Slaying Writer Dragons: Epic Skill #1, Mental Prowess

Slaying Writer Dragons: Epic Skill #1, Mental Prowess

All right, brave writers of the MwP world. I wrote last week about why you really need to make writing a big dramatic event. So you feel like it’s worth doing. This probably indicates some deep failing on your part, but since we writers all have the same problem, we will just call it a strength and embrace it with all of our (not un-mighty) might.

For those of you who missed last week’s post, here’s the situation: your writing project is a big, bad dragon. You are a mighty warrior who must defeat this dragon at all costs. When you do, you are rewarded handsomely.

Got that? Good.

Now we need to make sure you have the skills to rock out this little scenario. Otherwise, you’d be one of those sad knights who appears in Monty Python movies and gets eaten by killer bunnies. No one wants to be that guy. We will make mighty writers out of you. You will defeat the bunny.

Say it with me, people: I will defeat the bunny.

Very good.

The first skill you’re going to need for your epic writerly quest is mental prowess. Why? Because your brain is what you use most when your quests involve pen and ink (or word processor and keyboard. Whatever). You need to train your brain.

There’s Something Wrong With Your Brain

Have you ever sat around for hours watching reruns of Project Runway or the Real World or something else equally mind-bogglingly idiotic like Survivor? Or read a book you’ve already read a kajillion times, just because you need that comforting entertainment of familiarity and routine?

Okay. This is basically lazing around for your brain. It is the equivalent of driving one block to the store instead of walking. And it is bad for your thought process.

You need to be creative to be a good writer. You need to be able to come up with new ways of saying the same old things. You need to craft metaphor and analogy. You need to retain and refer to knowledge you’ve acquired over the years to create images that help bring each concept to life.

And if you’re not in the habit of thinking, it’s going to be difficult.

Kicking Your Mental Faculties into High Gear

Learning to have a less lazy brain isn’t really that hard, but it does take a conscious effort. It’s rather like eating healthy food. No, it doesn’t take more effort to buy a peach instead of a chocolate bar, but if you aren’t thinking about eating healthy food, then you might not get that peach.

Same deal with your mental habits. Be more conscious of your choices and you’ll make better ones.

Start watching TV shows that make you think, instead of letting you turn your brain off. I personally love the hell out of Mad Men, and not just because it’s about copywriters (and designers and other ad types). It’s a clever show. It makes me think. It has good wordplay. It has interesting character types.

I wrote copy for one of those character types the other day, in fact. I did it very well, because I had been thinking about just what makes a stay-at-home mother tick. If I hadn’t been, I’d probably have had no idea how to talk to such a person, and the copy would have been much more generic.

And not nearly as good.

The same theory goes for your reading material. Start reading new and interesting things. Make note of new vocabulary and words. Start paying attention to different styles of writing and speaking. See if you can’t make use of them in your work. Jane Austen comes in surprisingly handy. So does T.C. Boyle. So does Bill Bryson. Find yourself some writers whose styles appeal to you – and to your clients.

If you’re not the reading sort, you can stimulate your thinking process in many ways. Talk to people more. Join a group that debates social issues and learn about them. Go to an art opening and talk with the artist. Check out museums.

Make yourself think on a regular basis and you’ll soon get in the habit of doing it all the time. You’ll become hooked on new thoughts, new ways of looking at the world.

And the next time you have a client who wants a fresh, new take on an old concept, you’ll be ready to slay that dragon without breaking a sweat.

That’s your mental training. Tune in next week when we’ll discuss emotional training (you know you need it. Writers always do).

But never fear! It involves absolutely no discussion of your feelings. Save that for your ice-cream nights. We’re going to be talking about emotional MIGHTINESS, and it will be pretty epic.

Post by Taylor

Taylor Lindstrom (fondly known as Tei) is a twenty-something copywriter and journalist from Boulder, CO. She’s the team’s rogue woman who wowed us until our desire for her talents exceeded our desire for a good ol’ boys club. She loves the color green, micro-point Uniball pens, and medieval weaponry.

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  1. You know, I never thought about such a thing – whenever I needed brilliance in my writing, it just always (kinda sorta maybe) clicked ON. I will confess to blasting the Star Trek 2009 soundtrack whenever I want inspiration – it simply causes my neurons to fire and take me into mental areas that I normally do not consider.

    I’ll call this, casting my mind to the Universe – what the Universe returns, well…it’s pretty nifty indeed. You have to let go of what you conceive to be reality and be willing to ask, What If…..?

    Took awhile to trust myself enough to be able to do that.
    .-= Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog ..Take a spin in my TIME machine! =-.

  2. Its a real treat to check out the diversities that you guys come up with…. Such a multi-dimensional plethora, alone is a rich medium to lend food to our creative processing…
    .-= Amy Dyslex´s last blog ..How to Write Creatively =-.

  3. I will defeat the bunny … I will defeat the bunny …


    … can I just do a Brave Sir Robin? Please? 😉

    On a less Python-esque note, I’m completely with you, Taylor, about the trash-in-trash-out principle for the brain. Crappy television just bores me (sometimes a good thing, if it bores me into writing). Intelligent, intriguing shows with great characters and narrative get me *thinking*.

    I’ve been watching True Blood recently, and it’s one of the few shows I’ve been “into” for a while. I started to figure out what kept me hooked, and one big factor was what I’ve dubbed the “ticking time bomb” technique … setting up something that the viewer knows about, but that’s hidden from one or more characters. You just KNOW there’s gonna be all merry hell let loose when the payoff comes, and it keeps you watching to find out what’s gonna happen. It’s given me a big new idea for my novel-in-progress.

    This looks like being a fab series, Taylor; I’ll be waiting eagerly for the next installment. (Though not quite as eagerly, I must confess, as I’m waiting for Season 3 of True Blood… I’m a sucker for cliffhangers.)
    .-= Ali Hale´s last blog ..What Are You Waiting For? =-.

  4. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    This summer my husband planted an amazing garden. But, the bunnies kept eating the flowers. We tried aggressive attacks: Red pepper and natural sprays, sweet gum prickly pods, marigolds which were supposed to be a natural repellent because the bunnies don’t like the smell. But nothing worked.

    The bunnies not only kept eating the flowers, they kept multiplying and eating more and more flowers. Yesterday we noticed a new ally in our fight against the petunia eating bunnies.

    A hawk.

    Natural and effective. No human intervention–just part of the life cycle.

    Lesson: When faced with a problem, I wonder if I just try too hard. Always think I have to be part of the solution–that there must be human intervention. Maybe some of my answers are out-there, lurking in trees, waiting to sweep in and bring balance to the universe. Maybe if I just have patience and trust enough everything will solve itself.

    New mantra: Defeat the bunny, Nurture the hawk, Seek Balance.

  5. I’d say the best thing for slaying those dragons is spending less time multi tasking when I watch tv now I watch what I want to watch and switch it off. Channel surfing is the devil, get the good stuff and get out. It frees up all kinds of mental headspace for creative thoughts. That and trying to stick to set times for writing seems to help. Oh and on the reading front I try and read multiple books at the same time (up to 6) it stops the rot and also gives me options to mix and match with my mood which takes away some of the excuses for not reading.
    .-= Michael´s last blog ..Goal Gym; Goal Large or Goal home =-.

  6. People who are “not the reading sort” have no business calling themselves writers.

  7. This post is a great example of taking a concept that’s been tackled a million times before and doing it in a way that’s fun and interesting. I’m sure I’ve read a ton of articles about how it’s important to exercise my brain as much as the rest of me (and I’m pretty sold on the concept), but not one of those included the mantra, “I will defeat the bunny.”

    Thanks for making this stuff interesting, Taylor.

    Also, here’s a bonus tip for carving the mental equivalent of junk food out of your life. Get rid of your cable TV subscription. I originally did it to save money, but have also found it encourages me to do more mentally stimulating things. You’ll find that while you may go out of your way to watch good television online (Mad Men and Californication, in my case), you’ll rarely go out of your way to download the latest episode of the Real World.

  8. ” I will beat the bunny”… best, Tei, love that.

    I was watching A clip from Dragnet yesterday…it was on an ART blog, just go with it…and a friend of mine writes noir anyway so it has been on my mind… “just the facts ma’am Joe Friday comes on and the starkness, the context of LA in the fifities …pan images of ordinary people at work in the city, ( typewriters included ) who write “lots of history every day” and then a shot of he ( Joe Friday) looking over a file and walking it over to a cabinet …he says, “we, we chronicle trouble” speaking of the FBI.. and plenty more brilliant cut to the chase lines like that. Blew me away.
    Talk about defeating the bunny. The whole 9 minute clip was like that. I had no idea, the writing was so good.

  9. Great thoughts! Are the brain-dead shows you’re talking about also categorized as the unscripted kind? Is it the lack of a writer that makes the shows less worth watching?

    I mean, some shows, like the Big Brother ones, are known for getting the most unrealistic people together and then making them act weirder. Then it’s just like a bunch of naked children running around and screaming for attention. No good, that.

    But couldn’t you say that some reality shows are great for gaining insight into how people work and think under stressful situations? My grandparents love Survivor, so I must defend my family honor. 🙂

    Wordsworth was a famous poet, and though he wrote lots he was greatly against the reading of books as a source of knowledge. “Nature is all!” he cried, and yet we still consider him a literary man. Books are the respectable way to learn, yes, but even the most base occupation of time can teach a person something.

  10. Couple more thoughts:
    1. Balance is highly overrated.
    2. Not writing is far more terrifying than writing.
    .-= Dave Doolin´s last blog ..Do-It-Yourself SEO Using Microsoft’s Bing Toolkit =-.

  11. Arwen Taylor says:

    One of my biggest challenges or working from home was weaning myself off television. Nowadays I only make a special effort to watch NCIS or CSI. I love the technical stuff they talk about so I don’t really think of it as fluff television.

    I do agree, though, that watching less television has actually made me more creative because I’m spending that extra time learning about other more useful things. However, you have to be just as careful about what you read both online and offline otherwise you end up ingesting just as much fluff as you would have watching television.

    I also agree with Jean. Can you really call yourself a writer if you are not doing a good bit of reading also?
    .-= Arwen Taylor´s last blog ..Loss Leader Marketing – How to Use this Retail Marketing Strategy in Your Internet Business =-.

  12. Maybe I’m the odd man out here, but I get inspiration from NOT writing. I need to get outside, ride my bike hard, work in the garden, work with my hands. I think they call it active rest. The more demanding the activity, the more focused I am, the more rested and inspired I am later. Stuff just starts popping into my head.
    .-= Dean at Pro Copy Tips´s last blog ..Whitesmoke to the writer’s rescue =-.

  13. Barbara – You do need the strength to come from somewhere. We all have our touchstones.

    Amy – Aw, thanks. I do my best to keep things diverse around here, what with the uterus and all.

    Ali – Be brave, Sir Robin! That’s good that good television turns you on, it means that your brain has already gotten addiction to being used for thought, not simply for idle entertainment. Violence, neuron fire, sex, neuron fire, pretty people, neuron fire. Good TV will actually make you say WHY.

    Mary – Perhaps, yes. Perhaps the answer is in front of you. Don’t get passive though. That way eternal procrastination lies.

    Michael – This is why I don’t actually have TV. I have a TV set, but all I can do with it is watch DVDs. It helps to not be able to engage that part of your brain. Now if I could only figure out some equivalent for the internet . . .
    Jean – You would think, wouldn’t you? Though I think that holds true rather more for fiction writers than for copywriters. Copywriters need a different set of words.

    Adam – Thank you for the compliment. Always lovely. That is exactly why I don’t have TV, and you’re absolutely right – you’ll make time for the good stuff. House, Mad Men, Rome.

    Janice – Movies are killer for good writing. it’s amazing how often we have no idea who those guys are.

    Rose – Reality shows offer no insight into how people work and think under stressful situations, because both the situation and the people are falsified. The people are falsified because selective editing allows any particular feature you like to come to the forefront – there have been multiple examples of some character being portrayed as a violent person when it in fact no one really has that experience of them. it’s just that they never showed all the rest of the time when he hadn’t recently been thrown off a cliff and couldn’t find his wife.

    Dave – I disagree, respectfully. Not writing is a terrifying prospect, true, but if I honestly found it more terrifying than writing, I would write more. I believe most writers are the same.

    Arwen – I think it wise to read if you are a writer. I also find it unwise to dismiss any portion of the population on a random presumption. I am sure there are excellent writers out there who don’t read much. James is one. Not because he doesn’t know how to read or have favorite books, but because he’s a busy bugger and rarely has time.

    Dean – Sometimes that works too. We’re actually going to discuss that next week. 🙂
    .-= Tei – Men with Pens´s last blog ..Slaying Writer Dragons: Epic Skill #1, Mental Prowess =-.

  14. I’ve read through the comments here as I gathered my own thoughts about this post and it makes me realize I’ve actually heard a lot of (negative) comments about folks being on the computer more these days and watching less TV. It’s crazy to me that freelancers are often looked down on for their business and creativity, yet someone who doesn’t work (or is currently out of a job) isn’t viewed in that great of a negative manner for laying around watching TV all day. Hmmm…

    Now to the post: It seems that whether I’m watching TV, reading, or even just chatting with someone in line at the store, my mindwheel is always turning. It drives me mad sometimes but it comes in quite handy when I need inspiration for writing. Does anyone’s creative wheel EVER stop turning? LOL 😉
    .-= Michele | The Writer’s Round-About´s last blog ..Michele Tune On The Business of Blogging =-.

  15. Learning is never ending with writing. I love reading on a variety of topics. It stretches my mind. My achilles heel is implementing the material. Thanks for the post Taylor.


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