I had a morning to myself the other day and was determined to be productive but my head was full of things I had to do. I didn’t know on which to focus first but knew that the more I thought about it the more I would be taking time away from doing anything at all.
So I turned to my support:
- morning pages,
- to-do lists,
- recording and listening, and
“How does this fit in with writing a book?” you may be asking yourself. Well, let me tell you.
The same processes that guide what I choose to do from a huge mix of what I could be doing, also guide the way I write a novel.
If you are anything like me – and a lot of other people out there – then you may have many many many ideas of what you could be writing. The ideas may be convoluted and bouncing around so much in your head, that you can’t seem to get started on your book.
One main reason for this is that the mind doesn’t work linearly and isn’t particularly focused all on its own. It’s a bit like a monkey jumping from idea to idea. It can be unsettled, unfocused and restless.
One way to get your mind to focus is by giving it something to do – usually counting breaths from one to ten and over and over again while letting your mind do its thing in the background.
In the novel-writing business, however, we need those thoughts because they are the nebulous mass that will ultimately give birth to brilliant and focused writing. Well, to original and genuine writing, if nothing else.
But we are not going to write from those thoughts. We are going to use those thoughts to get to the genuine story. Here are some ways to do just that.
The first is what Julia Cameron in the Artist’s Way calls the Morning Pages.
[T]he morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness: “Oh, god, another morning. I have NOTHING to say. I need to wash the curtains. Did I get my laundry yesterday? Blah, blah, blah…” They might also, more ingloriously, be called brain drain, since that is one of their main functions.
This is how the morning pages will help you find your story. While the point is to do these first thing in the morning before anything else, I think you can get away with doing them when you have a chance to write.
So, write the three longhand pages just like Cameron describes but focus on your novel idea. Don’t stop, don’t think, just keep going. Repeat yourself, if you need to.
Your job is to silence your inner critic and to get any ideas you have on paper.
Once you write something down you’ll find that more ideas come up, and then you write them down and more and more come up. It’s like you’re making space. These later ideas, though, are not the same as the first ones. They are fresh and new and they may not be what you need but they will clear up any drudge thoughts.
Once you’ve written your pages, go back through them and with a different colour pen, underline the ideas you want to add to your list of ‘book to-dos’.
When I did this with my thoughts this morning, I had an initial number of eighteen. After all the processes I’ve gone through, I am now at forty-five.
This leads to the second process – the Book To-Do List
Think of all morning-pages content as inspiration for your book. The thoughts don’t have to connect to each other and they don’t need to (and should not) be linear although one might follow another. You want creativity and a glimpse into the unknown. You want to find thoughts you didn’t realise you were having.
Write on a separate piece of paper, all the thoughts/scenes/ideas that will go into your book. Do you see a storyline or a structure yet?
Here’s something that might help you see where you are going with this:
At the end of the exercise, draw a book cover, as rough as you like, and write down the title of your book on the picture of your cover.
You may already have your title, and you can certainly change it at any stage before publishing, but it might be fun to see what you come up with after you have cleared out all your thoughts.
Two further steps will help you access any remaining thoughts.
Recording and Listening
Recording and Listening is a process of recording a message (easily done on smartphones these days) and then listening back to it. R&L is a great technique you can use to give yourself support in any situation. It can also give you some great insight and it allows you to detach from your thought and observe them. It’s quite magical really. It allows you to come up with things you’d never think of before.
Spend a few minutes recording your thoughts on all the ideas that have come up from your morning pages and your to-do list. You might just read them out to yourself and then add a bit more too. The important part is to then listen to yourself and see if you have a response.
You can record the response too. You might want to start by recording an intention for your book that you can listen to throughout this course.
One example might be:
I am doing this course because I have wanted to write a book all my life and this is my best opportunity to take the next step and achieve my dream. I commit to this process and I commit to supporting myself.
After you have done all the steps above, you may think there is nothing more to be gained from your mind. You might be right but there is a way to find out. Do some meditation.
Set aside 5-20 minutes (timed and pre-determined) and stare at a wall. Sit with your legs crossed or on a chair if you need to.
Breathe in, and exhale while counting one.
Breathe in, and exhale while counting two.
Breathe in, and exhale while counting three.
Do this until you count to ten. Then, start from one again.
If a thought comes up, notice it and go back to counting.
If you lose count, start again at one.
Set yourself the intention of sitting at the wall and counting to ten.
Now, notice what takes you away from your intention.
Meditation is as simple as that.
Go back to the breath.
Some thoughts will be so pressing that you’ll want to get up and write them down straight away.
If they are useful, they’ll come back once you’re done.
When your timer goes off, see if you need to add anything else to your grand to-do list. The one with every idea you could come up with. Add them.
Don’t worry about sorting it out or starting on anything. That will come with the next step.