Rare is the writer who has not been obligated, at some point in his or her career, to set work aside to face the demands of living. Illness, travel, relatives, “regular jobs,” duty, holidays… I’m sure you can add to the list of things that can strong-arm their ways into our carefully arranged schedules, often staying for weeks or even months. Sometimes those sabbaticals can recharge our writing batteries, infusing us with renewed energy and zeal, and look out world, here we come!
Unfortunately, the effects of time and inactivity can rob us of our talents. Our talents need exercise lest the creative muscles atrophy. Daydreams will not keep our creativity in shape any more than thinking about a physical workout program will turn us into athletes.
So what can we do to keep our writing abilities fit?
1. Read. A lot. Why? Lori L. Lake gives us a veritable list of good reasons in her article, “Why Writers Must Read.” Reading will:
- make us think about issues and ideas outside ourselves.
- give us new viewpoints and show lots of different techniques for telling stories.
- almost always give information and knowledge to the reader.
- allow good works to remind us of what we are aspiring to; and reading those works that may not be of such high “literary” quality not only can be fun, but also might teach us what NOT to do.
- help us practice analyzing and evaluating others’ work.
- help most writers fire up the kiln of imagination.
- educate writers about what has already been done.
2. Write yourself notes. Keep a notebook, a computer document, or a file box where you can jot down ideas, bits of dialogue, characterization. (You should do that whether you’re on writing hiatus or not!)
3. Free write. Sure, you’ve heard of it: Write continuously for a set period of time without worrying about spelling, subject, or grammar. It’s a good way to collect thoughts and ideas as well as keeping the creative muscles active.
4. Keep in touch with other writers. “It’s hard to find anything more stimulating to a writer than a good shop-talk session. Writer’s clubs, conferences, criticism groups, study classes—each of these can help a person who is not actively writing feel that he has a toe, at least, in the literary puddle.” (Jean Z. Owen, author of Professional Fiction Writing: A Practical Guide To Modern Techniques) Jean also goes on to warn about frittering away your talent while seeking advice, instruction, and encouragement. Belonging to a writer’s group doesn’t get done the work of putting word to page!
5. Listen to music. One of my favorite activities involves my rocking chair and Mannheim Steamroller or Enigma. It is relaxing and inspiring to try to fit a scene (or just part of one) to a particular piece of music.
6. Check your schedule. You can fit in fifteen minutes of writing somewhere during the day. Your coffee break, lunch break… Get up earlier or stay up later. You can do it.
7. Hang out with interesting, involved, creative, people. I should do this more. It’s fun to hear the stories of peoples’ lives, and a good source of inspiration to boot!
8. Every day, count the three best things that happened that day. Maybe even put them in your notes! Again, appreciation and inspiration at work.
9. Work while you’re working. Sometimes the very best ideas—or solutions to knotty scenes—come to me while I’m ironing or washing dishes or gardening.
10. Create a new character. You can do this any time, any place. And you just never know where he (or she!) will take you.
11. Go on a Smelling Expedition. You could also call it aromatherapy, but the point is to experience some different smells (spices, cut grass, fresh baked bread, gasoline, new perfume, candles). The five senses can be so helpful in the creative process. Smells can trigger moods or memories, and off we go, writing! (Don’t forget that notebook!)
How about you, Gentle Readers? What are some ways that you continue exercising your writing muscles while the world is trying to drag you away?