Wednesday, March 16, 2016

How to Tap Into Writing Mode Anywhere

By E. J. Wenstrom, @ejwenstrom

Part of the How They Do It Series

If you asked a room packed full of writers what they'd change about their process, it would probably be "to write more" in some fashion. More books per year, more words per day, more words per hour—we're always looking for ways to be more productive writers. To help us with that, please welcome E.J. Wentrom (and her fabulous hair) to the lecture hall today to share some tips on how to write anywhere and anytime.

E. J. Wenstrom is a fantasy and science fiction author living in Cape Canaveral, FL. Her first novel, a dystopian fantasy titled Mud, is releasing this month. When she’s not writing fiction, E. J. drinks coffee, runs, and has long conversations with her dog. Ray Bradbury is her hero.

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Take it away E.J....

When I write, I have needs.

I prefer to write first thing in the morning—early-early morning—before the nagging tasks and responsibilities of the day can catch up with me. I prefer to work in relative quiet. You know, not too loud, but not utter, pin-drop silence, either. And, I prefer to lounge while I write … I get in my comfiest workout clothes and curl up in a blanket.

So fine, I’m a little high maintenance.

Historically, I’ve been okay with this. After all, the muse must be fed. But then I read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s brilliant book Creativity, and learned about micro-environments.

Turns out, the world’s best creative minds are using micro-environments—portable work spaces that give them everything they need to work from anywhere—to keep being creative and productive no matter where they are, no matter how long they’ve got.

It should be no surprise the top authors work this way, too. Whether it's five minutes in the carpool line or the 30-minute bus ride home from work, the most efficient writers squeeze their word count in whenever and wherever they get a chance.

But how do you knock out distractions and get your creative juices flowing on cue? What does a “micro-environment” look like for a writer? Here’s what I included in my own micro-environment:

More writing utensils than I know what to do with.

Because pens run out of ink, pencils break, and, no lie, they both tend to run off of their own volition, never to be seen again, with not so much as a note to explain why they left you.

I keep a few in all of my purses, a few in my laptop case, usually one squished inside a notebook, etc.

A trusty notebook.

Sometimes multiple notebooks. You know, one for each project I’m in the middle of.

It’s worth it to always give yourself the option to write by hand, even if you have your laptop with you. Sometimes it’s just helpful to shake loose of writer’s block, or to make reference notes as you work through the manuscript. And, sometimes your laptop’s battery dies.

It’s worth springing for something durable. The moleskins are nice, but I also love a good, basic, composition book.


And a phone for the apps to go on.

My smartphone is my best way to control my focus while writing, because controlling what I listen to is major for my ability to focus. I have ADD, so I don’t even need a distraction to be distracted—give me legitimate distractions, and I’m a lost cause. I rely heavily on apps like Coffitivity and Spotify lists to get tap into my flow.

But there’s other apps that can help you out, too. Evernote can store your ideas for you, MindNode can help you brainstorm, Dragon Dictation can let you dictate and record your work instead of writing it out … whatever you need to do your best work, there’s an app for that.


My husband recently got a pair of noise cancelling headphones, and wow. They. Are. Worth. It. They truly live up to their name.

Now, I can go to a coffee shop, shut out all the distracting coffee shop noises around me, and then listen to exactly the right coffee shop noises from Coffeeitivity. Because I am a control freak.

A great bag.

Keep all of these tools in a great bag big enough to keep your micro-environment in, but small enough to be comfortably carried everywhere. I’d recommend going for something cute and comfortable on your shoulder too, because this bag is your new best friend.

When it comes to hitting that creative sweet spot, I have a tendency to be a bit of a diva. But the most productive writers don’t let less-than-ideal circumstances stop them from adding to their word count. Instead, they create their own micro-environment so they can create their own perfect writing conditions from anywhere.

About Mud

Torn apart by war and abandoned by the gods, only one hope remains to save humanity. But the savior isn’t human at all.

Trapped by his Maker’s command to protect a mysterious box, Adem is forced to kill anyone who tries to steal it. When a young boy chances upon Adem’s temple, he resists temptation, intriguing the golem. As the boy and his sister convince Adem to leave the refuge of his temple, the group lands in a web of trouble.

Now Adem will do whatever necessary to keep his new young charges safe, even if it means risking all to get rid of the box. Their saving grace comes in the form of an angel who offers to set Adem free of the box’s magic by granting his greatest desire—making him human.

But first, Adem must bring back the angel’s long-dead human love from the Underworld. In doing so, he will risk breaking the barrier between the realms, a cataclysm that could launch the Third Realm War. To set things right, he may be forced to give up his the only thing he’s ever truly wanted…a chance at a soul of his own.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound


  1. Okay, AMEN to the bag! I finally got a bag that I love, that holds my computer, my notebook, my pens, and a few snacks, and it's perfect.

    1. Sweet, good for you! I'm all about splurging on high-quality gear you truly love :)

  2. Due to a runway rebuilding project, we have planes overhead all the time this winter. I use noise cancelling headphones, which are pretty much a godsend.

    1. I feel for you--up until a year ago, we lived in a studio apartment, and my husband constantly has the TV on for background noise. Before that, we lived above a bar. (We make some real oddball life choices, now that I think of it.) But those headphones, man. They are everything.

  3. The problem with noise-canceling headphones? Now, people who would ordinarily wave to you when you stop in for a doughnut and a cup, feel it necessary to come over to your table and wait until they think I can talk. They want to be certain I don't think they're ignore me. Sigh.

    1. Nooooooo that's the worst. I guess there's no 100% people-proof plan. Sigh.

  4. Yes, yes, and yes! My MacBook Air goes everywhere with me. Waiting fifteen minutes for kiddo to finish Scouts and get out to the car? Bingo! Writing time! And if I don't have my MacBook, like when I am out running, I still have my phone, and can jot down those brilliant random ideas.

    1. Oh wow, I don't have a solution for that one.

  5. You've nailed it--the gear, the bag, the idea that we writers should be able to harness those five-ten minutes we wait to jot down a few words. The problem I have is training myself to actually do that. I've got the notebooks everywhere, writing utensils, computer when appropriate, and noise-cancelling headphones, but I need to train my brain to tap into that creative energy when it's idle, instead of running through chore lists, grocery and other assorted lists, garden tasks, lawn maintenance, snow removal, which kid needs to be where and when, and whatever I'm wondering if I forgot. The key isn't just the tools or micro-environment, the key is discipline: training yourself to use those expected bits of time to further our writing in some way.

    1. Yep, it can definitely be tough. I struggle with it too. Good news is, our brains are trainable. The more you TRY to do it, the more you'll do it, the easier it becomes to do next time :)

  6. I used to carry a notebook everywhere. Need to get back in the habit

  7. I keep switching the contents of my micro-environment between my laptop bag and my backpack, dependent on the situation. I have the ADD too. And OCD to boot. I'm still trying to find that just right scenario where I can do my best writing.

    That's why I don't get much as much done as I'd like. I should work on that.

    Have you heard of focus@will? They have a web platform as well as iOS. The music they provide is selected by scientists via research that has shown certain music to be especially effective for studying. I've been a subscriber for a few years and though I don't listen as often as I'd like, I highly recommend this, especially if you have ADD. They often test new beta channels for focus enhancement.