Setting The Mood to Write

I listened to a podcast about writing (podcasts 85 and 86) recently and the thing that really stuck out to me from her lecture was using behavioral elements to induce writing. Things like using space, triggers, and rewards to stimulate and effect greater chances of writing.

It got me to thinking about my triggers to write. I’m certainly not perfect at writing and there are days I don’t really have motivation, but unconsciously, I’ve developed some of these mechanisms to turn writing into a habit and to increase my chance of writing in a day.

First, the thing I’ve most recently incorporated is streaking.

No, not running around naked.

Streaking. Keeping a streak. I listened to another podcast a LONG time ago about streaking. It’s actually the only podcast this particular person put out and it’s all about creating and maintaining a streak – the consecutive number of days you accomplish a certain task.

His example was flossing. He was never serious about flossing until he hung up a calendar and marked off the days. Once he had a streak going, it was easier to justify the three minutes it takes to floss daily. First, there’s the reminder of the calendar to get it done and then there’s the reward of crossing off another day.

I decided to incorporate that into my routine a week ago now. I’ve actually had magnificent success in that week doing this.

So, now, one of my triggers to engage in writing is seeing the calendar on my wall about it. I see it every day and it reminds me that I need to write SOMETHING, even if it’s just a poem or a blog post or editing 10 pages of my novel. Every day, I need to get something on the page.

I used to live in the world of “I write when I can or when I’m motivated”, but everyone who has seen any measure of writing success says that’s not the way to do it. Writing every day is essential to build up writing muscles. So, now, I do that.

But, what about when I sit down to write and I’m just not feeling it? I’m struggling to get anything out or I can’t think or I can’t focus.

Enter in trigger #2.


I am not one who can write in silence. I need my brain to be engaged in listening to music (lyricless of course) in order to get my best writing and best focus. I’m sure there’s some scientific explanation for that, but I haven’t yet googled that, probably because I’m trying to focus on actually writing these days and not getting lost in the internet. Frankly, that still happens far more than I’d like.

My go-to writing music is soundtrack mixes on youtube. I’ve recently discovered the house theme compilations from Game of Thrones and have been listening to those (House Targaryen is the best, is it not???). Otherwise, there are plenty of channels that post their own movie soundtrack mixes. I’m fairly particular these days to Gladiator, Transformers, The Last Samurai, Inception and Interstellar. Those are some great musical themes.

So, for me, listening to music is its own trigger and reward. The music triggers my brain to start thinking and writing and then the reward comes from 1. actually accomplishing writing and 2. listening to beautiful music, especially as it becomes more familiar to me.

Another trigger, and this one seems ridiculous to even mention, but it’s actually saying it out loud.

Yes, saying out loud to my kids “I’m going to do some editing now”. Even just saying it out loud and to someone else (yes, even my toddlers) makes me feel accountable to actually do it. They aren’t going to hold me accountable. And they certainly would rather I played with them instead of sitting curled up with my laptop, but I know that if I’m going to take writing seriously, I have to start making it a priority in my day.

I have 100 other things on my plate every day, but you know what? So does everyone else. So, either I have to decide I’m going to do this or I have to stop altogether.

Stopping altogether has zero appeal to me, so I guess I just need to keep going and I need to keep choosing to write.

Right now, the accomplishment of writing is its own reward for me. Maybe that sounds lame and cheesy, but it’s the truth. Getting through another chapter of editing or writing up a blog post or writing a silly little poem is a reward for me. Maybe someday that will wear off and I’ll need to think of more external rewards, but I’ll ride this ‘writing is its own reward’ train for as long as I possibly can.

What about you? What do you do? Do you use triggers and rewards?