Tuesday, June 07, 2011

For Writers - How to Trick Your Brain into Writing with Jessica Brody

On today's special edition of Tip Tuesday, we are celebrating the release of Jessica Brody's latest novel, MY LIFE UNDECIDED.

Here are a few fun facts about Jessica Brody’s own life undecided:

  • Jessica was born in Los Angeles, moved to Colorado when she was twelve, moved back to California after college and now indecisively splits her time between both states.
  • Jessica graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts with majors in Economics and French because she was convinced she wanted to be an “important business woman.” After a brief stint as a strategic analyst for MGM Studios, she abandoned her business background to become a full-time writer. Now she uses her mad spreadsheet skills to build complicated outlines for her books.
  • Appropriately, when writing this book, Jessica couldn’t decide on a title. So she polled 50 of her closest friends to finally come up with MY LIFE UNDECIDED.
The official book blurb:


Okay, maybe that was a bit melodramatic, but I’m sorry, I’m feeling a bit melodramatic at the moment.

Here’s the deal. My name is Brooklyn Pierce, I’m fifteen years old, and I am decisionally challenged. Seriously, I can’t remember the last good decision I made. I can remember plenty of crappy ones though. Including that party I threw when my parents were out of town that accidentally burned down a model home. Yeah, not my finest moment, for sure.

But see, that’s why I started a blog. To enlist readers to make my decisions for me. That’s right. I’m gave up. Threw in the towel. I let someone else be the one to decide which book I read for English. Or whether or not I accepted an invitation to join the debate team from that cute-in-a-dorky-sort-of-way guy who gave me the Heimlich Maneuver in the cafeteria. (Note to self: Chew the melon before swallowing it.) I even let them decide who I dated!

Well, it turns out there are some things in life you simply can’t choose or have chosen for you—like who you fall in love with. And now everything’s more screwed up than ever.

But don’t take my word for it, read the book and decide for yourself. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll scream in frustration. Or maybe that’s just me. After all, it’s my life.

Decisive reviews for MY LIFE UNDECIDED:

"Brooklyn is a sympathetic protagonist with whom teens will identify. Her journey is fun to read, and decision-challenged readers will learn an important lesson about self-acceptance along the way."--School Library Journal

"Brody taps into a universal human desire...An amusing coming-of-age story with many funny moments...[Brooklyn's] flustered, off-the-cuff narration should keep readers as invested in her actions as her blog followers are."--Publisher's Weekly

And the official book trailer:

You can find Jessica online at jessicabrody.com, facebook, twitter, and very soon at MyLifeUndecided.com, where you can post your own undecided questions, poll the community, and get some answers.

Jessica's Tip:

Writers are very good a coming up with clever ways to procrastinate. Ask any writer and they’ll immediately recite off the top of their head five useless things that they can easily do every morning before tackling that looming daily word count. Which is why I’m always trying to come up with new ways to trick myself into writing…as opposed to out of it.

Over the years, I’ve found that I tend to write most efficiently and quickly when I’m “in the zone.” Meaning when I’m fully focused on writing, the rest of the world has disappeared, and it’s just me and the story. But as a full-time writer with tight deadlines, I can’t always count on that zone to just magically appear and for me to just magically fall into it. For most writers I’ve spoken to (myself included), the “zone” seems to be this far-off fantastical place (like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow) and we’re lucky if we happen to stumble upon it once in a blue moon (and always when we’re not looking for it) let alone every day.

Obviously that’s not the most effective way to write a novel…waiting around for a fantastical place that may or may not exist. So throughout the course of my six years working as a full-time author, I’ve come up with several methods that I use to literally “trick” myself into the zone. It may not be as wonderful as the real thing, but it’s worked for me. So I’ve decided to share. Here are my top three favorite:

1. Location! Location! Location!

Reserve a place in your house or a local favorite coffee shop that is designated for writing and writing ONLY. Nothing else can be done there. No emailing. No Facebooking. No TV watching. Just writing. (Oh and cell phones should ALWAYS be turned off in this space). It can be a spare bedroom that’s rarely used, a small fold up table in the corner, or even a linen closet! But it has to be RESERVED for writing. After a few days, just entering that space will automatically jump start your brain into writing mode. You’ll feel less prone to procrastinate because your mind and body will know it’s time to work. If you need to take a quick break, LEAVE the space and come back only when you’re ready to write again. Don’t take email or twitter breaks in your sacred space, only write there.

Living in LA, I don’t have a huge house with idle bedrooms to spare, so I use a coffee shop down the street from my house. I never go there with friends. I never go there just to read the paper. I ONLY go there to write! Now, the moment I step foot in there, I’m instantly in work mode.

2. The Magic of Food (and Beverages)

Along the same lines, I will always eat and drink the same thing during the course of writing a book. When writing MY LIFE UNDECIDED, every morning for three months I would eat the same two mini brioches and a cup of coffee while I wrote. And I never ate this UNLESS I was writing. This further helps in getting your brain into writing mode. Not only are you in your little writing “sanctuary” but now you’re eating your writing food. Your mind is tricked into thinking it’s time to write! And it is. It doesn’t matter what food it is, just make sure you only eat it when it’s time to write. And don’t cheat and start chowing while you’re finishing up that email to your mother! All other windows should be closed and your manuscript should be open on your screen and ready to be tackled before you take that first bite!

I also have a rule that I only drink coffee when I’m writing. Not when I’m blogging, emailing or doing any other work-related things (I usually drink tea then). Only when I’m chipping away at my word count do I allow myself a cup of joe. So now my mind automatically associates the caffeine buzz from coffee with working. And I get so much more done that way.

3. The (Artificial) Ticking Time Bomb

This third one, I actually found out the hard way. When writing MY LIFE UNDECIDED, I had this old laptop that only had three hours of battery life on it…tops! And my writing café doesn’t have any plugs. So I had exactly three hours to get my word count done or I was done. (Or rather my computer was.) This ended up really helping me focus. Every time I would feel inclined to check email or surf the net, a little voice in the back of my head would chime in (or maybe it was just the ticking clock of my battery) and say, “No, no. You only have 2.5 hours left!” This forced me to focus on writing and nothing else. So I encourage you to leave your plug at home. Or even in another room of your house. It may take a few drained batteries (and zero progress on your book) or your brain to catch on, but pretty soon, you’ll train yourself to write more efficiently and with less pointless procrastination breaks on the internet. Because when you’re “in the zone” there is nothing else. The internet doesn’t exist. Email is a foreign concept. And anyone who lives outside of the world of your book is forgotten. So the key is to do your best to emulate that state.

And voilà! Those are my top three “mind tricks” for getting into writing mode. If you’re having trouble getting your butt in the chair and finishing your novel, try one or all of these and see if they help you as much as they help me. The first book I wrote employing all three of these tricks was MY LIFE UNDECIDED which releases next month and I finished writing it in 3 months (writing only 3 hours a day). And for me that was proof enough that it worked.

Good luck and keep writing!

We're going to pause for a moment, so you can go grab yourself a copy of MY LIFE UNDECIDED. Take your time. I'll wait....

OK, now on to this week's link roundup:

What editors do (VlogBrothers) John Green makes me smile. : )

Sharpening our narrative (MagicalWords) "Diction creates light and shade, shadow and sense."

Revising (AdventuresInChildren'sPublishing) The most important skill writers can have.

Getting out of the slush pile (Underdown) Not new, but so much good info here.

What our characters do when no one is looking (MysteryWritingIsMurder) Tracking them off stage.

Physical cliches (kidlit.com) "Interiority instead!"

Creating Plot Twists (TheOtherSideoftheStory) Defy expectations.

Why we write (BeyondTheMargins) Because there is no alternative.

Scene Antagonists (KristinLamb) The making of a hero.

Is it who you know? (WriterUnboxed) No, it's what you do.

Conflict=tension=emotion (WriteRight) Part I

Conflict=tension=emotion (WriteRight) Part II

Backstory (RantsAndRamblings) Backstory is telling, not showing. Use wisely.

15 Figures of Speech to Color your Writing (DailyWritingTips)

5 Ways to Develop Unique Voice (WIP It) As shared by Jenny Mawter.

5 Lessons to Learn from WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (Julie Musil)

5 Proofreading Techniques Every Talented Writer Should Know (Publetariat)

3 Things screenwriting can teach about writing (GuideToLiteraryAgents)

More on voice (OasisForYA) Avoid faceless voice.

3 Easy Steps to Plotting Wrong (Victoria Mixon) Don't do it!

1st Page or Last? (JodyHedlund) Which is more important?

Writing YA vs Adult (LetTheWordsFlow) Excellent defining what is YA.

Visual Image Systems (AlexandraSokoloff) Love her blog.

Outlining for Plotters and Pantsers (TheEditorsBlog) Use your tools your way.

Renovating the Condemned Novel (WritingSideways) 3 ways to tell if you are and 5 ways to diagnose.

Effectively Conveying Emotion (TheSharpAngle) Work backwards.

Now go. Write!