How do you prepare to write?

Every writer has their “zone” – for me, early on, I could only write with pen and paper, cursive, and mostly shorthand.  Some of my best early work, in my opinion, was written while sharing guard shifts in Iraq on long, boring nights.  Not to suggest I neglected my duties; there was always at least two of us on shift and we’d usually take turns as to who watched out the window while the other did the minutia of the detail such as manning the phone, making notes in the logs, etc.  When that minutia was done I would inevitably write.  It was quiet: usually the only noise was the sound of diesel generators and the desert winds.  The occasional sound of battle in the distance became my punctuation.

But there was a problem with this method: one was that I would constantly be interrupted by the real world.  The other was that inevitably my wrist would get sore from the furious scribblings and then, at some point, I would have to translate the nigh illegible doctor’s script that was my shorthand cursive onto the typed page.  I discovered I despised this part.  I am not a scribe; I am a writer.

When I returned to the states I often found I could not sit down and write like I did in Iraq.  Something was missing.  It took me several years to discover all the pieces of the puzzle that made up my zone:

  1. There are too many distractions in civilian life.  The television, news, XBOX, the latest mod for Skyrim, facebook, etc.  In Iraq I didn’t have these distractions.
  2. In Iraq there was also white noise.  The ambient nose in the states is far less unobtrusive.  It can be downright migraine-inducing.
  3. The boredom of a soldier’s every day life lent itself well to daydreaming and imagining.  Here in the states I would fill that empty time with somebody else’s imagination.

So, after some trial and error, I discovered what I needed:

  1. I started cutting out the distractions.  Less time watching TV, more time imagining how I would write the TV shows.
  2. I experimented until I found white noise that worked for me.
  3. I forced myself to daydream more.  Seems silly but it works.  When I was driving down the street to class or work, for example, I would imagine what I would do if a car accident happened in front of me.  I would imagine it in the most heroic fantasy novel way possible, as well, where mild-mannered Aric saved the day and made the news.  It might be childish but it sparked my imagination elsewhere and kept it going.

Soon I had found my zone: I have my computer with a computer chair that is quite literally one of the spare captain’s chairs from a 1993 Dodge Ram van – the most comfortable computer chair known to man, IMHO.  When I write I have an amalgamation of stuff to provide the white noise and distraction from the distractions of every day life: I tune Pandora to the Gregorian Chant Radio, I have ancientfm.com playing in Winamp at the same time, and usually a TV show from amazon or Netflix or Hulu playing as well.  I always tailor the show I have going to the style of writing I am doing, as well, to kind of keep my mind in the zone.  Right now I am writing fantasy and I have “Stargate: Atlantis” going on in the background.  I don’t pay attention to the show, I don’t let the volume of any one of the three noise producers get loud enough that it is easy to distinguish from the others, instead I allow it all to flow into my subconscious and free my mind for the real work.

So, my fellow writers, what do you do?

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