As I write these words, there are dozens of over-caffeinated monkeys in my brain, jumping around and throwing banana peels and howling for my attention. One monkey wants me to check my email and update my Facebook status. Another monkey demands that I respond to a text message from my boss (also known as My Wife.) Still another monkey insists that I go to Subway and get a sandwich because the noises in my stomach are getting too loud, and the poor monkey cannot hear himself howl at a very lovely lady monkey.
These monkeys, of course, are metaphors for my thoughts, which are constantly racing. Perhaps you suffer from this problem as well. Call it over-stimulation. And perhaps you, like me, enjoy high-speed Internet and iPhones, but you also have a book to write, and you can’t quite seem to quiet your mind long enough to focus.
If so, I’d like to help. I’d like to give you a few tips on how to round up those restless monkeys, so you may then be better able to pen a coherent, yet entertaining story. With memorable characters. And a page-turning plot. Maybe a nice “hook” somewhere thrown into the mix that’ll make this unwritten book pure
But I digress.
Tip #1: no cell phones or Internet during writing sessions. I know, you have a stressful job that requires you to stay in constant contact. Or you have kids and emergencies happen all the time (remember the Pumpkin Incident of ’09? Enough said). No, no, I get it. I have a toddler at home myself, but the thing about the Internet and iPhones is this: they allow for not instant gratification, but constant gratification. You tap a button on your cell phone, and you get a little surge of happy endorphins because someone has posted a cute baby pic on Instagram. You double-click the Internet Explorer tab, and what pops up, but a headline: your favorite actress is getting a divorce! Another little surge of happy chemicals. Those activities, while certainly amusing, can be detrimental to your writing project. Writing requires patience and concentration, discipline and determination. Writing a book requires us to delay gratification. So, please, turn off the cell phones, leave them in another room when you sit down to write your masterpiece. Might help to remove the Wifi capability from the computer you write on as well. I did and I get a whole bunch more work done than I used to. And in a shorter amount of time.
Tip #2: go dark on social media while finishing a writing project. Whoa! I could almost hear the expletives hurled in my direction for that suggestion. But I stand by the statement. Don’t get me wrong. Facebook and Twitter are fantastic marketing tools as well as excellent places to learn, discover, and become a part of the larger writing community. When I’m not writing, I use and enjoy them. However, it is quite easy to fall down the social media rabbit hole and before you know it, you’ve eaten up all of your allotted writing time for the day. And then a few days. And then a week. . . Look, I’m not hurling stones while living in the glass house, okay? When I was younger, I spent way too much time acting like a writer and not nearly enough time writing. Now that I’m older (and no longer feel obliged to wear tweed jackets with elbow patches), I know that writers write. Every day. And in my book, hashtags and comment threads don’t count.
Tip #3: handwrite letters once a day. I know, it sounds weird, but what writing by hand forces you to do is slow down. Your hand can’t write nearly as fast as you type, and this slower method of communication allows for reflection. Bonus, it engages a completely different area of your brain than typing on a computer does. And why letters, you ask. Simple. They’re personal, intimate. They establish an immediate connection between writer and reader, which is exactly what novels do. The good ones anyway. My suggestion? Write letters to your kid(s). Me, I write letters to my sixteen month old Harry Huck. Give him advice. Tell him anecdotes about my misspent youth, and why I, his very flawed but loving father, would really, really appreciate it if he learned from my idiotic mistakes.
So those are just a few of the ways that I try to tame the monkeys in my head. Now I’ll leave you with one more bit of advice: when you sit down to write, have bananas on hand.
Max Everhart has a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Alabama, Birmingham. His short stories have been published in CutBank, Elysian Fields Quarterly, Slow Trains Journal, and juked. His short story, “The Man Who Wore No Pants,” was selected by Michael Knight for Best of the Net 2010 and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web Anthology. Currently, he teaches English and Creative Writing at Northeastern Technical College and Coker College. Go Go Gato is his first novel.