Be a better writer by doing and noticing more

Be a better writer by doing and noticing more_text over lightened image of closeup blade of grass with dewdrops
Date Posted:
5/12/2021

There is no shortage of advice for writers on the internet. We’ve heard everything! Meditate and then immediately write in your journal! Join every writing group you can! Attend this expensive conference/that fancy festival!

It isn’t that these things won’t work for some people. It’s that just as there is no real way to “get rich quick,” there is no way to skip the work of writing and pole-vault to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list.

Writing is work. You have to put in the time and effort. But if you come to see writing as a lifestyle rather than a hobby, you’ll be doing your long-term writing goals a huge favor. Walking down the block could be a part of your writing practice. Preparing a meal, gardening, exercising—these activities can enhance your writing in ways large and small, if you reframe your regular activities as, say, “research for my book.”

In the long run, this reframing will make you notice more about the world around you. And noticing what other people don’t, plus having the discipline to write it down in an interesting way, is the main distinction between writers and non-writers.

Here are five non-writing activities that will definitely make you a better noticer and well-rounded writer:

Read

This first tip is the most obvious, or at least it should be! Good readers make good writers. Good writers are original. Their originality stems from their unique voice, or a background or experience that not many others have had; but it also comes from knowing what has already been written. A writing workshop instructor once told me that no one should write a poem that even mentions a blackbird without having read Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” And that instructor is right. Not only will reading widely help you determine what has (and hasn’t) been written, but it’s bound to stoke the fire of inspiration in your creative soul. Not only should you read, but you should…

Read out loud

Read to your kids. Read to the mirror. Read to no one at all but yourself. Reading out loud allows you to hear language instead of see it, to hear the pacing and cadences of other writers and be more conscious of musicality and rhythm in your own writing. Speaking of rhythm…

Move

Move your body. Dance, walk, run, hike, climb, bike, swim, jump rope, bounce on a trampoline. Nothing gives you energy like exerting energy, getting your blood flowing. Plus, moving our bodies makes us more aware of them, which is just more noticing. 

And after you move…

Be still

Sit with your thoughts. Lie back on your couch and just think. Slowing and quieting down is the only way you can ever fully develop your thoughts and turn them into words on a page or screen. Thinking is an enormous part of the writing process, so why short-change yourself by trying to write a bunch of half-cooked ideas? Hmm, maybe that’s why so many of us feel blocked sometimes…? Give yourself permission to sit and do nothing.

“You have to allow a certain amount of time in which you are doing nothing in order to have things occur to you, to let your mind think.” — Mortimer Adler

And once you have thought…

Think some more

Only this time, think about all the ways you express your creativity besides just writing. And when you are blocked in writing, look to those other activities. Maybe you like to play guitar or bake pies, or maybe you just want to star-gaze, doodle, people-watch, or organize your closet. If you can’t write, don’t throw your hands up in despair and think all creativity is lost. Find another way to express yourself and notice what’s happening around you, and your literary muse will return in no time.

What are your favorite non-writing activities? How do you center writing in your life? Share with us in the comments.

Related reading: The many challenges of writing life maintenance (and how to balance them all)

Reframing the “no time to write” problem

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