October 23rd 2012
Six Non-Writing Things That Might Improve Your Writing
We give a fair amount of writing advice on this site, almost all of it geared toward creative process and storytelling mechanics. I’ve written several of these posts myself, and will write more in the future. But today’s post is a bit different. I want to focus on those things I do to improve my creative output that, at least on the surface, seem to have nothing at all to do with the actual writing of my books and stories. These are things I do to keep my creative process fresh, to keep myself healthy — physically and mentally — and to make myself want to write more. So here, in no particular order, are six things I do to improve my writing that have nothing to do with writing:
1. Exercise regularly. Okay, maybe this one is in order of importance, because I do think this is just about the most important part of my daily routine. I spend hours every day parked in front of my computer, working but not really moving or being active. And so first thing in the morning, before I start to write, I work out at the local gym, which is at the college where my wife works, so my membership is practically free. But you don’t really need a gym to exercise. I ride a stationary bike. I listen to music, I read, I chat with friends who are working out at the same time. Most important, I sweat, I get my heart pumping, I work my muscles, and I keep at it for forty-five minutes, not including stretches, cool-down, etc. I have no hard evidence to support the following, mostly because I’m not willing to stop working out in order to test the effects of doing so, but I am convinced that exercising keeps me from getting sick, improves my mood, and makes me more productive. I’m sure that it has kept me from turning into a desk-chair potato. The corollary to this one is that I also make an effort to eat well; even with my workout, if I’m going to sit all day at my desk, I really can’t afford to snack on junk — not at my age.
2. Read for Pleasure. As I mentioned above, when I am on my stationary bike to nowhere, I often read. Sometimes I read magazines, sometimes I read novels. But I am almost always reading something. When I first started writing fiction professionally, I avoided reading novels in speculative fiction, mostly because I didn’t trust my own authorial voice enough and I was afraid that my reading of other people’s work would influence my writing style and maybe even my plotting. Fifteen years and fourteen novels later, I’m pretty much over that. I don’t know if reading for pleasure improves my craft or gives me a better sense of how to write my own work. Maybe it does. But the important thing is, it makes me happy. It’s fun, and it reminds me daily of the joy that one can derive from immersing oneself in a story.
3. Step away from the desk. I say that I work all day, and that’s mostly true. But naturally I take short breaks throughout my work day. Some of these are to check email or a favorite website. But I also make myself get up from my desk, step away from computer and do Something Else. Often that means pulling out my guitar and playing music for a while. Sometimes it means going outside for a walk, or taking care of some household chore that I’ve neglected for too long. The point isn’t what I do; it’s what I’m not doing. There are times when I need to distance myself from my work, even if just for ten minutes, in order to clear my head, or work out a plotting problem, or just make myself concentrate on something different for a little while. Yes, there are days when I don’t need this, when the words are flowing so well that stepping away would be unthinkable. But those days are rare. Most of the time, a break is a healthy thing.
4. Work on more than one project at once. First of all, yes, this one has more to do with actual writing than the others. So sue me. And second, this is something that was far more difficult for me when I was starting out than it is now. Back then, I needed to concentrate on one project until it was complete. But I have come to find that if I have several projects ongoing at once, each one remains fresher as I move among them. Now I am not suggesting that you work on more than one project in a given day, or even in a given week. I mean, sure, you can, but it’s not something that works for me. I like to immerse myself in a project for several days at a time, or maybe even several weeks at a time. But then I like to switch to something else for a while. Because when I do, that new project feels more alive, and often creative avenues I’ve followed in one project will spark ideas in another. These ideas might have nothing to do with each other, but the variety I add to my creative process in this way seems to help my writing across the array of projects I have underway at any given time.
5. Give yourself a day off now and then. I suppose this is a variation on number 3. But while I’m good at stepping away from the desk, I have to admit that I am terrible at taking my own advice on this one. I find that guilt, or fear of losing momentum on a project, or some other force I can’t name, keeps me from taking a day off now and then, even when I know that I need one. Writing is draining emotionally and intellectually. I know this, just as I know that when I do take a day off, or even a half-day, it truly refreshed me and makes me more productive in the long run. Nonetheless, I have to force myself to do it, and there are times when I resolve to take time off only to balk at the idea at the last minute. It’s my own little OCD trait. But it’s not healthy, and I hope that you will follow my advice in this regard rather than my example.
6. Turn off the computer and go be among others of your species. I’m a Dad and a husband, and so I feel a certain amount of pressure to set aside time for my family. And that is a very, very good thing. Being with my family keeps me centered, makes me happy, and even offers some fodder for scenes in future projects. Writing can be an incredibly lonely endeavor, and yet we spend most of our time writing about people. Doesn’t it make sense that being among other humans might be good not only for our souls but also for our craft? Maybe you have family who would love to see you emerge from your office for a little while. Maybe you have friends who haven’t heard from you in so long that they’re considering a call to the police. Maybe you even have a writing group that will allow you to talk about your work AND be among other people. The important thing is to set boundaries for yourself. Work for a certain set of hours, and then spend time with the people in your life. It will help. Really. It helps me.
So, there you go. Six things to do that might make you more productive. Do you have suggestions that I didn’t mention?David B. Coe http://www.davidbcoe.com http://www.dbjackson-author.com
David B. Coe
David B. Coe is the author of eleven fantasy novels, including the books of the LonTobyn Chronicle, Winds of the Forelands, and Blood of the Southlands. He has also written the novelization for the Ridley Scott production of ROBIN HOOD, starring Russell Crowe, that is due out in May 2010. In 1999 he received the Crawford Fantasy Award, given annually by the IAFA to the best new author in fantasy. He has a Ph.D. in United States environmental history and lives on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee with his wife and daughters. Visit site.
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