You’ve been circling the shopping centre for ten minutes trying to find a carpark. You’re here to pay a phone bill, buy that dairy-free mayo from the health-food store that your partner loves, get a key cut, and pick up something for dinner.
Or maybe you’re sitting at your desk, playing email ping-pong with your boss, colleagues, and clients. Maybe there’s a stack of reports you need to run, a wad of paperwork that needs filing, and even more that has to be entered into ‘the system’ before knock off.
Meanwhile, your small, inner-literary-self is screaming, ‘but this isn’t writing!’
Feeling resentful of all the tasks that ‘steel’ time away from writing may be common, but that doesn’t mean it’s helpful.
Most of us compartmentalise the components of our lives: work, health, money, relationships, community, etc. But when we segregate our lives like this, we forget that everything is actually connected.
It may seem like your day job is disconnected from your writing, that exercise has nothing to do with the revision of your latest novel, or that meeting your best friend for a coffee does little to move the needle on your word count.
But that’s not necessarily true.
In an interview on the Joe Rogan podcast, author Chuck Palahniuk said that writing doesn’t happen while sitting in front of a computer, ‘that’s typing.’ Writing is coming up with ideas, talking about it with friends, reading, deep thinking, and having new experiences: living your life.
Writing informs our life, and life informs our writing.
What exactly does that mean?
How do you create value in these sometimes resentful tasks?
Let’s indulge in a little thought experiment.
Grab a piece of paper (or two) and draw a stick figure in the bottom right hand corner.
This figure is you (ta-da!).
Fill up the rest of the page with all the non-related writing tasks you do every week.
You might like to write blanket categories and then list all the tasks that fall beneath that category, for example:
Domestic: cleaning, laundry, cooking.
Platform: social media, newsletter, blogs.
Take a pen and draw a line from each of these categories and connect them to your proxy stick figure.
Now, spend some time thinking about how you could connect this activity with writing.
Some ways are obvious, like thinking about your story while doing the dishes, but don’t reach for the obvious; challenge yourself to think beyond these first ideas and really consider how these activity could directly or indirectly inform your writing.
To give you some ideas, I thought I’d share my own results from this activity. (Image below).
Listen to music that complements my story, or listen to writing related podcasts. Daydream scenes. Mentally revise plots and characters. Indulge in ‘what if?’ thought experiments.
Observe the strangers around you and the people you interact with. How do people move? What are they wearing? Who are they and what are they doing? Let your mind fill in the gaps. [Ideas for character descriptions.]
Engage with online community by writing and replying to comments. Critically reflect on my creative process and extrapolate so that others can learn. [We learn best by teaching.]
Listen. How do you people speak? What kind of words or phrases do they use? What do they care about? What lights them up, makes them angry, or sad?’ [This is will inform dialogue and characterisation.]
Pat attention to the movements, discomfort, or tension in the body. Describe it in detail. Reach for original metaphors, similes, descriptors. Imagine each of your characters, how would they react to this movement?
Read and watch for fun. Re-watch and re-read for learning. What works? What doesn’t? Analyse and dissect. Write down new words, great phrases, and unique descriptions.
The next two are specific to me, but think about how your own work and/or studies may be supporting your creative practice.
Teaching (creative writing):
Cements my own understanding of craft principles as there is no better way to learn than to teach. Marking and providing feedback on student’s work makes me aware of weaknesses in my own work. I can’t ever be lazy, double check everything!
Challenge assumptions about my practise by integrating new theories and concepts. Ask myself ‘how might this apply to me?’ Learn from other writers and research via books and interviews. Identify weakness in my creative and academic writing by comparing my work to existing works.
You don’t have to make your whole life about writing, and in fact, you shouldn’t.
It’s important that you give your brain (and soul) a break, to think about and to do things other than writing.
Ironically, if you spend a great deal of your day intensely focusing on a project, your subconscious will continue to work on that problem while your conscious mind moves on to other things.
What this activity shows, however, is that with a little bit of mindful effort you can transform a morning of errands, a gym session, a party or a day at work into words on the page.
You just have to make the decision.
Now, I’d love to hear from you? What insights did you get from this activity? Share your comments below and tell me all about it!
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