Yesterday, I was a bad writer. Since Saturday, I’ve been logging 1000+ words into Draft Five each day, but I failed to write anything on Tuesday. My evening was instead spent in a movie theater, seeing The Maze Runner (side rant: it was really awesome and I have lots to say about it, but if you’re curious, you can ask me in the comments. I will remain spoiler free).
Anyway, I think it’s important to remind myself, and ya’ll, that being a writer is not just about how many words you log daily. There’s a lot more to the process. It’s not about writing everyday as much as it’s about BEING a writer everyday, and thinking like a writer. And perhaps engaging in one of the following 10 activities –
1. Reading. Not only does reading develop your vocabulary and grammar, but it can offer a wide variety of other tools. Read within your genre to get a sense of tropes and commonalities – stuff that’s both cliché and necessary to sell your book. Read books about writing to gain a better grasp on your craft. Read the classics to get a good sense of language – the masters of old may be telling boring stories, but they’re lyrical wordsmiths. Read “fad books” to see what the world is devouring, and try to figure out why. And then maybe do the opposite. After all, Twilight is the anti-Harry Potter and Hunger Games is the anti-Twilight.
2. Watch movies – the good and the bad. Yup, I’m going to advocate for movies again. Movies are still stories. They tell of characters who struggle against an opposition. Movies tend to spawn some really memorable characters, in part because of the actors who portray them (Heath Ledger’s Joker is the only Joker that matters to me), but also because of brilliant writing. Movies also tend to add surprise endings more so than books, so that can be inspiring as well. Equally, watching a bad movie is a lot easier than getting through a bad book. You can bring your friends over and heckle. It usually lasts less than two hours. And it’ll show you what *not* to do in your story. (as a side note, I don’t really advocate TV viewing. It’s just too far removed in format from a novel. You can still learn stuff about character, but a lot of TV shows have filler B-plots or an episode-of-the-week format that doesn’t lend itself well to fiction writing.)
3. Research. No matter what kind of book you’re writing, you’re going to be writing about something you don’t know. It might be minor details, or research could form the backbone of your entire novel. I think research can be as inspiring as it is useful.
4. Plotting/Outlining. This one is a given. I think prep work is just as important as prose. Giving yourself a good sketch of your characters and a solid pathway will save you loads of time down the road. Be careful in overplanning though. Don’t plan every detail of a world you haven’t even written in yet, and don’t nitpick every character detail. You will learn more about your characters as you write them. Most details I write into my book are on an “as needed” basis. Like “oh, I want them to encounter a Babylonian god here. Better open Wikipedia and pick one.”
5. Listening to music. Kind of random, but this always inspires me. I like making playlists for my characters and designing a mental soundtrack for my book. I’ve come up with most of my ideas for big scenes while listening to music.
6. Making art. Again, sort of random, but this often inspires me. Creating some headers/faux book covers/fake trailers jumpstarts my creativity if I’ve been away from writing for a while.
7. Observing. How will we know how real people behave, how the real world functions, if we spend all of it inside writing? ;) I’m an introvert, so being social isn’t natural to me. But the more social we are, the more likely we are to meet some really fascinating characters out there. They could even be people who can help us on our way to publication (“hey, my sister-in-law is a literary agent”).
8. Editing/Revising. This is, quite honestly, how I spend most of my time now. A lot of revision IS writing new scenes, but most of it is rearranging old stuff to fit into my new outline. And quite obviously, this is a necessary step whenever you’re developing a book.
9. Researching the industry. Reading tips about query letters, researching agents in your genre, etc – or if you’re self-publishing, researching e-book platforms and indie promotion sites – may be premature. But that info will still be useful someday.
10. Visiting a critique group. Taking a night off to have drinks with your local writer’s group, assuming you’ve found a good one, can be a really strong use of your time. Bring some flash fiction or a short story, or even the first five pages of your novel, and hash it out with some fresh eyes.
Don’t get me wrong – it IS important to write frequently, and you shouldn’t use these 10 options above as a way to stall. The worst novelist is one who just talks about writing books instead of actually writing them. But we all wake up on the wrong side of the bed sometimes, or we go home with a skullsplitting headache, or time slips through our fingers before we can even say “9 PM!” If that’s the case, put the writing aside and spend your time on the above instead. You might not be writing that night, but you can still feel like a writer.