I'm not joking. Spray your manuscript with cologne. And I don't mean you need to do it because it stinks. I mean you need to it, because it's part of good writing. What am I talking about? Read on, my friends, read on.
I think a lot about how the human mind works. (Some say too much. lol) But over the years I've learned something that, for many, seems counterintuitive. When I was growing up, I was pretty close to another kid who had pretty severe ADD, before it was super-trendy. He used to tell me that the only way he could concentrate on his homework was to have music on, and that never made sense to me. Wouldn't that be another distraction?
Well, over the years I've learned something about my own mind. I don't have ADD, but I have some sensory issues that make me easily overwhelmed. Clutter is stultifying to me, groups people oppressive, and jarring or repetitive noises (even when quiet) are literally painful. I've found ways over the years of managing a lot of that, but I never understood why a couple of my tricks were helpful.
One thing that helps me when I'm in a crowd, like out and about, is if I'm listening to music in headphones. Not necessarily so loud I can't hear the people I'm with, but loud enough that I can clearly hear it. Why would that help? It's more noise! Ridiculous!
Another thing that helps is scent. Burning incense. Wearing a bit cologne. Nothing overwhelming, but something that stands out that I can smell. And what does that have to do with anything else?
Then one day I realized some others I do, subconsciously, to help manage those situations, and it finally dawned on me. By giving myself one, single sensory input that's stronger than the others, I'm giving my brain something to focus on, rather than splitting its focus, and suddenly the other things that are around not only are "quieter" but are more manageable. The strong sensory input takes the lead portion of my brain, so there's no more competition for that spot. The brain is then more free to process the rest and prioritize appropriately.
Here's where we get the writing part.
I've always sort of understood the idea of anchors in writing. Of needing to help ground your readers so that they don't feel like they're just floating around in your narrative. An unanchored reader feels a bit lost and bit aimless.
I got that intellectually years ago.
But it wasn't until I figured out this sensory stuff that it truly clicked with me what that anchoring stuff is all about. It's about giving the reader a focal point or something that draws them through the narrative or through the passage. It's about bringing something to the forefront to help give the reader's brain a chance to process and prioritize everything else.
Often times, these anchors are the things that seem unnecessary. Rich settings. Props in characters' hands. Objects in the space. The weather. The smells. Sounds. Writers often want to cut them out when they get in slash-and-tighten mode. Anchors don't always seem to advance plot or character development. And if they don't do that they need to go, right?
Well, I hardly need to wear a little cologne to get through my day in a literal sense. I don't need to burn incense to write technically. Wearing headphones in the mall doesn't contribute to my shopping or socializing experience.
Their contribution is not to the direct activity. Their contribution is toward my ability to effectively engage in the activities. Just as your anchors may not contribute directly to your character development or to the advancement of your plot, but they are essential parts of helping your reader engage with your narrative in an effective way.
So take out that manuscript and spray it with a little cologne.