Writing: Exercise for Your Mind

February 24th, 2009

It’s the last week of February! You know what that means:

Yes…the final romance give-away from megcabot.com!

But before I get into that I want to talk about the #1 question I got while I was on my mini-tour this past week. And that was, surprisingly, not “Where do you get your inspiration?” but “Where do you get your inspiration to sit and write so much for so long?”

This question is much easier to answer than “Where do you get your inspiration?” With practice, ANYONE can learn to sit and focus on a project for hours at a time (with breaks. You need to take little breaks every so often, or you’ll get carpals). You can do boring homework assignments, work on a novel, even write a long blog entry, and never get distracted if you know the right trick!

The trick is something I discovered a long time ago, and it’s probably something you already do! But anyway, for me it came about from having little brothers (like Allie Finkle):


Yes, that’s me in the middle wearing a turtleneck that matches my mom’s!

Just like in the Allie Finkle books, my parents decided to move to a big crazy (haunted, I was convinced) house when I was nine:


My old house in Bloomington, IN! My room was the one on the top floor there with the bay window over the porch.


My room, circa 1978. If you read the Mediator series, there’s the phone, like Suze’s, on which no one ever called. PS I bought that stuffed beagle with my own money because I thought people would think it was real and try to pet it. Then I could be like, “Oh, it’s not real!” But no one ever mistook it for a real beagle. I was so disappointed.

Anyway, my parents cleverly decided to stick all three of us kids on the top floor together (with one bathroom) thinking we would entertain ourselves without disturbing their sleep. My brothers proceeded to be SO LOUD (for more on this, see MOVING DAY, Allie Finkle Book #1), I started listening to music while wearing headphones when I did my homework (and worked on my Star Wars fan fiction), so the noise my brothers were making wouldn’t distract me.

It worked!


Here is my brother Matt telling me something very very important on the back deck of our house. I have no idea what year that is, but I dig my way cool perm and boyfriend jeans.

Now as a consequence I can’t focus on anything unless I am listening to loud music while wearing headphones.

Yes! That is the secret of how I write so much. Loud music–particularly of the pop, rock, and alternative variety–is the only thing that gets me going when I’m writing! It motivates me, keeps me awake, and also keeps me focused. Isn’t this what you do, too?

But it has to be the RIGHT music, right?

Right now, for instance, I am listening to Rick Springfield’s “Jesse’s Girl” (which in 1981 my mom accused me of thinking was written about me). I have it on my current playlist, which includes:

“Jesse’s Girl” by Rick Springfield, written about Meg Cabot in 1981 (even though I didn’t know anyone named Jesse nor was I ever his girl, and no, this is not where I got the name Jesse for the Mediator series)
“Filthy Gorgeous” by Scissor Sisters
“Hey Boy” by The Blow
“My Life Would S**K Without You” by Kelly Clarkson
“Johnny Sunshine” by Liz Phair
“Devil Town” by Tony Lucca
“Would You Be My Boyfriend” by The Bird and the Bee (OK, this isn’t really the title, but the real title is really dirty)
“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” by Beyoncé
“The Bomb” by BitterSweet
“Keeps Gettin’ Better” by Christina Aguilera
“Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” by Sophie B. Hawkins
“Use Your Love” by Katy Perry

I’ve also thrown in some songs by Pink (“Funhouse” and “So What?”) and some songs from the Gossip Girl soundtrack–“Cities in Dust” by Junkie XL and “Sour Cherry” by the Kills.

Guess what it’s impossible to do with playlists like the one above? Feel bored, distracted, or uninspired while you are writing! Right?

Why? Because these songs are perfect to dance to! Which means they are perfect to write to.

Because when you write, you are doing aerobic exercise…only you are doing it with your brain.

See, that is the problem. Hardly anyone seems to realize this! Writing is aerobics for your mind.

Seriously, scientists have discovered that people who do strenuous mental exercise (such as creative writing or complicated math problems) crave carbs when they’re done, just like people who do strenuous physical exercise!

So it makes sense we’d need to listen to loud, fast, upbeat music while we write.

(This also explains our intense cravings for M&Ms at the end of each chapter we finish.)

Note: Some people need complete silence when they write. But it’s hard to find complete silence in this crazy loud world, isn’t it?


Okay this picture has nothing to do with anything. It’s just a photo I found of Henrietta as a kitten in my old NYC studio apt. bathroom. Isn’t she CUTE?????

I make a new playlist with all new songs about every ten days to mix things up. My playlists are never specific to any particular book. They’re just whatever I happen to be listening to at any given moment that makes me feel like dancing.

I know it’s popular right now for authors to make playlists for specific books, then share those playlists with their readers.

But honestly, my playlists contain almost exclusively dance music.

This wouldn’t work for readers to listen to while reading! I mean, imagine reading the scene on the rock in the arboretum in “Avalon High” while listening to “Bootylicious!”

So, anyway, that’s how I do it. No big mystery. It’s courtesy of Avril, Ashlee, Alanis, and Brittany, among many, many others!

Some people say they can’t write to songs that have lyrics in them, and that’s totally understandable. Many authors I know write to orchestral movie soundtracks, like “Braveheart,” or to classical music.

Of course you just have to find what works for you! What kind of music gets you motivated, makes you feel like dancing? Play that while you’re writing, and you won’t feel like quitting. Channel that physical energy into your book!

Anyway, now that we’ve cleared THAT up:

This week I’m giving away….

Copies of AIRHEAD!!!

That’s right, you can win a copy of AIRHEAD!

But only if you email me with YOUR favorite artist for me to add to my next playlist (not the actual song! Just the artist and the name of the song! I don’t want to contribute to musical piracy)!

Yes, I want to know who YOU are listening to! Here are the rules:

Edited on February 26: This contest is now over. Thanks for entering!

I will try to let you know if you’ve won but no guarantees because I’m crazy busy. Imagine your happy surprise when you find a book in your mailbox!

Meanwhile:

Queen of Babble Gets Hitched won a Best Chick Lit award (well, okay…an honorable mention) from the All About Romance Reader Poll! I got an amazing sparkly jewel in my inbox:

Check out my acceptance speech—don’t worry, it’s way under 45 seconds—and find lots of awesome book recommendations for those of you wondering, “Hmmm, I’m bored, what should I read next?” here.

And click here for a chance to win a free advanced reader copy of Being Nikki, or a copy of Best Friends and Drama Queens!

OK: Start your recommendations!

More later.

Much love,

Meg