As I revealed in my previous post, I’m as much a reader as I am a writer. But I am other things too: teacher, businesswoman, friend, daughter, sister, wife, mother, and athlete. I like to do all the things and try all the new experiences. This often means that my time is not just halved, and not just quartered, but cut into tiny pieces that I try to stitch together in a coherent pattern every day. Some days, some pieces get left out and I don’t have time for a run, time to chat with friends and family, or (more to the point of this post) time to write.
It is commonly believed that to be a good writer, you must write every day. But how do you write every day when you don’t have time or are too exhausted? First as a doctoral candidate and now as a new mom this has always been a pressing problem for me. I wrote this post haltingly between my sleepless infant’s crying bouts, but I’m not always so lucky. I don’t always have the time or energy between those bouts to create whole worlds out of nothing.
Spending Time with Your Stories:
Over the years I have devised ways to deal with this issue, and it doesn’t always have to do with writing as we may think of it. Yes, sometimes I have energy to churn out an entire chapter of my book in one sitting. But more often, I find other ways to spend time with my stories.
I’ll list them here in order to show how NOT writing can be just as valuable as writing. The days when I’m NOT writing give me greater insight into my own work and the chance to slow down and look at my writing in new ways.
Reading. Specifically, reading your own writing. This method is perhaps my favorite because it takes the least energy. When I spend time reading what I wrote, I get to interact with my words as a reader. I allow myself to react emotionally, not intellectually. It’s fun to slip into a different perspective and ultimately helps me make crucial changes to my work. After recently reading (just reading!) a romance novel I wrote two summers ago, I was able to recognize and fix character inconsistencies, reduce an unnecessarily large cast of characters, and make the plot more believable!
Tinkering. Tinkering takes a little more energy. It requires you to consider your work on a sentence and language level and to make minute changes to words, phrases, and sentence structure. When I tinker, I’m not writing anything new. I’m finessing what I’ve already written. I’m looking for the perfect word, the perfect image. In my own writing, I often end up exchanging academic language for more accessible language (you can take the scholar out of the ivory tower but etc, etc).
Revising. A full out revision session can be the most rewarding form of “not writing” but it also requires the greatest amount of energy. Hopefully, you have a writing partner whose advice you can work from when revising. I know I just pull up Julie’s notes on my latest chapter and work from there. While tinkering happens on a sentence level, revising happens on a thematic, plot, and characterization level. Entire pages of text (or characters!) might disappear. Settings may alter. When I revise, I have to ask the tough questions:
- Are my characters acting believably and consistently?
- Is the dialogue natural?
- What is missing that needs to be there?
- What can be cut?
- How can I work [theme] into this scene more convincingly?
- Am I moving the plot along quick enough? Do I need to slow the plot down?
There are other methods for “not writing” every day that I utilize as well. Thinking while exercising is one of my favorite methods of multitasking. I use a voice-recording app to save my thoughts when on a long run and I type out quick notes on my phone while peddling the stationary bike. Try it! As the body and blood get pumping, so do the ideas!