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How to Write When You’re Not Writing

Believe you me, I do the same thing you do. In fact, I’m doing it right now. (OK, not right now, as obviously at this very moment I’m typing this blog post…) I’m all ready to start up my day and…I sit here in front of my computer and sigh. For me, it’s not because I don’t know what to do or write…it’s because I have too much to do or write.

It’s a privileged problem to have, I realize. But my point is, no matter who we are or what we’re going, from time to time we will sit and stare at our computers wistfully, wondering what the hell to do first, next, or at all.

There will be no sitting and staring at the computer! Or at least, not for long. 

Because this is the Summer of Creativity!

In my last post, I announced my plan to help you (and let’s face it, myself) get motivated to make this the most creative summer yet; finding the time and making yourself and your craft a priority.

We’re gonna do this together by trying out different tips and tricks to get our writing on.

I know this idea is easier said than done, especially if the only deadline you have is a self-proposed one. But as you know, it’s still just as important to hold yourself accountable when it comes to your work.

The more you write, the better you get. That’s just a fact. And the more you get in the habit of doing it regularly, the more it will just become a part of your daily life. And you’ll be more happy and satisfied. Ahh.

So, how we we make that so?

We take Hobbit steps.

Yes, I know–it’s supposed to be ‘baby steps’, and Hobbit feet are really kind of gross…but. Tolkien. Lord of the Rings. Hobbits. Need I say more?

And as Hobbits are typically between two and four feet tall, their steps are small. So let’s be like Hobbits. (I’m all for the drinking and eating, too.)

If you feel like you’re having a hard time getting anything done with your writing project, let’s start small.

Now I realize, this isn’t anything new. You’ve heard this all before, regarding many different things in your life. But it also bears repeating when it comes to writing.

As I mentioned previously, even writing for just a few minutes every day counts.

The other great thing about Hobbits is that, although they are simple-minded and tend not to fuss about much, they are very clever and can think on their hairy feet. At least this was certainly the case with Merry, Pippin, Frodo and Sam.

And that really helps with the business of writing.

It’s good to have a plan and be scheduled, which is also very much a Hobbit thing. But it’s also good to realize that, when you are sitting down to work in your allotted time, you don’t have to write.

Wait. Did I just say you don't have to write?

I did indeed.

Let’s say you want to get your Stephen King Four Pages a Day in. You sit down, you stare…nothin’. Instead of getting all panicky, take a deep breath and think…what else can I do for my creative muse?

You’ve heard how sometimes we need to step away from something for a bit to give our minds a break, right? How when you’re studying super hard, wracking your brain to come up with the perfect words for your proposal, or finishing that chapter, sometimes the best thing to do is walk away? This is true.

But in our case, let’s not entirely walk away. Let’s do something else, something that will still put a satisfying check mark next to our ‘Write Four Pages’ task. Here’s some ideas:

Let's explore these, shall we?

  1. Research: Glob knows, if you are writing a novel, there is endless research to be done. This is also true if you’re writing non-fiction, or sometimes even a blog post. 
  2. Character Development: Let’s face it–there is always more work that can be done with your characters. Are they acting consistently? Does their dialog style really fit their voice? How are they relating to other characters? Maybe a Character Interview would help you dig deeper? (shameless plug here, but it’s true.)
  3. World Building: Another endless work in progress! Have you thought about all of the details of your world? The architecture, the overall color scheme, the mood? Poking around on Pinterest and making a specific board for your story is a great way to get some ideas. Or taking a walk in the cemetery!
  4. Brainstorming: Sometimes the best way to get ideas is to just sit and let yourself brainstorm. This works well by yourself or with a partner–or a writing group. Sometimes we just need to talk things to death with someone else to hear our ideas out loud, whether or not we’re seeking actual ideas from anyone else.
  5. Reading: If you’re writing a fantasy novel, read some fantasy. This goes for any genre you’re writing about. A tip I recently received was that if you want to sell your book or screenplay, make sure what you’re reading is current. I mean, I love me some LOTR, but in order to see what is working nowadays, it’s good to see what’s out in the scene. Writing books are so helpful, too.
  6. Free-writing: I can never say enough about this exercise. In the spirit of Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, letting your brain spill out onto three whole pages is some serious magic-making. Much of it ends up being nothing, but oh, when you get those gems! This can really help you come up with fabulous ideas when you feel stuck in your story, or feeling motivated to get those story ideas on paper in general.
  7. Walking: Sometimes walking away is the best thing you can do, especially if you’re heading out for a walk. It’s been proven that the actual act of walking can stimulate your creativity up to 60%. It’s almost a guarantee, if I go for a walk I practically want to run home to write down the ideas that pop up in my head before I forget them!

Now if you want to get technical, yes, most of these tips do not count as actually writing.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t count as getting some important work done, and making progress. In fact, each one can help you do the overall work that is essential.

Because writing the words down is only part of the work. Creating a story encompasses way more than that.

So! Step One? Pick a time every day–and I mean every day–to work on your story, or your writing-in-progress. And if you can’t get any words down during that allotted time, try one of these tips and feel good and accomplished! Added bonus: you’ll be more motivated to actually get some writing done the next time.

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