How to Write Without Writing

What if everything you did mattered?

What if you chose to make every aspect of your day a part of your creative practice?

Standing in line at the post office is an opportunity to witness the people around you. Notice the way they dress, the expression on their faces, the smells around you, the weight of the package beneath your own arms.

Walking the dog is an opportunity to listen to an educational podcast about the writing craft, publishing or marketing advice, or you could listen to an inspiring interview with an author you love. Better yet, listen to an audio book that fills you with so many exciting ideas that you want to cut Fido’s walk short, head home, and write!

Cooking dinner is an opportunity to reflect on your narrative and to challenge your own assumptions about the work. How could you add more tension to chapter five? Could you move chapter one to the middle of the book? What significant events happened to your protagonist when they were a teenager? What’s their star sign? How could you have written today’s scene different?

There’s a rumpled shirt beside the hamper in the bathroom. How could you describe that differently? Could it become a metaphor for your protagonist’s sense of defeat following their trials?

A conversation in the grocery store could be the start of a short story. The last thing my mother said to me was, “If you don’t put those pickles back on the shelf I’m going to leave you here!”

A comment made by a well-meaning aunt at your niece’s graduation could be the inspiration of an article. So, what next?

A comment made by a nosey grandmother could be the inspiration for an essay. The benefits of only having one child, sorry Gramps!  

Maybe you do all of these things naturally. Maybe you’re constantly paying attention to your environment, observing the people and conversations around you, considering your bodily senses as you travel throughout your day. Maybe you frequently ask yourself the question, “what if … ?”

A writer needs two things (okay, a writer probably need MUCH more than two things, but for the sake of argument): 

1) a rich interior life

2)  a keen observation of the world around them.

This is how you make your writing fresh and invigorating.

This is how you create prose that is poignant and poetic.

This is how you write stories that are thunderously gripping and yet totally believable (because we want to believe).

It is all too easy to fill these opportunities in other ways: we pull out our phones, and we get caught up in our own mindless, repetitive thought loops.

Do you really need to think about your route home or mentally rehearse the steps involved in cooking tonight’s dinner? You know where you live. You know how to cut an onion. 

What you don’t know — what you may be missing out on — is why the cashier’s eyes are red rimmed and misty, what would push a mother to abandon her small child in a grocery store, what the benefits of having one child are, and how to make your partner’s inability to put dirty clothes in the hamper a metaphor for … something.

Open your eyes. Look up, to the left. Can you see? Tell me all about it.


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