by Hunter Liguore
Writing classes and books are filled with tips on creating characters and developing plot, but very few ever offer the golden jewel that oversees all the other components meshing together to arrive at a story or novel: coherence. In fact, when an author discovers coherence for the first time, they will experience a place where words melt away, and the only thing that remains is a deep knowing and trust in how the story will take shape.
When the outside world interrupts our writing practice, we can find it hard to let it go enough to get back to work. Depending on the circumstances—job, social events, health issues, chores or family responsibilities, and certainly global changes—we might feel more like a chess pawn being moved around, than a disciplined writer turning out pages each day. If this resonates with you, then you understand incoherence, the state of mind we writers are most often trying to negotiate.
Incoherence tricks us into thinking ‘Time’ is our master and that there will always be a short supply of it. And if not lacking time, then some good old fashion quiet, a writer’s best friend—and by quiet, I don’t mean sheltering in the high mountains without Wi-Fi, but the mental silence that comes from coherence, which allows us to turn the tables on outer distractions, in order to regain our throne of peace, enough to create.
Every writer knows this secret place. How many times have you said, ‘The book just wrote itself,’ or ‘the words just spilled out like someone else wrote it?’ That’s the outer rim of what coherence has to offer. Coherence will help you regain control over your environment which is distracting or stealing your attention to write; or your body that will swing from being tired to super energetic impacting your productivity; or time, mentioned above, which appears to control your every attempt to write and complete things.
Coherence isn’t a mythological place like Narnia or Shangri-La that writer-heroes go in search of. No, it’s a state of mind that can actually be accessed and then utilized in your writing practice. In reality, if we stay writing long enough, we’ll reach this space of mental clarity—it can take hours or days or a long retreat. But what if you could access a deeper coherence quicker, or even better, never leave it?
That’s the golden jewel. It’s a writer’s superpower.
How do we find our way to coherence and remain there? It’s very easy. In fact, if you’re feeling harried and unsettled at the moment, or worried or distracted, and it’s preventing you from writing, I offer three suggestions (below) to use to regain your center. You’re just ten minutes to an hour away from coherence and good writing!
JOURNALING YOUR NOVEL (OR WRITING LIFE)
Start the day’s work by writing in a notebook (or tablet) about your book/story. You can start with an overview of your previous day’s progress and explore what you’d like to get written in the time you have. Consider the challenges you’re facing and how you’ll overcome them. In part, the journaling interrupts your thinking-mind and creates gaps that will offer great moments of contemplation. Contemplation slows your brain activity, moving you into a state of coherence.
At first, it might not seem like anything is changing, but it actually is. In simple terms, when we journal, we’re manually entering a new update to our brain that slows it down so we’re no longer in a state of emergency. Done daily—in the morning religiously and in the evening if possible—journaling will allow you to develop the inner quiet we writers need in order to imbue and inhabit an entirely other world and characters we’ve been tasked with writing.
Some magical things that will come from journaling your novel include:
Identifying story threads and themes that you weren’t able to see when you were in a state of incoherence.
Creating without censoring. Since you’re writing first in the journal without penalty, you’ll automatically carry this freedom into your work, allowing you to go deeper quicker.
Less dictated by time. The journal becomes your magical mirror to see where you’ve been and where you’ll go. Naturally, you’ll become the sole authority over the details and trust it.
Creates a record of your process by offering a view of your honest effort. You’ll see how much you’re doing or not enough and make adjustments to forge onward.
The more time you give to journaling, the more it’ll clear you out and create a deeper focus to complete the work. In my experience, the more I listen inwardly to what the story wants, the more nothing can shake or deter me from writing it.
THE WRITER’S WALK
My creative writing classes often start with a long walk. Back in the classroom, we get to work and it’s good writing—spontaneous writing! Here’s why: when the mind is occupied with your movement, it frees up your creativity to simply ‘be’ without effort. The observer is allowed to observe, to contemplate, to consider, and to let go. That’s coherence! I call it ‘effortless-allowing.’ It’s when we’re no longer concerned with our day-to-day problems or fighting with ourselves to hurry up to the next point in our writing journey. We are simply allowing things to unfold.
Most importantly, as writers, the story will begin to also appear to you effortlessly when you get (mentally) out of the way. We go from thinking and fussing over the particulars to letting it write itself. Walking before writing alleviates stress and brings us into an easy state of mind where we experience our place of unity with all things, giving us an even greatest sense of purpose in our writing. Our isolated room where we create, opens up and now includes the living world beyond the walls, one we don’t need to retreat from, but are moving in accord with.
Make time—any time—to walk before, during, or even after writing, and it will usher in a new intuitive clarity.
GAIN NEW KNOWLEDGE
One very simple tactic to bring our writing life into a state of coherence is to learn new information. Doing so, we change our focus from what we can’t do, or might feel burdened with, to what we can do by broadening our mind and reclaiming a sense of freedom. We can do this by reading, listening to author talks, or studying a new topic or skill. Just coming to the SFWA blog is a way to learn new information.
When we learn new things, we open to new possibilities. In the process, we discover solutions. Solutions are light, not heavy; they propel us forward past a state of inertia, challenging us to get beyond our everyday limitations. Sometimes it surprises me how effective it is to stop after a long, ‘hectic’ day and crack open a book on a subject related to what I’m writing. About ten minutes later, a download almost always comes that grants me a new entry-point into my novel with such clarity of purpose.
So take time to learn something new every day, in and around your writing. Make new discoveries. Go beyond what you know. Study. Research. Be inquisitive. Your coherence will grow and so will your strength in writing.
THE WRITER’S BUNNY HOLE
We might be confronted with days that cause us to fall down the 1000-foot-long bunny hole without a ladder. When we find ourselves here, it can seem despairing to find a way out. But I promise, if you take just one of these practices on faith that it will work —journaling, walking, gaining new knowledge—and just do it, within a small space of time, you’ll return to balance and be able to write again.
With time, you’ll find new strengths in your writing you never knew were there. Very soon, the words will melt away, and all that will remain is a deep knowing and trust in yourself.
Hunter Liguore offers creative writing classes at several universities, nature centers, walking trails, online, and virtually anyplace where writers converge. An award-winning author, her work has been received internationally, including her sci-fi screenplay, Everylife, a 16-time international winner in 2019/2020. She is writing for the next generation of readers who care about the world.