I’m a discovery writer.
This means I have to sit down to write before I discover what is it that I want to say.
Most times, I’m not in the mood. And because I usually have no idea what I’m doing until I actually do it… it means I can be a very unproductive writer if I leave my schedule to chance!
Sometimes I sit down and I can write an entire article in one sitting. Moving back and forth between writing and editing without disrupting my flow.
I love those days. But I know they are rare and sweet and usually happen after I let myself ruminate over a given topic throughout long periods of time.
Most days I just open a word file (or Scrivener if I’m writing fiction), write a few sentences, erase them, get some tea (Mmm, I will definitely get tea now…), check my Instagram, my Twitter, my Facebook, my Gmail, my Pinterest, my YouTube… check if there’s any other social media I should be using, obsess about the amount of likes and comments and retweets.
Next thing I know I’ve got 50 open tabs on my browser. And it takes me too many precious seconds to find that one fancy Medium article I was reading (this one for instance) before I was distracted by another cute cat video.
Hours go by and I have nothing but a blank page.
When I realized that even famous discovery writers (Stephen King, for instance) can sit down and write for hours, I knew I was doing something wrong.
It took me a while. But I think I finally figured out what it was.
But before I get into it, I need to be honest with you.
I don’t live in a fancy house. I live in a tiny studio with my husband (who is currently preparing his thesis defense… so we both look like nerds hooked into our computers). We have no fancy cooling system to keep us from the intense summer heat. We have no space for fancy tech-free rooms. We only have one desk.
So these tips require nothing but yourself, your computer (or notepad) and some noise canceling earbuds.
How to trick your brain
1. Get to know your productivity peaks
Start tracking your days and registering your productivity. I’ve done this during the weekend, staring from the early the morning until the late afternoon.
I’ve discovered I’m more productive between 11 a.m. and lunchtime and then from 5 to 9 p.m. or even later if I have a light dinner. I’ve actually written this post from 6 to 8 p.m.
I take advantage of my silly productivity cycle by eating a late lunch and having a light dinner (green smoothies are the best!). If I want to include exercise into my routine I either do it early in the morning or after lunch or right before bed.
Further reading: 11 Productivity Tracker Apps You Should Start Using Now
2. Plan before you start
Wait? Didn’t I just say I was a discovery writer? That I had to sit down to write before I actually discovered what I wanted to say?
I sure did.
But that doesn’t mean I utterly ignore planning. I just have to plan a little differently from every other organized bullet-journal addict I know.
So this is how my planning usually goes…
I sit down at least 1 hour prior to my most productive hours.
Why? It’s simple. I’ve noticed I need to give my brain the time to calm down.
I use this time to do some online search. Or, if I’m writing a novel (which I totally am) I try to go back to what I’ve written before, so I can identify plot holes and things that are in urgent need of improvement.
As a discovery writer I usually outline after I’ve written a sh*ty first draft. Sometimes I outline like a regular human being. But lately I’ve been finding plain text files… well, boring! So I’m testing mind maps instead.
Are they working?
Well, I’ll get back to you once I actually finish my first draft!
Further reading: The Best Mind Mapping Software in 2019 by Maria Myre
3. Setting the mood
If you’re a visual creature like me, you know a good picture is worth a thousand words.
Sometimes a picture with an incredible aesthetic is the only thing I need to inspire me.
In fact, all my stories start after I have a “vision” of my characters.
This sounds esoteric and insane, right? But this is just the way my brain works. So, don’t judge me!
You can definitely use Instagram or Pinterest if you’re looking for visual inspiration.
I rather not. Because they are social media; crafted to provide an endless feed of distractions and keep us from doing our work.
Is this a form of procrastination? I don’t think so. It actually helps me to focus and makes the writing process so much easier.
Before I started writing this post I downloaded a beautiful picture from Unsplash and created a story template with Canva so I could share it on my stories.
This simple action created the laser focus I needed to start writing this post.
4. This is the part where you actually trick your brain
So the time has come!
I’ve done my research, organized my mess, stared at beautiful pictures and I’m ready to start.
The first thing I do is: trick my brain.
And this is how I do it: isochronic tones!
You heard me. There’s so many things I could tell you about isochronic tones. But the only important thing is that they work. You just need a computer and noise-canceling earbuds or headphones and you’re all set.
Before I discovered what isochronic tones were and how did they work, I had tried listening to bizarre mystical “music to focus” videos on Youtube. But I never really felt that they did anything aside annoying me.
That’s when I read that you need high-quality audio to experience the full effect of these tones. I bought a few tracks from Mind Amend (they have the cheapest tones of the market) and I realized that, for once, the internet was right!
You can find a variety of tones to suit your every mood. For this particular article I’ve used the: Pomodoro Technique 25 Minute High Focus Work Intervals.
I love the Pomodoro technique but I’ll tell you all about that in another article.
Usually, I buy only the tones and do my own mixing. I mix the tones with nature sounds I get from YouTube. You know, these unrealistic long videos with birds singing or thunderstorms (thunderstorms always work for me!)?
When I’m writing fiction I need to be a little more creative. I have yet to find the tones that can spark my creativity. So I use Epidemic Sounds instead.
Epidemic Sounds is absolutely free. You only have to pay if you’re actually going to use their soundtracks in your videos/ podcasts. If you’re just a crazy writer looking for inspiration, you don’t have to pay a dime.
The best part of this website is that you can get entire playlists based on your mood. Their collection of Epic and Horror music is just amazing! I have entire playlists for each one of my projects.
Further reading: Isochronic Tones – How They Work, the Benefits and the Research by Jason Lewis
5. Other strategies that I’ve tried
- Discuss the topic I want to write about with someone (usually my parents, brother, husband or critic partner…).
- Listening to Podcasts (honestly, my greatest source of inspiration at the moment).
- Watching a documentary.
- Visiting a museum.
- Going for a walk ← this one ALWAYS works for me, and apparently it works for Stephen King as well, only his walks seem to be so much more interesting than mine.
- Taking a bath ← learning how to relax before a writing session is really important.
- Setting deadlines ← sometimes, deadlines are the only thing keeping me from dwelling into self-doubt.
What about you? Do you have any tips to share with us?
Let me know in the comments below.
[Disclaimer: none of these links are affiliate links. I do not earn any commission to write about these products. I just used all of them and I think they’re amazing]