Writing can be hard — especially writing an entire novel. From the superhuman concentration it takes to sit down and avoid distractions to staving off writer’s block, it often requires authors to take drastic measures, or at least get creative with out-of-the-box approaches to get the words flowing. Below, eight authors share the unusual and unconventional writing advice they’ve used to pen their stories.
1. Light a candle
Rituals that engage your senses can go a long way in helping to make the writing experience more special and pleasant — and signal to your brain it’s time to start working. This could include reading in a certain chair, drinking hot tea or coffee, or setting the mood with scent.
Candles are a big part of the process for writer Tara Lush, author of the coffee-centric cozy mystery Grounds for Murder. “After I sit at my desk to write, I light a candle,” she says. “This marks the start of my writing session. I blow it out when I'm done. It's usually a lightly scented candle, and the warmth of the flame grounds me. Something about the ritual tells my brain that it's time to be creative.”
2. Take a shower
It’s a secret among writers that words often flow the best when you’ve got water flowing down your back. This is definitely true for historical romance writer Edie Cay. The Boxer and the Blacksmith author suggests writers turn on the faucet if they’re stuck. “Can't figure out where your plot goes or what your hero will say to the villain? Take a shower,” Cay suggests. “Hot water (theoretically) stimulates blood supply, which amps up oxygen to your brain.” Of course we need our brain cells working whether we’re outlining, drafting, revising, or editing a manuscript. “When I was in writing school up in Alaska during winter, I took a lot of showers,” Cay jokes.
3. Find your element
If you’re sitting frozen in front of your laptop, your fingers poised over the keyboard, sometimes the best thing to do is … well, something else. That could include lighting a candle or taking a shower as mentioned above, but R. L. Merrill, author of the award-winning romance Hurricane Reese, suggests struggling writers find whatever works for them — and then take it up a notch.
“Find your element,” Merrill advises. “If your best ideas come to you in the shower, then take a bath and write on your phone. If candles inspire you, then get a fire pit and write under the stars.” If the earth is your best element? Merrill suggests gardening, or “playing in the dirt while listening to your manuscript for some fresh ideas to bloom.”
4. Accept that you’ll (sometimes) be bored
Writing a book is a huge commitment of time, energy, and skill. As such, you might not always feel like working on it. That’s OK. “At some point, your writing will bore you to tears,” admits Jo Eckler, writer and narrator of the self-help audiobook I Can't Fix You—Because You're Not Broken. “That's to be expected; no one else will be spending as much time in your book as you will. Keep going.”
As with other large projects, persistence is key, whether the muse is in the room or not. Write through the boredom, and, chances are, the enthusiasm for your story will return.
5. Play music — or a movie
It may sound like procrastination, but turning to other forms of entertainment like reading all the incredible books out there and watching all the shows to stream can actually help inspire story ideas. This is true for Densie Webb, author of the moving novel When Robins Appear. “If I find a movie or a song that relates to what I'm writing, I will watch it or listen to it obsessively, until I feel like I've ‘absorbed’ it,” she says. “Then, I can use it to develop characters or create and embellish dialogue.”
For Webb, music and movies have unique functions in the process: “To me, song lyrics are incredible for planting a seed that I can grow into realistic, heartfelt dialogue,” she explains. “Movies provide fodder for characters' moods, facial expressions, and body movements. For me, that's research.”
6. Break down your brick walls
Sometimes a story isn’t working, but it’s hard to figure out why. Kathleen Basi, author of the women’s fiction audiobook A Song for the Road, has a solution for this: Remove the problematic element entirely.
"If you're beating your head against a brick wall, it might be because it's not supposed to be there,” Basi says. “Sometimes we tie ourselves in knots trying to force a thing to work that isn't meant to be there at all. This is akin to the rule of killing your darlings. Sometimes if we're struggling to make a thing work, we need to take a step back and analyze whether the story can work if it goes away altogether. Usually there's another solution!”
7. Listen to your book while moving
A 2014 study found that there’s a strong link between walking and creativity, with the researchers concluding, “Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity."
This is something Carla Damron, author of the women’s fiction novel The Stone Necklace, has learned for herself through walking while listening to her drafts. “Load your work-in-progress on your cell phone or Kindle,” she suggests to other authors, “and have it read to you while you’re moving. I have a treadmill in my office and find that exercising while I'm listening is good for my back and for my writing. I listen for pacing, for repeated or skipped words, and for flow. Also, I get my steps in!”
8. Use the five-line rule
After you’ve got a manuscript drafted, you still need to revise, edit, and polish it until it shines. Erin McRae and Racheline Maltese, authors of A Queen from the North, Library Journal's Best Indie Ebook of 2017, have a unique way of making each scene have more impact.
“We have something called the ‘five-line rule’ which is a general suspicion that it's easy to let scenes drag out longer than they should, resulting in them ending on less punchy notes,” the authors say. “Second or third drafts are a great time to take a hard look at the last three-to-five lines of every scene and chapter and figure out if you really need them. Chances are, you don’t.”