What works—and what doesn’t work—for me when I am writing fiction:
1) I cannot listen to music. Any music of any kind. Back when I was a punkrock whippersnapper I could listen to any music while I wrote, provided it did not contain LYRICS. Jazz, classical, ambient, anything. As long as the human voice was not present, I was good to go. But now, and I have no idea why this is the case, I need to tune out everything in order to write. Music to prep and to unwind is fine; but I need silence in order to compose.
2) I cannot READ fiction while actively engaged on a fiction writing project of my own. (With one exception; see below.) This is also a fairly recent development. I don’t know why but reading fiction messes me up when I am trying to write it. I haven’t read a single novel for the 18 months or so that I’ve been writing the BALLARD trilogy of e-novellas. So my nightstand has featured lots of journalism, science writing, philosophy/religion, and …
3) Comic books! For reasons equally unbeknownst to me, I CAN read graphic novels while writing fiction. They don’t interfere with MY rhythm or cadence or “voice” the way other kinds of fiction do. Besides, I mainly just try to look at the pictures, anyway. 🙂
4) It can help, sometimes, to have a drink. One drink, on certain days, at certain points in the story, makes things flow and can allow me to take chances and embark on flights of fancy I might otherwise reject or not even come up with in the first place. But never more than one drink. More than one drink and I start listening to music and do not write anymore.
5) I have to get SOMETHING done every day. My “average” output is in the 500-1,000 words per day range. But that’s so much an “average” as to be almost unmeaningful. What IS meaningful, for me, is: write every day, even if it’s only a few lousy sentences. Five straight days of 100 words per day, struggling and squirming all the way, is better for the project than two days out of five at 500-1,000 words per day. I don’t know why. I just know that I’ll be in a better place overall if I do not skip days.
6) I don’t get anything that’s worth a damn in under 2 hours … and nothing good happens after 4 hours. That window constitutes my sweet spot.
7) I REALLY REALLY REALLY have to work hard to ignore the internet while writing fiction. Twitter is especially pernicious given it is my chief source of news these days: that rabbit hole is always just one click away. I have not yet come up with a foolproof way to stay offline while writing.
8) Dreams are NEVER useful as fodder for writing. I mainly dream adolescent James Bond alien invasion epics in which I save the world; I have dubbed these “Mikey Kiley action adventure dreams.” They are ridiculous and fun (at least for me) but completely useless as a source of ideas for my work. (Except for the sense of the apocalyptic which suffuses almost everything I write and which I am convinced results from being taught how to hide under my desk at school during the Cuban missile crisis in order to survive a nuclear attack.)