Monday, June 13, 2011

Props and Prompts

(Image from

I'm a procrastinator. Generally I will do just about anything to avoid sitting down to work. Therefore I've evolved a certain routine to get me writing, prompts that tell me 'It's Work Time' rather than 'It's Muck Around On Twitter Time'. The idea is that if you do the same thing every time you sit down to work, your subconscious will get itself into work mode and it will be ready to go. This is particularly useful when you don't work in an office, but rather a cluttered corner of your own home.

Over the years I've tried lots of writing prompts. I have a spray bottle of scent, for example, that I can spray around when I am seriously distracted, with the idea that the smell will remind me to be productive. (This one doesn't work so well, because I like the smell so much that I often spray it around when I'm not working, too. Thereby confusing my subconscious mind, but improving the atmosphere of my house.)

My most basic essential prompt is a cup of tea. I've tried doing this with a glass of water instead, since it's so important to drink lots of water, but for some reason only a hot beverage really works. It's either a cup of jasmine green tea (if I'm off caffeine) or a cup of PG Tips with milk, preferably strong enough to leave tannin rings on everything it touches.

I get through a frankly obscene amount of tea every working day.

My other habitual prompt is music. I make a sound track for every book I write—usually it's an organic thing, that grows as I write the book, but sometimes I plan it out in advance—and I only listen to that music when I'm writing, or thinking about my book. Other times, I play the radio or listen to other CDs. This works even better than the tea, and I know this because it works in reverse, too. I can have a cup of tea any old time and I don't always think about my book; but if I hear one of the songs on my soundtrack when I'm away from my desk, say on the radio or the TV, I immediately think about my characters. If I've got my iPod on shuffle and one of my soundtrack songs comes up, I'm transported back to the world of my story, even if the song is from the soundtrack to a book I wrote years ago.

To be accurate, I guess that my tea is a writing prop, whereas my soundtrack is a writing prompt. (That extra m and t make all the difference.)

What are your writing props, or prompts?

Come back on Thursday when Anna will be posting...


  1. Love that, Julie. I've never quite got myself into soundtrack development, but having said that, there's a couple of tracks that always bring the current WIP to mind.

    Without meaning to, I seem to have set up a trip to Costa's in Keswick as a writing prompt. If I can kick off my shoes and curl up on a sofa, netbook on lap, index cards on the table, with a capuccino.... the words just flow.

    Expensive and inconvenient habit... ;-)

  2. I forgot to mention, I also use a BIG photo of my hero...

  3. I work very well in coffee shops too, Anna.

  4. I find I just have to be very stern with myself and get a bit angry about all the time wasted on the internet etc. If I sit down and open the WIP straight away instead of Facebook or whatever, then usually I'll get sucked into the story and want to carry on. And yes, photos of the hero do help a lot (vbg)!

  5. Earplugs. I put them it, and it's work time. I have one in as I type this. It's fair warning to my brain that it's ALMOST work time. :)

  6. I have started 'going dark' I turn off my mobile and the internet. That seems to be working. Have also discovered long train journeys work (but that is a tad expensive too).

    My local Starbucks with my soundtrack ringing in my ears works if I'm on the first draft but useless if I'm revising.