Monday, November 10, 2014

The magical secret to writing productivity

In the years since my romantic comedies started hitting bookstore shelves, I’ve had a lot of people ask my secret.

When I confessed my preferred sex lube or the location of each tattoo on my body, they realized they needed to ask more specifically about my writing secrets. Do I follow a strict schedule? Use special software? Sacrifice virgins by throwing them into an active volcano?

The answer is yes, no, and where the hell am I going to find virgins?

Bindi, the magical plot dog.
But I do have a secret tool that makes me a stronger, more competent writer, and I'm going to share it with you now: I have a magical plot dog.

I know, I know....some of you are skeptical such a beast exists, but I can prove it's true.

The way my aforementioned writing schedule works, I have a couple full days each week devoted strictly to writing. I have specific word count goals for those days, and I can get pretty testy if lunchtime rolls around and I'm nowhere near the mid-point on the day's goal. So testy, in fact, that I've been known to turn to my dog, Bindi, with an apology.

"I know I said we'd go for a w-a-l-k at lunch, but I'm stuck on a sticky plot point and I'm way behind and I've gotta meet this deadline," I'll tell her. "Can we skip it today?"

And my dog will look at me, shake her head, and reply. "You idiot. First of all, I learned to spell walk about five years ago. And second of all, don't you know that taking me for a walk is exactly what you need to get unstuck right now?"

The thing is, she's right. She can spell walk, though she can't actually talk. Well, not unless I've had too many glasses of wine.

But she also has a point about the writing. Just last week, I was tangled up in a plot snarl I thought I might never escape. I'm on deadline with a book that absolutely, positively must be finished by the Monday before Thanksgiving or my editor will cut off my thumbs and sew them to my forehead. Despite what you might imagine, that sort of stress is not conducive to good writing.

When lunchtime rolled around with no solution in in sight, I did something dumb. I didn't skip the walk – hey, I'm not that dumb – but I did decide to multi-task by calling my mom for a quick chat. And as much as I enjoyed our visit, I came back to my writing desk, sat down, and stared at the screen.

Nothing happened.

I turned to my magical plot dog. "What the hell? I still don't know how to write this scene."

Bindi sighed and shook her head. "You're a moron."

"Oh yeah?" I fumed. "Well you lick your butt."

"You're just jealous."

Again, she probably had a point. Not about the butt-licking, but the fact that I should know better by now. A walk with the magical plot dog is a sacred thing. You can't spend the time chatting with a friend or fiddling with your phone. You have to let your mind wander freely while the fresh air and nature have their way with your fumbling author brain.

There's real science behind this concept. According to a study titled Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings, "Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggests that exposure to nature can restore prefrontal cortex-mediated executive processes.... Consistent with ART, research indicates that exposure to natural settings seems to replenish some, lower-level modules of the executive attentional system."

Or you can just say you've got a magical plot dog. Whatever.

I shut down my laptop that evening with no solution to the plot snarl and a word count that was lower than what I'd hoped for. The next morning, I got up early to walk the dog. I left my phone at home, and by the time I reached the end of my street, I'd figured out the whole damn scene.

For the record, the dog might not be a mandatory part of the process. If you don't have your own canine companion, it's possible a mere walk around the block could have the same effect. Just a few minutes of fresh air and escape from the tethers of technology can work wonders on your brain. It's the solitude and the change of scenery that makes the magic happen.

Just don't tell my magical plot dog, okay? She'll get pissed. 


Deborah Blake said...

Bindi is gorgeous! And obviously very helpful.

Michelle Wolfson said...

I love this. I'm definitely getting a dog if I ever decide to write a book. Oh wait, my building doesn't allow pets. I guess I can't write a book. You know, because of the pet thing. But totally just that.

Also, the robot test is kind of creepy today. Looks like they're spying on suburban households to get pics of house numbers. Can't they just throw up some images of numbers and letters??