Why do anything worth doing when we’re not in the zone?

When we write, we want to give ourselves the best advantage we can.

When I write distracted, agitated, rushed and tired, I may — through some miracle — manage to write something. But usually, it won’t be much good. It will stray too far from the truth and deliver words that fail to connect with the reader.

Over time, I have written awful things and better things. I’ve seen what influences better writing, and what pollutes it.

So, I have become better at doing the things that benefit my state and my writing before I begin.

Beyond the obvious of being well-rested and not being (too) drunk, when I have the discipline to include them, these are those things:

– I am usually a better writer, and almost always a better thinker, when I have recently exercised.

Running, walking, swimming, tennis, weights, ideally with stretching. When oxygenated blood is still pumping around my circuits, the brain is activated. 

If I don’t get round to some engaged movement beforehand, I am at a disadvantage. It’s as simple as that.

– I haven’t touched carbohydrates in hours.

Carbs of any kind, like sugar, pastries, bread, pasta, starches, including even the sugar in fruit, cloud my mind and slow me down. 

Carbs put me at a significant creative disadvantage. Blood sugar spikes from these foods lead to crashes — productivity crashes.

I am sharper and more mentally and physically agile when I have either been fasting or consuming only fat and protein.

– I make sure I’ve switched off desktop notifications, and the Internet is disconnected.

Keep the dratted smartphone away and physically out of reach. Turn it off put it in another room. It is a huge and underestimated distraction.

You might even write using a pad and paper to start. The physicality of writing with a pen often helps me feel more immersed in — and a part of — the creative process. 

I make sure music (and white noise) is downloaded and offline so that I can listen to it net-free.

– Any research I need to do has been done.

I don’t need to go on the Internet and potentially fall into a rabbit hole of distracted searching and distraction.

It’s dangerous in there! Keep your notes printed out next to you, or on an offline file.

– I’m in my body rather than my head.

Earlier, I mentioned that exercise made me a better thinker. That’s because the best thinking comes from the body, not when we’re trying to think.

You must see yourself as connected to a moving, feeling body rather than in a state of rumination. Sit for a moment and be aware of your feelings, sensations and emotions. 

Writing is a sensory, moving exercise — it is not static. Your fingers; your arms; your entire body — move.

When I’m in my mind too long, I get agitated. I can feel the discomfort in my body that is longing to be free. Writing should be done standing if possible. Take breaks to move and stretch even more. 

Think of yourself as a creative athlete. Commit to action. The act of writing. 

Most of writing is a process of putting words to a page, no matter how bad for now. It can be edited.

– My best writing is a spiritual practice.

By that, I mean that I sense my connection to the world and the people within it. 

This might sound corny, but feeling connected requires that you elicit a feeling of love, respect and wonder for the universe and yourself this very moment.

The way to get into this state is to recharge for a few minutes, feeling love and connectedness for yourself and the world. Just allow those feelings to sprout.

When I sense this connectedness, I find creative ideas flow through my writing more effortlessly. I am no longer at war — I am in some kind of harmony. This is where my best writing begins.

– Depending on what I’m planning to write, I brainstorm before the main bulk of the writing begins.

Writing lists are especially powerful in generating a spectrum of ideas from which I can choose the best. 

I might start by writing a list of lists. Then I’d come up with ten or more ideas for each one.

If I’m planning an article, I will write a list of ideas, and then ideas within ideas. Then I choose the idea that I feel the most robust emotional connection with at that moment. Then I’m itching to write it.

– I am familiar with a writing strategy, or structure.

Often, articles start with a premise — a central message, filtered down into a sentence. From here comes the short and long outline, and then the main points. Then I expand on those points, before refining at a later stage.

A structure gives me direction when I’m writing so that I always have a sense of what I’m doing and why. 

The Snowflake Method was a great book on outlining and planning novels that I found applied to all kinds of writing.

Lastly, I don’t always do this before writing, but I find that if I need an extra inspirational push, reading a few pages of a book, both non-fiction or fiction, helps put me in a creative mode. Reading, if anything, stops me jumping around in my thinking, and centres me on new ideas, that I can bring into my writing.

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