Writing When You Aren’t Writing

May 22, 2016 | By | 9 Replies More

headshotAny writer, and I assume many non-writers as well, have heard the sage advice, “Write every day.”

At many times in my life, I have both agreed with the advice, and then, ultimately, admonished myself for not following it. Surely I couldn’t call myself a writer because I didn’t follow that advice.

At my best, I wrote every day during my oldest child’s nap time. I generally could get between 500-1,000 words. This was when I was writing Ditch Flowers, and I kept at this schedule for quite some time. At my worst, generally times when I was going through personal struggles, or feeling uninspired, I went days, weeks, months without writing anything more than a grocery list. I never felt good about this, but I let it happen. Or let it not happen.

But now I feel confident in calling myself a writer. Being published in multiple areas has helped me gain confidence, sure. I also think I’ve accepted I am at a time in my life, when writing, as much as I love it, has to take a backseat to other priorities. Because I often find it difficult to get on the computer, or even gather quiet space and time enough to write in a notebook, I’ve found a new way to write that works for me. Writing in my brain, that is.

zzzzSo, what exactly do I mean? A few months ago I made a list of story ideas based on the idea of “write the book you want to read” (another bit of fabulous advice). The top idea on my list became my current work-in-progress. I had only the roughest idea of a plot, but I could see the beginnings of something good. I wrote when I could, and the scenes poured out of me. I was so excited about the project, and then, life got in the way, as it sometimes tends to do.

And I found scenes building up in my head even when I couldn’t write them down. I “wrote” these scenes, made vivid character descriptions, and came up with plot points while I was doing other things- cleaning my house, folding laundry, driving, at work, right before falling asleep. And finally when I could get to write them down, either long-hand or on the computer, I would have 2, 3, 4, 5 scenes to get down. My time actually writing was much more productive because I already had the scenes down. I suppose this is in a way, a type of outlining.

You see, I’ve always been rather fond of my nature as a free spirit. I’ve been proud to be a pantser, though the discipline of outlining is seductive in its own way.  But for me, “writing in my head” is a way to get a basic idea of what I want to write, and then when I can actually physically get it down, I know what I want, and need, to write. I get to outline without the structure which works for me. Now, I don’t count this imaginative creativity actual writing time, but it’s creating, nonetheless. It’s building the story I want to build.

Next time you’re doing a mindless activity, try to get some scene building done in your mind. Try to solve your characters’ problems- or give them more. Try to use that time to be productive creatively. You might find that it works for you, or it doesn’t. But when it does, brilliant ideas can and do happen. You just might need to fold a few baskets of laundry first.

Amanda Linsmeier’s work has appeared on Brain, Child Magazine, WOW! Women on Writing, and Portage Magazine. She works part-time at her local library and brings home more books than she has time to read. Amanda lives in the countryside with her husband and children, two dogs, and half-wild cat. Ditch Flowers is her first novel.

Visit her at her Website, Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest.


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Category: Contemporary Women Writers, On Writing

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  1. Writing When You Aren’t Writing | WordHarbour | May 22, 2016
  1. I too write in my head. There are a few things I don’t like to do. One is outlining. Maybe that’s why I write non-fiction. I’ve done pretty well without it.

  2. Angela Noel says:

    Wonderful to see not only Amanda’s story, but the comments of other writers here! There is no one right way to write, just as there is no one right way to live. Often, on mile 2 of a 4 mile run, the character I’d backed into a corner breaks free in a surprising way. I almost don’t feel the pound of pavement against my feet or the rapid beat of my heart because my brain is so busy with the details of the plot point revealed to me. Other times, I have missed a freeway exit because I’m thinking through a new detail that needs to make it into my manuscript. Writers brain may be a new road hazard. But still, we write. Thank you for sharing and celebrating all the ways we invite story into our lives.

  3. Jo says:

    Great article, thank you! I always feel guilty for not sitting at the computer until the words come, but actually, the way of working/writing you describe is much more natural to me and suits me much better – I am far more productive when I can let the characters potter for a bit.

    • Amanda Linsmeier says:

      I totally agree. My characters like best when I let them come up with the ideas 😉 Thanks for your reply!

  4. Angela Petch says:

    I do this too. Today when doing a rather mindless job of adding polish to a cotto floor (don’t ask!) I planned out a scene that my editor had suggested needed adding to my next novel. The brain needs exercising too so your point is so valid. The only thing that happens sometimes (and is maddening) is a sentence or a word springs to mind that would just fit the bill but if I don’t have pen and paper to hand, it is out of my mind later…maybe a sign of my age???
    Keep on planning and writing, whatever your methodology, I say.

    • Amanda Linsmeier says:

      Ah, I’ve lost so many ideas in the middle of the night when I hadn’t paper to write them down. Now, I make sure to get it down otherwise I will forget! Thanks for replying 🙂

  5. Mary Cooney-Glazer says:

    Amanda, Thank you so much for validating my method of writing. When I finally
    do sit at the computer, the characters tell me what’s going on. That’s no doubt
    the result of the percolating that’s been going on almost unconsciously.
    Love the article! Mary Cooney-Glazer

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