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Procrasination, Stimulants, and the Creative Process

Neuroscience of Writing




Why do we, as writers, procrastinate so damn much? Why do so many of us depend on caffeine, cigarettes, and other stimulants? And why are alcohol and other mind-altering drugs so often used as creative crutches? These questions don’t have definitive answers, but a look at the neurological element can give us some insights into some of these less-than-ideal patterns.

Let’s take each of these items in turn.

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How to Make Writing Resolutions That Stick

Image courtesy of Wellness Works Hub

One of the greatest struggles for any would-be writer is finding the time, space, and — most importantly — motivation to actually write. To be sure, figuring out how to produce creative work consistently has been one of my own challenges. Over the years, I’ve come to a number of effective solutions.

In this article I’m going to make use of two pieces of my experience: what my studies of motivational psychology have taught me in relation to goal-setting and what’s worked well for me thus far. And with a current output of about 20 pages — or 5000 words — per week, things are certainly going well by my standards.

So, as you set your writing resolutions for 2017 and beyond, here is my advice.

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Coming Off Hiatus: Some Notes, Thoughts, and New Directions

About a year ago, the Creative Writing Guild went on hiatus. Now, at long last, I have the opportunity to end that hiatus and reactivate the site. For casual visitors, that’s all you need to know: There will be fresh content posted to the site regularly starting at the beginning of 2017.

For those who have been paying attention for a long time, who are interested in the inner workings, or who are otherwise curious about what’s been going on and what is to come … the rest of this post is for you.

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How to Win NaNoWriMo This Year

NaNo postcard[Image via flickr courtesy of Monda]

NaNoWriMo—or “National Novel Writing Month”—challenges you to complete a 50,000-word novel by the end of November. The “winners” of NaNo are those who hit their 50,000-word goal by the end of the day on November 30th. As someone who has “won” twice, I’m here to give you nine tips on hitting that monumental goal. Let’s jump right in.

1. Nail this first week!

We wrote about this at great length before in Six Tips of Nailing the First Week of NaNo, so we won’t spend too much time on the details of how to do this. What’s important to note here is why. Winning NaNoWriMo is almost always a matter of staying motivated, and one of the best ways to do that is to give yourself the gift of momentum.

2. Remember That Consistency Is Key

If all you do is write 100 words each day, you get 3000 words—about 12 typed pages—in a month. And that means each 100 words will get you the same amount. While big bursts can do a lot to move you forward toward your NaNo goals, the backbone of the effort is writing consistently. And for those of you who are unclear, the precise target is 1,667 words. Don’t freak out if you fall short, though. So long as you’re putting in consistent effort, victory will soon be in view.

3. Don’t Research

If your work needed research, then October was the time to do it. I’m sorry—really, I am! I get it! I’m a research junkie!—but you just can’t spend your time delving into the scientific details of what you’re writing. What you can do is skip over sections that you want to enhance with research later on, leave yourself notes on items you need to fact check, and otherwise work around the edges of issues that deserve research in the proper time. Just remember: That “proper time” is December.

4. Socialize

For me, the most motivating NaNo tool is the “word war.” In a word war, you collaborate with your friends and rivals (in an online or offline space), set a short timer, and then all write in a burst to see how many words you can get onto the page within the time limit. While in-person events in your area are great for this, there are even Twitter accounts and chat rooms that help create a digital version of these word wars.

But maybe competition isn’t your shtick. Luckily, meeting up with your fellow NaNites comes with other benefits, like giving you a dedicated space to write, a social accountability system for your goals, and a group of friends to brag to when you succeed.

5. Forget Quality

Shannon Hale famously said that, during a first draft, you’re “simply shoveling sand into a box so that later [you] can build castles.” Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pay any attention to quality; if you keep pursuing ideas that don’t excite you or write nothing but gibberish, that can take the wind out of your sails. That being said, you should keep in mind that this is meant to be a rough draft. Keeping things messy is not only fine, it’s a key to productivity—both during NaNo and in your other writing pursuits.

6. Be Willing to Jump Ahead

If you get lost during your journey, I strongly encourage you to jump ahead to the next scene you do have an idea for. Staying focused on things that excite you will help you stay motivated, getting rid of stalling will help you keep up momentum, and you’ll be surprised how often writing “future” events give you ideas for the dry spaces between.

Another option, of course, is to “jump back.” If you really can’t figure things out, or don’t know how you want your character to behave, then consider writing a sequence from the prequel space of the story. Whether you justify it with flashback, dream sequences, or an alternate point of view chapter, exploring the story of your culture, hero, villain, or a side character can give you some juice and help stir ideas for other sectors of your novel.

7. Disconnect

The internet is the enemy of the novelist. It’s a worm hole—a portal into another realm with limitless possibilities and content specifically designed to give you those addictive little dopamine spikes. If you’re not careful about staying disconnected, you can spend all of your NaNo time writing little more than status updates and tweets.

In fact, I believe this so firmly that I wrote a whole article about it over on LitReactor, so check out that piece if you need some tips on how to stay away from the digital world.

8. End in the Middle of an Idea

This can be a surprisingly effective technique. For one, it gets your obsessive mind ruminating on your story in a way that can help you generate new ideas. For another, it decreases the anxiety barrier for your next writing session since, at the very least, you know where to pick things up. Some people even take this so far as ending in the middle of a sentence, and if you could stay sane while doing that, go for it! (I honestly think that paritcular extreme could break my fragile mind … but to each their own.)

9. Remember: You’ve Already Won

It can be stressful to hit the “winning” goal. It’s ambitious to say the least, and life tends to get in the way. If you let the difficulty make you anxious, though, you’re going to sap your motivation. One way to avoid freaking out about detours and setbacks is to remember that, even if you don’t “win,” you’ll still have written dozens of pages. Just keep doing your best. If you hit 50k, that’s freakin’ awesome. If you don’t, that’s okay too. After all, every word is a victory.

Good luck to you, brave NaNites. It’s your courage and effort that bring your story into the world. And remember: Your story matters.

A Little S&M – A Figurative Language Quiz

Not ready yet? Go back to the hub page.
Want to step back to the previous entry in the series? Go to What Metaphors Aren’t


In today’s exercise, you will practice what you’ve learned about the finer points of figurative language by taking a simple (and occasionally sexy) quiz. By the end, you should feel comfortable differentiating metaphors from other types of figurative language, including simile, hyperbole, literal descriptions, and euphemisms.

The S and M (+E,H, and L) Quiz

In this section you will receive a single description followed by several different sets of details on what this description may be referring to. In each case, you will identify what the description would be in that situation (with the options being metaphor, simile, euphemism, hyperbole, and literal description).

She tied me up.

1. If this is referring to a situation where the she has made you sufficiently busy that you were unable to leave, this would be a:

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7 Storytelling Lessons from Game of Thrones / ASoIaF


I’m a big fan of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (commonly known by the name of its TV adaptation, Game of Thrones). It boasts a cast of richly complex characters, its setting is one of the most fascinating I’ve encountered, and it’s easily one of the most compelling stories I’ve read.

I’m currently on my second read-through of the books, and I thought I’d share some of the many storytelling lessons I’ve learned from the series. Let’s get to it!

1. History is a great place to draw inspiration.


Image courtesy of Starcasm

George RR Martin has made no secret of how much he’s pulled from history: While the Game of Thrones is being battled by Lannisters and Starks, the War of the Roses was fought by Lancasters and Yorks. Battles from our history and mythology play out in Westoros and Essos—but often with a dash of alchemy, dragons, or dark powers. Even weaponry and technology, like Valyrian steel, is based on mysteries from history, like Damascus steel.

It would be an exhausting process to list all the historical inspirations of the Song of Ice and Fire, but whatever specific instances we make note of, the lesson is clear: History makes for great source material, even in fantasy settings. After all, history was the result of complex conflicts between complex people—and that makes for a pretty compelling narrative.

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