Hacking the Magic—How to Get into the Writing Zone Every Single Day

Today’s post is by author Jessica Brody.

As writers, we all want the magic. We all covet those seemingly rare moments when we sit down at the computer and the words just flow and the ideas are brilliant and our fingers have to fight to keep up with the gallons of inspiration pouring through us. Yes, as a writer, this is the holy grail. This is the part of the creative process we all fall in love with.

The only problem is, we never quite know it’s going to hit. How long it will last. Or when (if ever) it will return.

So we do the only thing we can do: wait (and pray) for the magic to come to us.

Well, I, for one, am not very good at waiting.

And I have book deadlines that don’t just vanish into thin air whenever the pixie dust runs dry.  Which is why, over the past ten years of writing full-time, I’ve had to come up with ways to create my own magic. I’ve had to figure out how to hack the creative process in any way that I can.

Hacking? Did She Say Hacking?!

I did, indeed, say hacking. And allow me to explain.

I use “hacking” in the absolute computer sense of the word. For example, when you can’t get access to a system or file that you desperately need, you’re forced to find another way in. A back door of sorts. You’re forced to “hack” the system. Cheat. Manipulate. Swindle.

And for the sake of the metaphor, the system or file that you so desperately need access to is your creativity.

Because sometimes when you’re pressed to make a deadline, or you’re trying frantically to finish that novel before the clock strikes midnight at the end of NaNoWriMo, or you’ve got a paper due in eight hours, then a little hacking is exactly what you need to make it through.

The sad reality of the writer life is this: we don’t always have time for the magic of creation to strike. We don’t always have the luxury of waiting for our muse to get off its butt and show up. Sometimes we have to sit down and do the work alone. And I’ll tell you from years and years of experience, writing without your muse is a cold and barren place to be.

Which is why I’ve found ways to cheat.

Yes. Cheat. I’ve found ways to trick my brain into feeling motivated and staying focused on the project at hand. I guess you could say I’ve found a ways to manufacture inspiration, like a mad scientist in a lab (with the goggles and the crazy hair and everything!).

And, sure, it may not be as good as the real thing (because, let’s face it, it never is), but sometimes when you’re hungry, you just have to settle for the Very Berry yogurt parfait when all you really want is the triple-fudge ice-cream sundae. Sometimes you have to get the book or article or paper or short story written. Or you may have to keep that word count up until your muse decides to come back from its extended European vacation that it completely forgot to tell you about.

I’m going to share one of my secret hacks with you that helped me write my 85,000-word rough draft of Boys of Summer  in only six weeks when I was on a super-tight publishing schedule.

What This Hack Is All About

The science behind this hack is called Brainwave Entrainment. You can Google it if you want and find all the articles with the big words and fancy science lingo, but I’m going to break it down simply for you right here.

For every activity your brain performs, it vibrates at a certain frequency. This includes sleeping, meditating, reading, watching TV, and yes—writing!

You know when you fall into one of those amazing trancelike states when you’re writing like the wind and you’re laser-focused on the page and World War III could be going on outside and you wouldn’t even notice? Well, that’s when your brain is vibrating at a very specific frequency—when you’re “in the zone.”

So wouldn’t it solve all of your writerly problems if you could just “induce” that state? Simply tell your brain to go to that exact same place every day?

Well, abracadabra-huzzah! You can.

Brain Waves AppAnd it’s called Brainwave Entrainment. Essentially, it’s the act of stimulating your brain with the exact frequency you want it to match. So if you play that desired frequency into your headphones, your brain will automatically pick up the frequency and sync to it. Brains are awesome like that.

It sounds like magic, doesn’t it? Well, it sort of feels that way. But it’s actually a pretty old technology that’s been around for decades. There was an article about it in the Scientific American in 1973, but now, combined with the power and convenience of apps, it’s easier than ever to take advantage of this technology.

There are several apps that do Brainwave Entrainment. I’ll link to a few good ones below, but here is my favorite:

It’s called Brainwave Entrainment: 32 Binaural Programs. It’s currently $3.99 in the Apple app store (see links below for some free options) and here’s how to use it in three simple steps.

1) Choose your Brainwave or Program  

Jessica Brody - brainstormThis is the frequency that your brain will “sync up” or “entrain” to. In other words, the desired state of mind that you want. On its own the brainwave sounds like a low rumbling or a vibration. But don’t worry if it sounds odd to you, in step 2, we’ll be adding sounds to mask it.

In this screen shot, I’ve chosen “Brainstorm” as my program. I use this program for writing too. But other authors have told me they really like the Creativity Boost program for writing. They’re quite similar, so you can’t really go wrong.  Play around with the various programs and find the one that works best for you.

2) Choose your Ambient Sound or Music

This is the sound that will play over the brainwave frequency to help mask it. I admit, the frequency on its own is a little hard to listen to. It kind of rattles my bones a bit (although you’re more than welcome to try it!) Which is why I usually set the ambient sound louder than the brainwave sound.

Check out this screen shot above to see where my volume levels are set at (Brainwave is at about 35% volume, while Ambience is at 100%). Tweak your levels until you find what’s right for you. But you should be able to still hear the brainwave frequency at least a little bit in the background. I wouldn’t set it so low that it’s completely inaudible.

Jessica Brody - backgroundThe app has a bunch of really great built-in ambient sounds, such as waterfall, pink noise, forest, flowing creek, rain, thunder, etc. (see screen shot). I like using the waterfall sound. I think it masks the brainwave noise the best. But again, play around with it. Everyone is different!

If none of these built-in sounds strike your fancy, you can choose any of your iTunes playlists directly from the app, and it will play those songs in the background instead of an ambient noise. This is great if you’re the kind of writer who likes to write to music or custom playlists while you work.

3) Choose Your Duration

Finally, you can set a timer for how long you’d like the brainwave program to run. If you’re doing a word sprint, or you have a limited amount of writing time, set it for thirty minutes or an hour (or however long you want to write). It will automatically fade out when it’s done. If you just want to go and go until you can’t go no more, then set it for hours hours and turn it off manually when you’re done.

Here are some more Brainwave Entrainment Apps to check out (and they’re free!):

  • Brain Waves – Binaural Beats | Android
    With this app you can easily generate pure waves that will stimulate your concentration, meditation, or relaxation.
  • Binaural Beats Therapy | Android
    Binaural beats music is used by people all over the world as a form of “brainwave entrainment”—a process used to entrain the brain into different states that contribute positively to well-being and personal development.
  • Binaural Beats | iOS
    This is a simple, clean app for binaural beats that won’t drain your battery or interfere with your music, audiobooks, etc.

So, that’s it! That’s how to hack your own brain and get into the sacred writing “zone” every single time you sit down to write, no matter where your muse has decided to fly off to.

I hope this creativity hack helps you as much as it’s helped me. Because although, yes, there are days when the dogs are barking and a construction crew is ripping a hole in the earth outside your window, and the sky is falling and you hardly even notice because you’re just so darn captivated by that magical, mystical force we call “inspiration,” those days don’t always happen when we need them to. And we certainly can’t count on them when the clock is ticking or the publisher is waiting or the bills need to be paid.

Some days we just need just a little bit of help. Some days we have to create our own magic.

Jessica Brody head shotJessica Brody is an international best-selling author of more than a dozen novels for teens, tweens, and adults, including Boys of Summer and A Week of Mondays. Her books have been published and translated in over twenty-three countries and two are currently in development as major motion pictures. Visit her online at her website here.

For a limited time, you can get Jessica’s online course, Writing Mastery: Productivity Hacks for Writers, for only $21! (Regular price $30). You’ll learn more than twenty simple strategies to boost productivity, inspire creativity, and get more done in less time! Click here to get lifetime access to this course!

4 Responses to “Hacking the Magic—How to Get into the Writing Zone Every Single Day”

  1. Maggie Smith July 27, 2016 at 12:52 pm #

    nothing that works on a regular computer, not a phone or an apple product?

    • Coach Comeback August 3, 2016 at 9:32 am #

      There are hundreds of brainwave Entrainment sounds on youtube. I just search for the longest ones with sounds I like, then I create a playlist and save them. That way you dont have to search each time you want to listen. And there are enough in my playlist to last a full work day easy. Another option is if you have one you like on yoututbe but it is short, google “youtube repeater”. There are a few dozen sites that will make any youtube video run in a constant loop so you can do it from your computer like I do.

      and as a final option, there is a new app I have been using recently that I kind of like. I think the science behind it is the coolest thing. It is called Focus At Will (http://coachlikes.com/tofocus) and it works for your app as well as from the web. Similar to Coffitivity (spelling?) only i think Focus@will has more options. ANyway… good luck. Hope that helps

  2. Kristy K. James September 11, 2016 at 7:39 pm #

    I don’t even know how I found this article, but I’m so glad I did! I’ve already found a few YouTube videos to listen to – and loaded Niagara Falls to Spotify about twenty times. LOL…it’s less than 10 minutes long. With the crazy life I live – and lack of sleep to go with it – I need all the help I can get. 🙂

  3. Karlene Cameron November 2, 2016 at 8:43 pm #

    Jessica, this was a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing this information. I had no idea something like this existed — let alone be able to ‘hack’ my way into it! You can bet I’ll check out the app!

    And just in time for those impossible word counts during NaNoWriMo!

    Thank you!

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