Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Writing when we're not writing

Last week all three of my sons graduated. Between parties, ceremonies, and more parties, we've been on the run for days (in a non-criminal way). Almost zero writing got done, and at first I felt guilty about it. But I soon realized how much writing I actually accomplished, even though my butt was not in a chair.

Here are some ways to work when we're not writing:
  • Solving problems. Worrisome plot issues, tricky scenes, and questionable threads can be examined and resolved when we're not staring at the computer screen.
  • Choreographing future scenes. What will be the beginning, middle, and ending of the scene? What will be the goal and conflict of the characters? These details can be worked out away from the writer's chair.
  • Collecting character quirks. When we're out and about among living, breathing people, we have access to limitless character traits worth stealing.
  • Gathering setting details. Parties, ceremonies, restaurants, malls, theme parks. These events and places are ripe with setting information. If we keep paper and pen with us at all times, we can scratch down sensory details for later use.
  • Ideas for the next project. Ideas swirl through our heads when we're performing menial tasks away from our manuscripts. All we need to do is reach out and grab them, saving them for when we're ready to plot the next book.
The "boys in the basement," as Stephen King calls them, never stop working. Solutions and ideas come to us when we least expect them. Besides, when we're away from the page, we're refilling our creative wells.

While I was wearing my busy mommy hat, I was able to untangle at least two of my problematic story issues. What writing tasks do you accomplish when you're not writing?

43 comments:

  1. I do the same thing-- in fact, some days I purposely take a day off from actual writing to collect these kinds of ideas. I think more goes into writing a book than just the writing. The thinking, even when it's subconscious, can make our books deeper and better!

    And congrats to you and your three sons. Yay for graduation! :)

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  2. Congratulations! You must be a proud mom.

    I agree. I write while I'm not writing. I can come up with scenes and conversations while at work, hiking, or taking a shower. It helps to leave the screen every once in a while.

    I always keep a notebook on me. That is a great tip.

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  3. I am constantly thinking about plots, problems and characters when I'm not writing. Sometimes, it will take a few days to envision a scene and work through a problem.

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  4. Oh yes, I think stewing is a very important part f writing. And sometimes, doing the minless activity - or at least a non-"writing" activity is the best way to solve problems!!!

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  5. Oh, I hear you ... the brain is always working on ideas. We are surrounded with rich material all the time ... now if I can just figure a way to remember it all! LOL

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  6. I am often most productful during those moments right before I fall asleep. I can't seem to turn it off and those creative juices go into overdrive. I've come up with some great bits that way.

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  7. My best ideas come on the toilet or in bed. But I've never stolen any "quirks" from real people, at least not consciously.

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  8. This is so true, Julie. I keep forgetting that I'm writing when I'm not writing.
    Karen

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  9. I do the same thing! Plotting difficult scenes, writing first lines.. Congrats to your boys!!

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  10. Guys, isn't it great that we can work even when we're not working?

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  11. What is this thing you call "not writing"? LOL! Hope I'm not going to become one of your future crazy characters now that you've observed me! :D

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  12. I feel I write a lot more when I am not staring at my laptop or a sheet of paper. My maximum writing gets done when I am not actually writing.

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  13. I play scenes out in my head when practicing my guitar or exercising. Right now I need to brainstorm a new idea though. Desperately!

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  14. You're so right, Julie! It seems that as soon as I step away from the computer, get in the car, take a shower, or try to go to sleep, my best ideas come to me. That's why I try to keep notepads everywhere. And people observing when I am out and about is absolutely essential!

    And congratulations to your sons!

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  15. Sometimes, it's scary when you're driving, and suddenly realise you've reached your destination, while studying plot details. Yes, I do this too, the trick is remembering what you've discovered about your story afterwards!

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  16. I recently had to leave my WIP so I could figure out a plot issue. It is hard for me to figure those out while I am at the computer.

    I need to remember to do more of this one though:

    Collecting character quirks. When we're out and about among living, breathing people, we have access to limitless character traits worth stealing.

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  17. A lot of plot twists and fixes usually come to mind when I'm not writing--of course, that means I'm scrambling for a paper and pen to write the idea on. :P

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  18. Sometimes your mind frees up when you butt isn't in the chair. It sounds like you managed a good balance between writing and life during your busy week.

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  19. Congrats to your sons that's brilliant all in one week. Agree with all the comments here, best ideas are out there.

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  20. Yup. I'm in between projects at the moment and trying work out some plot issues on my next book.

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  21. Congratulations to your sons! And congrats to you for working out your writing problems while otherwise engaged! Life has a way of helping us out like that.

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  22. Congratulations on your sons' graduations!

    It can be so good to take a break away from the computer and let plots/ideas/characters simmer. There are things that come to me, or sensory details that I want to capture, when I'm doing other things.

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  23. Agreed, Julie! Busy times can clear my writing mind of the clutter. Also, I work out a lot of issues exercising or standing in the shower, but almost never while staring at the computer!

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  24. Very cool! You're definitely right. I will stop moping now cuz I'm doing other things. LOL Yep, we have to get out and live a little, in order to have something to write when we're by ourselves!

    Congrats on your sons graduating!!

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  25. Congrats on the graduations!

    You're right. I got back from vacation on Friday, and felt guilty about it. But the time away gave me a fresh perspective on the book, and I think that can be a good thing. Sometimes we get so caught up in all the things we're trying to fix it stagnates everything.

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  26. Ahhh, Julie, I totally agree with that...whenever I have a moment whether it be driving or getting ready for work, my head is always 'on' and active and constantly thinking of words and phrases and stories...

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  27. Congratulations to the graduates, and to you! Good point you make. Writing isn't just sitting with a piece of paper or at the computer but can be involved during different aspects of living our lives.

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  28. Congratulations to the graduates!!

    I totally agree with you. Our mind never stops working.

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  29. I like your 'Writer at Work' sign. It seems like I'm writing all the time these days, no matter what it *looks* like I'm doing to anyone else.

    To keep from losing a great thought, if I'm stuck somewhere without paper (horrors!) I use my iPhone and write notes in an email to myself.

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  30. Our brains (Boys in the basement) are non-stop! But this is what keeps us going as writers. You're right, we always have to be on guard and ready to receive all of those new scene ideas, plot twists, quirks!

    Great post!

    Congratulations to your boys!

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  31. I love collecting character quirks from the people I interact with on a daily basis. Glad to know I was doing some work after all. :P

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  32. I agree - I am always writing! Running around after a 20-month-old doesn't leave a lot of butt-in-chair writing time.

    I am a big believer of the "simmer" method of writing--letting your brain chew things over while you're busy with something else. It works very well for me!

    Congrats to your boys!

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  33. This is SO true. When I'm not actually writing, I get a lot of brainstorming done and think a lot about my plot and characters. It makes sitting down to write that much more productive. :)

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  34. Hi Julie!
    Congratulations!
    I've given you a BLOG AWARD. Feel free to drop by anytime to pick it up. Just a little something to brighten up your day. :)

    warm regards,
    nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  35. My brain is always spinning. I like Mr. King's refernce to the boys in the basement. Totally feels like that.

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  36. I'm the same way. I'm always fixing the plot holes of my current wip or thinking about the next project.

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  37. I agree, I agree. You can be in bed, in the shower, or making a quick meal, your mind inevitably wanders to your current WIP or ideas for your next. Even spending time in the presence of friends watching a movie you can be editing a chapter on hard copy. It's all bout using your time productively.

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  38. Collecting character quirks. When we're out and about among living, breathing people, we have access to limitless character traits worth stealing.


    I must remember to do this more often when I'm out and about- and become aware. Thanks for the tips.

    Have a great 4th of July weekend!

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  39. I've accomplished a lot of "writing" in the same way that you so eloquently describe here. And how fun with all the graduations! My recent memories of this are with grandchildren. I LOVED it!

    Have a great weekend!!
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

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  40. congratulations on the commencements and great tips!
    bethfred.com

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  41. Congrats about your sons! :D
    And lol, I'm always writing when I'm not writing. And sometimes hubby looks at me and says, "hmm I'll bet you're thinking about your WIP." And I just have to nod sheepishly :P

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  42. Congratulations to your sons, Julie....and I think I keep thinking about stuff....but I have never tried to write them down...that way, I am a very very bad writer....

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