If you’ve done much writing at all, you’ll have heard advice from dozens of professionals on how to write with all your talent and stay on schedule. There are exercises and outlining rules and reminders that it’s not about inspiration, it’s about perspiration!
And today I’d like to add my own.
My favorite way to get ready to write is to do anything else for awhile.
I can’t claim credit for this one. I don’t think he was the first to correlate the two, but Stephen King is credited with the quite pithy phrase “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.”
I always have time to read. I bring a book with me to every appointment and am quite upset to report that none of my doctors, mechanics, DMV employees or salon appointments ever start even the smallest bit late, despite my attempts to get them to chill out so I can finish a page or two. Inconsiderate of my time though they are, I still try to make plenty of time to read. Finding new ideas, new techniques, taking flights of the imagination, it’s wonderful to sink into someone else’s skillset and let go for a bit.
I’ve spoken at length about how obsessed I am with music while writing, but music while not writing is also a great way to get ready for novels. I regularly go to concerts and orchestras or stop to listen to street performers…there’s so much inspiration in instruments and voices. They’re great for character studies, for dissolving into emotion, and–for me at least–a sense of the magical in the physical world. People all with their emotions surging, abandoning themselves in vibrations in the air, resonating with each other and their own memories, how can it be anything but transcendental.
On top of that, music is demonstrably shown to increase brain activity, so you really open yourself up to new thoughts while relaxing from the active forms of thinking. At the last concert I attended, I got an idea for several characters and a short story!
Artwork! History! Ambiance! Whatever you go for, it’s hard to walk out of a museum without feeling inspired. So many stories start with poignant images or stories that stick with us. So go find some!
Like with reading, these can be lovely, immersive yet less-active way to study how stories are told, how characters take shape, and different ways to convey important moments. Most folks have one of these they’re most keen on, so playing with different media can be really useful. And, of course, it’s fun. As I’m writing this, I’m watching Great British Bake Off which is fantastic for seeing different ways people demonstrate kindness, stress, and competence. It’s also just delightful and soothes me. We can always use a bit of soothing.
Build or Make
Construct something! Make your own drawings or paintings or sculptures! This can be soothing, but it also can help get us into the “shower thought” headspace when we relax the parts of our brains used to handling executive functions like decision making, increase dopamine, and distract us. Many folks aware of mindfulness or meditation might see the similarities in those practices, and it’s often true! Doing something that’s not terribly complex but is something that makes us happy and keeps us distracted can be wonderful for turning thoughts internally, and allow us to find new ideas or solutions to old problems that we might not have stumbled across if we bashed ourselves against them head on.
I feel a bit yuppie saying this one, but it’s true! Go somewhere new! That can be Europe or on safari or a park, historical site, or hell, even a bar. One of the bars I’ve written into Feeding Frenzy is based on an actual establishment I’ve been to which I found so perfect for the atmosphere I was trying to build. I didn’t go with that intent, I just happened to be there and later on could draw on that memory. I keep a notebook with me when I’m going anywhere new so I can scribble a few impressions in case I want to reference them later.
If I ever stop learning, go ahead and tip me overboard, please. New skills, new facts, new techniques, we can always pick something up! Some of my best experiences have been learning how to play harmonica, to fence, and how to solder different metals. None of these are directly related to anything I write about, but again, it helps me think of things in new ways, to flesh out things I might know about some characters, and new opportunities for places where I can enter that “shower thought” space. Check your town or local colleges for adult education or class monitoring.
So, if you’re serious about writing, stop this instant!