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The Things I Need When I’m Writing: A Terrible, Terrible Guide to Being A Successful Author
by John Corey Whaley
I’m always getting asked about my writing process. Always. And I never have a good answer because I’m terrible at processes. It’s one of the major reasons I quit my real job (teaching) when I published my first book and why I will fight to the death in any and every gladiator-style battle presented to me to retain such a lifestyle. But, of course, there are certain things that I do need when I’m working on a book. And, ideally but not likely at all, this post can forever serve as my answer to the aforementioned question.
This is of the utmost importance to me when I’m writing. I wish I were one of these cool authors who could be jamming out to an indie playlist and take dance breaks and close my eyes and move my head to the music between sentences. But I’m not. I can’t. I’ve tried. I listen to particular songs around my writing though. I’ll make a playlist for a book, but I’ll listen to it in my car or on a bike ride or a walk. I’ll think about my story with the music as sort of a tonal guide, but, when it comes to actually writing, I have to turn the world around me completely off. This, of course, makes it difficult to write in places like coffee shops—but I can sometimes manage.
FOOD. LOTS OF FOOD.
I don’t have to be eating when I write, but it helps. You know why? Because it’s a legal drug that causes euphoria and relaxation and immediate gratification. Of course a neurotic writer on a deadline is going to stuff his face full of junk food and candy and soda. Of course he is.
It’s true—I’ve come to realize that taking walks and riding my bicycle actually make me a better writer. It’s probably a stress thing. Either way, I can always think about a story, or a scene I’m stuck on or trying to really flesh out, while I’m outside in the fresh air. Plus, it helps balance out the entry above.
I’ve always been a fan of a nice, long, scenic drive. And ever since I was a teenager, I’ve used long drives to think and be alone. In fact, I owe my entire career to a drive-and-think session—it gave me the idea for Where Things Come Back way back when I was in college. So, every now and then, when I’m needing to just separate myself from my book, but also devote some time to thinking on it, I’ll hop in the car and find an open road. (Or, since I live in Los Angeles, a road that isn’t completely congested with traffic).
Some authors submerse themselves in other books when they’re writing—they consume fiction and nonfiction. But, aside from the research I do for a project, I don’t really like reading when I’m working on a book—instead, I’ll sometimes watch a really good movie or two. This gets me in the right mindset for writing and sometimes helps me realize directions I want to take certain characters. It’s also a great way to learn to write dialogue as efficiently and realistically as possible. My go-to movies for writing inspiration are: The Hours, Adaptation, Lost in Translation, and Super 8.
For the Comments: Any other writers out there? What are your must-have items when writing?