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.