This is a guest post by writer Suzanne M. Brazil. Suzanne is a freelance writer and editor living in a recently empty nest in the suburbs of Chicago. Her work has been featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Writer’s Digest, The Chicago Daily Herald and many local publications. She is a frequent blog contributor and is working on the second draft of her first novel. You can connect with Suzanne on her website, and Facebook and Twitter.This post is Part I in a two-part post series on “When Not Writing IS Writing.” Enjoy!
My favorite writing mentor recently shared a liberating secret: “No one knows how to write a novel.” Was she lying? Novels abound. We’re dripping with them. Surely someone has figured out the right way? Turns out, not so much. What successful novelists have figured out is their way.
This is also true of establishing a writing practice.
Our job as writers is to figure out what works for us. By all means, we can and should try out what’s worked for the authors we admire (or envy). Then we should throw most of it away and keep only what works for us.
Search the internet for writing tips of rich and famous authors and you’ll find word count ranges and “write every day” admonishments.
The same mentor who didn’t know how to write a novel (yet did) shared another secret: Sometimes not writing is writing.
It’s possible to work through plot issues and character questions without facing your laptop. Just because you haven’t added words or pages to your stack, you have permission to count thinking as writing.
What might this look like in real life?
You’re pretending to watch The Walking Dead with your family though they know you loathe zombies. You zone out and mentally manipulate your main characters through various plot points as someone gets their face eaten on TV.
You’re loading the dishwasher and envisioning your protagonist progressing down two divergent paths. You follow each course of action in your mind as you scrape crusty lasagna from the plates. You realize one path heightens the tension while the other adds nothing to the story.
You’ve finished the latest draft of your manuscript and it’s too soon for a read-through. You could start a new story or pitch that guest post you’ve been thinking of, but instead:
- You head for a walk in the forest preserve, noting the smells, sounds and images that stimulate your senses.
- You take in a play, paying attention to sparkling dialogue, crisp timing, and scene setting.
- You pitch a chair at an outdoor concert and observe distinguishing characteristics of the eclectic crowd.
The ingredients that make you a writer need time and space to come together and marinate. Spending time in the following ways adds flavor and substance to life, and therefore, your writing:
- Classes on craft
- Networking with other writers (critique groups, writing support groups, etc.)
- Family and Friends (only if you want them to come to your Pushcart Award ceremony)
- Performance art, cultural exhibits, etc.
Stephen King famously said, “Life isn’t a support system for art.” Remember, writing adds to your life, supports your life. Writing shouldn’t be your whole life. Even if you can’t legitimately tally these activities in your word count, you won’t accumulate worthwhile pages without them.
As with most new thoughts, embracing this “not writing thing” carries a risk. You don’t want to be that guy that spends five months researching smoking jackets for your protagonist.
That’s Part I of Suzanne’s advice for writers! If you’re interested in where she takes this idea in practice, and perhaps incriminates a friend of hers along the way 🙂 … stay tuned for Part II coming next week.