Getting Into the Writing Zone

NaNoWriMo is officially halfway over! And I officially no longer have any idea what I’m writing about! But that’s the fun of it, right? I definitely think so. In fact, I’m starting to think that it’s my favorite thing about NaNo. Because normally, I would get stuck in a rut if I didn’t know where my story was going, but during NaNo, it feels good in an I-really-hate-my-writing sort of way to be able to see an entire book unfold right before your disbelieving eyes.

Anyways, the only reason I’ve actually survived NaNo this long is because I have found a foolproof way to trap that elusive fairy we all like to call The Writing Zone. No idea why I just used that strange metaphor there… but it fits. I have heard multiple people I like to call “experts” say that real writers don’t NEED to get into a writing zone to be able to write. Real writers should be able to write anytime, anywhere. In bed at midnight. In a crowded coffee shop. On a yacht stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. At your desk at school when you’re supposed to be taking a science test.

I get why people say that, because, let’s face it: when you’re a bestselling novelist, you won’t always be able to crawl into an obscure corner of your room, put on your superhero cape, and pen your thoughts with your favorite purple pen. But hey, this is NaNoWriMo, and the point is to get the words written, no matter what it takes. And if you have to wear a superhero cape to be able to get into the writing zone, then I guess the experts will just have to rethink their philosophies.

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I have several things I do to get into my personal writing zone, and for each writer, it’s probably different. But I’ll share some things with you, because they’re general enough to be applied to everyone.

1. I always write on the floor, at the end of my bed. It’s less comfortable than sitting on my bed, and that’s important, because I might be tempted to curl up and fall asleep. I’ve written in bed before, and woken up at three in the morning with my light still on, and my notebook or laptop still open. More than once. So now, I rarely (if ever) write in bed, or in any place I might want to sleep.

2. Pray. I’m trying to get into the habit of praying before every writing session. It refocuses my mind and gets me thinking about why I’m writing at all. Rather than merely writing the story for the story’s own sake, or writing because I enjoy it, or even writing in order to complete the most well-known international writing challenge, I am writing for my Creator. He gets all the glory. Not me.

3. Here is where the real magic begins: music. I like to listen to the same song every single time, and do you know what that has done for me? It’s rewired my brain somehow, and now every time I hear that song, my brain instantly goes into its writing zone. You may be asking, “What is this magic song?” Well, it’s not just one… I actually have several, depending on what story I’m working on. Pick one that you like, one that inspires you, and most importantly, one that won’t distract you. I’m one of those crazy people who can actually write with lyrics in the background. Yes, sometimes I do end up accidentally writing the lyrics, but if it happens, that’s okay. What do you think the backspace key was invented for?

4. Drink tea. Drink lots and lots of tea. Tea is for me what coffee is for other writers. My mom and I have an entire hoard of tea sitting in the pantry in the kitchen. I could probably drink a cup a day for an entire month and never have the same kind twice. I like to sip on something hot while writing. I think it feeds me ideas. If you don’t like tea, don’t skip this step. Just substitute your favorite hot drink, like coffee or hot chocolate or cider or whatever you want. It’s November, and hot drinks make you feel all warm and cozy in your little writing zone.

5. Write in the dark. No idea why I like to do this. Maybe it eliminates all other possible distractions, like that Harry Potter book sitting so invitingly on my bookshelf, or my half-finished drawing of my side character’s brother’s girlfriend’s neighbor’s archenemy. I think the dark also helps me feel cozy and snug in some weird way. (I think I’m seeing a theme here.) I like how the only thing illuminated by my flashlight is my notebook in front of me.

6. Wear a bathrobe. It makes you feel warm and cozy, and it goes perfectly with your tea and the dark. I mean, you don’t have to wear a nice, warm, soft, fuzzy bathrobe, but Sherlock Holmes went around in his flat in his dressing gown, and he solved all his toughest cases that way. There may actually be some scientific facts behind this. I’ll have to look into it after NaNoWriMo’s over.

And that’s it. That’s how I get the day’s words written. Sometimes I change it up a bit, but if I’m running short on time and I NEED to get writing done, this is what I’ll do. Feel free to let me know about your writing routine in the comments!

Oh, and since we’re on the subject of NaNoWriMo, I’d like to take a moment and fill you in on the novel I’m writing. You can read about it extensively here, but if you’ve already done so, you know that the tentative title was Grandmother’s Secret. Today, I am pleased to announce the actual title: INFERNO’S MELODY. Don’t ask why I named it that. I just did. I’ve also updated the plot summary on my “Stories” page, so definitely give it a read!

How is NaNoWriMo going? Do you have a specific writing routine you like to go through?

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The Universal Truth

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

No, not that kind of universal truth. I’m pretty sure the above statement isn’t even true. Mrs. Bennett thought it was, but most of what she says is nonsense anyway, so we shouldn’t use her words as life advice. Today I’m here to talk about a different kind of universal truth. I apologize in advance if I ramble a bit, or if I use the same word four times in the same sentence. NaNoWriMo just started, and my thoughts are everywhere right now.

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I first learned about the Universal Truth from a wonderful lady named Kay Strom. (Her books are excellent, by the way.) According to her, a Universal Truth is like a theme, but it is way more specific. Stories, as you probably know, usually have a theme, that is, a recurring topic the book keeps touching on. It answers the question “What is this book about?”

Universal Truths are usually specific statements or messages about the theme. For example, let’s choose a common theme and look at how it’s presented in different books. I’m going to choose the theme of redemption, because that’s my favorite one. Right off the top of my head, two series (what is the plural of “series?”) with this theme are: Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, and The Mission League by Jill Williamson. (I have not finished The Mission League series yet, so NO SPOILERS PLEASE!) Literary critics could analyze these two series and find a plethora of different themes present, but redemption is definitely present in both, so that’s the one I am going to use.

In Harry Potter, a recurring message we see over and over again is this: “Redemption usually requires a selfless act of love.” You know, when Lily did that thing to save Harry, and then later Harry did that thing to save other people. We also get a beautiful contrast between Harry and Voldemort – so similar, yet so different.

In The Mission League (or at least in the first book), we see a totally different statement: “God will keep pursuing you, no matter how long you try to run from him.” Like, throughout the entire first book, Spencer wanted nothing to do with God, but God kept showing up everywhere around him, and eventually Spencer couldn’t ignore it anymore. We also get an interesting contrast here with the villain, but I’m not gonna spoil it for anybody. Plus, who knows how it turns out in the rest of the series.

Both of these series have the same theme, but what they’re saying about them is different. And that is what makes a Universal Truth, my friend.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what Universal Truth I’m presenting in my story. It was hard at first, because I’m a pantser who doesn’t know squat about the story before I start writing it. As it turned out, I couldn’t pin down my Universal Truth until I had experienced its trueness firsthand. Oh, it was definitely present in the story – I just couldn’t see it yet.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

-1 John 4:18a

That’s it. A simple statement, not even a full verse. It’s a Bible verse that I’ve known since childhood. Of course I’ve always believed it’s true. But up until recently, I hadn’t actually seen it applied to a real-life situation.

The thing about Universal Truths, to me at least, is that a story wouldn’t be worth anything without one. In the tens of thousands of words that make up my book-in-progress, 146 of them make up a paragraph towards the end. And this one paragraph is where the Universal Truth is revealed. Without this one paragraph, none of the other words matter. Without the Universal Truth, the story is nothing, the characters struggled in vain, and I wasted an entire year of my life writing an empty story.

Even though all stories have a climax, where the tension has never been so high, and everything finally comes together, the Universal Truth is like a climax of its own. Even if it’s woven all throughout the story, there is always a place where the reader stops and says, “Oh. This is what I’ve been reading about. This is what the author wanted to say to me.”

Kay Strom says that Universal Truths should always point to God. They should go beyond the story itself as they transfer the author’s passion to the reader. And really, isn’t that the reason authors write at all? Because they are passionate about something, and they want the world to see it too?

Is there a Universal Truth in your story? How is NaNoWriMo going (if you’re doing it)?