If you’re a writer, there’s a good chance you have equipment you just can’t live without. Whether it’s the amazing 0.8 mm fine-point Sharpie pen that I discovered in recent years or the chic Moleskine notebooks Hemingway swore by, there are materials out there that have proven time and again (anecdotally) to help our creativity and writing process.
What surprised me to learn, however, was that even more important to my writing productivity than my “Happy Planner” notebook with the wonderfully removeable (and replaceable! Sigh.) pages are a series of must-have intangibles that I can’t write without.
These “must-haves” are just that: Essential. I must have them if I want to be serious about my writing. While, yes, I have managed to write with several ballpoint Bic pens over the year (shudder), there are some things related to my mental and physical health that I need to be productive.
A Focused Mind
While I can journal when my mind is all over the place, trying to create something structured is nearly impossible when my mind is not at ease. For some reason, it took me years before I realized the correlation between my state of mind and my writing output.
When I sit down for a writing session these days, I make sure that:
- I’m not hungry. My American brain is constantly on the prowl for snacks. The minute hunger (and Vlasic Zesty Pickles) cross my mind, forget about it. Fueling up with quality food before a writing session helps me stay focused longer.
- I’m not too tired. Writing is almost exclusively a sedentary activity. If I’m at all tired when I sit down to write, chances are, I am going to be fading within the hour. Even if I power through the sleepiness, when I re-read my work with a set of fresh (i.e., rested) eyes, I catch large amounts of repetition and typos. I end up having to redo lots of the work.
- My emotions are in check. Surely writers are supposed to be angrily typing away, composing the next global bestseller? Or weeping, distraught by their influx of creativity while writing their Booker Prize-winning story. Yeah, when I’m emotional, I’m a wreck. I can hardly sit in a chair, let alone form a structured text. Addressing my emotions first – by going for a walk, chatting with a friend, or just having a solid, ugly crying session – and then focusing on writing is the way to go for me.
Support of Family and Friends
I have to go on record to say I have the most amazing network of support. My friends and family have gone above and beyond to support my writing dreams throughout the years, and without them, transitioning into a writing career would have been just about impossible.
- My Writing Group: I use the term “writing group” very collectively. I have writing friends all over the country. My friend, Kindra, in Albuquerque has inspired me endlessly with her devotion to her poetry. My friends Tim, Jenn, and Jessie in Asheville are dedicated writers in my writing network based in Western North Carolina. In the central NC area, Hannah, a fellow writer and editor, has given me so much invaluable writing advice and support since I moved to the area.
- My Fiancé: Alex, from Day 1 of our relationship, has supported me 100% in my writing ventures. More recently, he encouraged me to make the leap into full-time freelancing. He’s never doubted I would be successful or would give up. Without a supportive partner like him, I don’t know that I could have made such a bold move at this stage in my career.
- My Family: While I think my grandfather still worries I’m not going to survive with my writing income, he has always been supportive of my transition. No one in my family has tried to talk me out of my career or insinuate that I’m making a bad decision. That extra support and mental relief go a long way.
Quality Free Time
Even the best of us multi-taskers have our limits. In general, I’m a huge fan of working efficiently. I read Cheaper by the Dozen when I was younger, and it influenced the way I think about work and efficiency. The book’s an autobiography of two children (of a total of 12) raised by efficiency experts Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Lillian Moller Gilbreth. The parents, especially the father, found ways to cut time out of mundane chores (like washing dishes) to focus more on education and family time.
I still try to save as much time as possible on household chores. I do things like load the dishwasher while I cook, so the kitchen is already clean when I sit down to dinner. At the same time, I have a load of laundry already running so it’s done when I’m finished eating.
When it comes to writing, though, I need good quality free time to focus on a single task: Writing.
That means time to sit down and write without jumping up every few minutes to answer a phone call or send an e-mail. “Good quality” also means not being so exhausted from a full-time job that I can hardly string two sentences together.
Acknowledge What Helps You Write
These examples of intangibles above are what help my personal writing process. Everybody’s ideal writing environment is going to look different, of course. For instance, I cannot listen to music with words, TV, podcasts, or pretty much anything except instrumental music or white noise while working. Some people I know require a lot of noise (talking, music, general café sounds) while they write, and something like white noise would be a writing barrier.
I suggest taking note of the days that you accomplish your daily writing goals, and try to determine what intangibles created that productive situation. Hopefully, by doing so, you’ll discover what makes your own writing process flow!
As always, thanks for stopping by! In the comments section, feel free to share your own “intangibles” that help you focus on your writing!