Think Like A Writer Every Day, Even If You Can’t Write Every Day

I totally agree with this post, because even on days when I am not specifically writing word count, I am still scanning the world for writing fodder. In London, everything seems to inspire me! Today, guest blogger Midge Raymond has some common sense suggestions that will keep you alert and on the lookout for ideas every day.

hear see speak no evilAs writers, we’re told that in order to succeed, we must write every day—but of course, this isn’t realistic or feasible for most of us; we have families, day jobs, and other responsibilities that can get in the way of a daily writing practice.

As an author with a busy schedule, I’ve found that it’s not necessary to write every single day—but what is necessary is to think like a writer every day: to open our eyes and ears just a little wider than the next person, to take in everything happening in the world around us, including in our own inner worlds, all of which provides the richest material we’ll ever need.

Here are a few tips—with corresponding writing prompts—to help you train to be an Everyday Writer…even when you don’t have a lot of writing time at hand.

(1) Open your eyes

So often in our everyday lives we find ourselves occupied with our cell phones when we could be observing what’s happening around us. Do your writer-self a favor, and keep the cell phone tucked away: Look around instead.

PROMPT: Next time you’re in line somewhere (the grocery store, the post office, wherever), look around you. Choose a nearby person and write a character sketch based on this person (if you’re not able to write in the moment, take mental notes and jot them down as soon as you’re able).

(2) Open your ears

We often shut out the world around us (and often it’s necessary), but in doing so we also risk missing some interesting tidbits of life. Make a point of opening your ears to what’s going on around you—and use it to launch a new piece of writing.

PROMPT: As with the prompt above, the next time you’re in line somewhere—or waiting for the doctor or dentist—listen to the conversations going on around you. Choose a snippet of dialogue and write it down, turning it over to your own imagination (again, if you’re not able to write in the moment, take mental notes and jot them down as soon as you can).

(3) Open your notebook

Always, always carry a small notebook (if necessary, you can use your phone—just don’t succumb to email or Facebook!) and write down anything and everything you find interesting.

PROMPT: Write down the last interesting thing you overheard. Use this to launch into a new scene or a conversation between two characters.

(4) Open your mind

From the hard work to the rejections to the inevitable self-doubt, being a writer has its challenges. And when the going gets tough, the tough start daydreaming. Sometimes just imagining the finish line can be enough to get us there: Envision it, and it will happen.

PROMPT: Write a review for your work-in-progress—a glowing review, exactly as you’d like the piece to be and exactly as you’d like it to be received. Turn to this as you write (to stay on track) and especially when you haven’t been writing (to inspire you to write).

(5) Open your arms

Part of being a writer means accepting we can’t do everything. Embrace the lovely chaos of your life and remember that this is what brings you all your best material.

PROMPT: Write down one thing you’d like to accomplish with your writing project this week (or even this month, if you’re exceptionally busy). Check in with yourself at the end of the week/month, and see how you did. If it didn’t work out as you’d hoped, revise accordingly. If all went well, create the next goal and go from there.

How are you an every day writer? Please leave your comments below to help inspire others.

About the Author

Midge Raymond is the author of Everyday Writing: Tips and Prompts to Fit Your Regularly Scheduled Life and the story collection Forgetting English, which received the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. Her work has appeared in TriQuarterly, American Literary Review, Indiana Review, North American Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Los Angeles Times magazine, and many other publications and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Visit www.MidgeRaymond.com for more information and to subscribe to her free email newsletter for writers.

 

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Comments

  1. says

    Great piece, and I agree, inspiration is there for the taking! I keep my iPhone with me at all times and use the notepad app to jot things down – I only become sidetracked by FB occasionally. ;) I also run a gardening business and so I’m outside a lot of the time in the London suburbs. It’s a great chance to discover new people, places and creatures which can add to my writing fodder.

    • says

      I do this Geoff – I write ideas and thoughts on Notepad on the iphone and then email them to myself – to Gmail which has amazing search capability. I also take pics on the iPhone and load them to Flickr or Pinterest to keep as a reminder.

  2. says

    Great article. It’s true that writers can’t write everyday all the time . I have a part time day job, in college , a blogger, and also a writer so some days I have to pick and choose what gets done that day.

    Thanks for posting Joanna and Midge.

  3. says

    Great post–I’ve literally been carrying a pen and notebook with me for years (even before I was a professional writer)! Now with i-technology, it’s easier than ever to “write” and organize your notes and ideas into material. And if you happen to be stuck waiting for a train and feel inspired, you can get out a whole scene right there!

    • says

      I also have copious notebooks, I fill about 4-5 Moleskine plain A5 notebooks a year at the moment and have been writing in them since I was 15 – so I have a lot! At the end of the year, I will go through that years haul and write any resonant ideas into the front of a new one, often with action points I have forgotten in the previous months :)

      • says

        Great idea, Joanna. I do something similar but find that returning to re-read those re-written ideas often doesn’t happen. But isn’t it a great surprise when you come across them again:)

  4. says

    Thanks so much for your comments — and thanks to Joanna for hosting me on this wonderful blog! It’s great to hear where inspiration comes from … which is basically anywhere. I tend to overhear the best things at the supermarket and on public transportation. :) But you never know where you’ll find the next gem…

    Happy writing!

  5. says

    I love people watching, so this kind of thing is easy for me! :-) I always have my little notebook in my bag, and my favourite thing to do is write down snippets of conversation that I overhear. Taken out of context, even the most mundane sentences can be inspiring.

    • says

      I’ve really got to do this more as dialogue is difficult for me – although I write action-adventure thrillers right now, and most people’s conversations don’t really relate to that :)

    • says

      Stacey, this is one of my very favorite things to do as well — people are completely fascinating. One thing that used to annoy me is when people talk too loudly on their cell phones, but now I find myself listening in instead of getting annoyed — and it helps. One-sided conversations are especially fun, as you can imagine the other side. :)

  6. says

    Write on! I plug this all the time in my presentations. I am still stuck in pencil and paper mode but I have bought a computer notebook !! for upcoming 5 months trekking and trucking from Cape Town to Cairo, Israel and Jordan, with luggage in a space 26 inches by 12 inches !! trip is for a book so it is vital to make notes. Wondering about a DNS tape recorder? Luddite Lyn

    • says

      Mp3 recorders are a great idea Lyn, really portable if you can switch your mind to speaking your thoughts. I am struggling with that although I want to try as I think it is good for our minds and bodies to do things differently sometimes!

      • says

        I love the idea of a recorder, too — I’m more of a note-taking person, but I know many who use recorders (usually if they’re driving a lot — too dangerous to write!). And one thing I do know from my days in journalism is that the act of transcribing something has an effect on the material — you hear it in a different way, especially if a little time has passed, and it can be wonderfully insightful. Hope you try it out and that it works well!

  7. says

    I like to take a short walk in the morning and look around and listen. I also take my camera. I am a poet so I get lots of different prompts just by paying attention to what I see and hear. I also use the photographs as prompts.

    • says

      I do photos too Michelle – marvelous! I also think poets have found a shortcut to the muse – I used to write poetry but need to do it again, it is a fascinating form of creativity.

    • says

      Brilliant, using photos as prompts! I usually photograph things to help me remember details, but it would be fun to trade photos with a fellow writer (so the pictures are completely out of context) and see what each of us comes up with. Thanks so much for your comment!

  8. says

    I can’t write in my WIP everyday, but I do like to write something as often as I can. I like the idea of listening to real conversations, but I never take the time to do it, I’m always in a bit of a daydream. Next time, I am gonna try!

    • says

      Laura, daydreaming is also an important part of writing; don’t give it up! I find that when I allow my mind to wander, it takes me to interesting places, especially if I have my WIP in mind. But what I also love to do is take note of seemingly random things, and apply them to my WIP to see what comes up. This works especially well when I’m stuck — while daydreaming works better when things are already flowing. Thanks for your comment & happy writing!

  9. says

    Good morning, Midge.

    I’m hoping someone can help me out here. Writers who don’t write every day!
    How does that work? How can that be possible?

    I’m assuming we must be talking about not physically writing ‘War and Peace’ style, or plugged into the National Grid (aka on the computer). Though even just making out a shopping list counts as writing in my books – unless you’re one of those boringly tedious people who consider it to be nothing more than functional – in which case you can’t seriously class yourself as a writer.

    Writers add words to everything. Maybe not full paragraphs and sentences, but descriptive words alone bring what’s on their shopping list to life. Writer’s don’t just put ‘apples’. Oh no. Writers have Granny Smith’s – sweet, green; washing powder – Bio, liquid; toothpaste – whitening, sensitive; and so on.

    And any scrap of paper that has the misfortune to be left lying round will find itself plastered in a random array of words; snippets of someone’s conversation; stray thoughts. I think it’s called doodling in the non-writing world. But for the writer these are thoughts escaping that will, somewhere along the line, be perfect paragraphs of prose. Perhaps not in any novel or on any computer screen, but in the secret storage place they have that others can’t access unless the writer chooses to open the doors a little. Where is this place? Their (usually) over-active mind!

    Or maybe that’s just me…..

    Kind regards,
    L

    • says

      Thanks for your comments, Linda — and I love the idea of such a vivid shopping list! Every single writer on the planet is completely different — some must write every single day in order to keep themselves going; others can’t. I’m one of those writers who doesn’t have enough hours in a day, so I’ve learned to “write without really writing” — to become a better observer, to watch and listen and take notes — so that when I do sit down to write, I’m inspired and filled with ideas. To me, all these things are indeed “writing” even if I don’t have a pen in my hand or if I’m not sitting at the computer. One short story I wrote (“The Color Blue,” TriQuarterly) bounced around in my head for two years, and then I wrote it in an afternoon. I think that in this way, there are many definitions of writing. And I do agree with you that most of us writers do share one thing: an over-active mind! And I wouldn’t have it any other way. :)

      • says

        Good evening, Midge.

        How well you summarise my main point – ‘write without really writing’ – that’s what’s in the writer’s secret place. Words on paper, computer or wherever are there because the writer opened the door to the secret place.

        Regards,
        L

    • says

      Thanks, Ross … I’m with you in that I too need reminding of all these things I already know but often let myself forget. Congrats on finishing your book, and all the best as you launch into the next project!

  10. says

    Great post! My favorite two words are, “Lovely Chaos.” I just love that! It’s perfect.

    As I’m out promoting my book, I often hear people say that they write when they are inspired. They write when they can think of something good to write. I can’t decide whether to scream or laugh. Truth is, writers write. That’s what we do. If I waited to feel inspired, I wouldn’t get much written on many days. I think that what makes a writer is writing on the days you feel the least inspired. There’s such a romantic notion about writers, that we wait for inspiration and when it strikes, we sit around in our PJ’s writing for hours without looking up to see that the sun has set and come up again.

    The other day, I was at a coffee shop and saw someone I knew. He knew that I’d published a book. He said, “So, are you working at all?” I said, “Yes, I’m a writer.” He said, “Oh, I guess that’s work.” Geesh! Seriously?

    It is work. Believe me. I say, don’t wait for inspiration. Just write.

    • says

      Karen – this is why it’s so great to have other writers as friends – even online! At least we understand that writing is work – and I don’t believe these people who say it is all easy and just flows out of them all the time – sometimes it takes all the discipline in the world to get black on white! So I know you’re working :)

      • says

        Karen & Joanna – I too hear about how easy writing is from non-writers! It really is wonderful (and necessary) to connect with writers who truly understand how incredibly difficult it is to sit in the chair and get the work done. And then to revise it. :)

  11. says

    Love this post! This discussion thread is inspiring, and I like to see how helpful authors are with each other. Thank you for affirming that even though I don’t write every day that by doing the things you’ve mentioned I am working on my writing projects. Being a big fan of education, it seems that reading about writing such as this post also counts – I hope :)

    • says

      Roberta — I’m a firm believer in “writing without really writing” because sometimes that’s all we can do. I think that it counts if you’re reading, researching, and doing just about anything else that connects you to your project or keeps you inspired. To me, it matters less how many words I can type in a day but rather how much my project keeps moving ahead … and sometimes I learn more by reading a novel and thinking about structure than I would trying to tackle a scene that isn’t ready to be tackled yet. Thanks so much for your comment!

  12. says

    Good piece. If you are lucky enough to have an iPhone or iPod touch I heartily recommend a program called Evernote.

    It’s easy enough to use it as a voice recorder or to type in quick notes. It syncs with Evernote on your proper writing machine so your notes are always there.

    I use it for quick ideas that might spark a story prevents just to talk through a plot idea to myself.

    Ideal when walking the dog.

    • says

      Noel, that is a fantastic suggestion … thank you! I often use my phone to type in quick notes, and I love it. I can’t let anything go by without recording it somehow, or it’s gone forever. I tend to wake in the middle of the night with lots of ideas too (some worth keeping, some definitely not!). Thanks for reading and responding!

  13. says

    Great post! Since I’ve started writing on a basic term, everything makes me think about it. Hopefully my job allows me to write a three to five hundred words a days, from Monday to Friday. I’m allowing myself to take off on the weekend. Fortunately or not I usually always end up thinking about writing. A conversation with my wife or a TV show or even playing with my dogs will trigger my inner writer. With the Nano coming up I’m glad it does. :D

  14. says

    Jeannot — best of luck with your new writing schedule! It sounds terrific, and I like the idea of taking off weekends; I think you’ll find that once you’re immersed in your project, you’ll be doing things (seeing certain films, reading certain books, etc.) that aren’t actually writing but that will still help keep you going forward with your project. I’ve found that once I’m involved in a project, just about anything can help me tap into my inner writer. :)

  15. Laura says

    I love this blog. You always seem to be addressing the very issue I am working on when I read it – or, maybe, I’m just dealing with a lot of issues. Either way, you are a wonderful, practical inspiration. Thanks!

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