Four Ways to Work on Writing Without Writing

You don’t have to write every day. I’ve said it a million times on this blog and I still believe it. You absolutely must make regular progress on your writing, lest inertia put a stop to all of your endeavors. In many cases it’s easier to not do hard work than it is to do so, and if writing isn’t hard work for you, my guess is that you’re missing something.

So, I don’t subscribe to the “you must write every day” commandment so popular in the writing advice world. Write every other day. Or on the weekends. If you get the story or that book done, you’re a writer.

But if you feel you must work on something everyday, and yet don’t feel ready to write, remember there are all kinds of ways to be working on a story or novel that don’t involve the actual writing. So long as you progress in the creation of the story and don’t use these activities as a means of procrastination, I’ve found they are well worth the writers time on days when the writing itself just isn’t happening. Consider:

Research. Of course, it’s the most famous, and has become the most common weapon of procrastinating writers. But you don’t have to be procrastinating in order to research. If you have a specific set of questions you need answered for your story, write them down, and research only the answers to same. You need to do it at some point anyway, why not today?

Outlining. If that is, you believe in outlines. I often spend a day I’ve set aside for work almost solely on outlining. I can bridge plot gaps and come up with scenes that I didn’t know I needed before. Rarely do I outline and write a scene in the same day. I like to let the outline set, like wet cement, until it’s dry the following day and can be “walked on” as it were. I’m not afraid to change what the outline says if needs be, but outlining a chapter or two of a novel is working on said novel. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

Brainstorming. Again, this can be a time suck and a procrastination classic. That’s fine sometimes, of course, because it’s fun to do. Yet even a brainstorm can be productive if directed. Take whatever plot point you are having trouble with, and come up with 50 ways it could be solved. But remember to include even the most absurd solutions. Even if you are writing historical fiction, if an alien landing could solve the particular problem you are having, write it down on your brainstorm page, or whatever you’re using. Of course you won’t put that into a true historical novel, but if you let yourself entertain it, you are circling your ideas and your plot from every possible angle, digging as deep as you can into its nature. It may sound like a game, but once you come up with 50 or so possible solutions, no matter how crazy, it will feel like work. Fun work, but work. Work on your writing that isn’t actually writing.

-Read it. This depends to a great extent on your process. Some people, like myself, don’t like to look at my first draft of a longer piece until it’s totally finished. But with shorter pieces, I will sometimes read it over once or twice to see how it sounds, and what it’s doing. If i see a mistake to correct, or an idea to make it better, I will make the change, but the change is not the main reason for such readings. I go back and read a piece, or sometimes portions of a piece, to get myself into the mindset of my work. Even a writer can’t always jump instantly into the mood of something he’s working on. But by reading what you have so far, you’re not only detecting what needs to be revised at some point, but you are “working” on the piece by tempering yourself into it to ready yourself for writing more. Dipping a toe in the pool first, if you will. It can be especially effective if you read it out loud.

By no means are these the only things you can do to work on your writing without the actual writing. But I’ve found these are the four I most often fall back on, when I want to be working on a piece, but yet can’t gear up to actually write any given day. Literal writing is best and of course cannot be avoided forever, but better to be working on a piece, by the means above or others when I’m not writing, than to not be writing, and not be working on any aspect of the piece at all.

What other things might a writer do to work on a piece without the actual writing? Do you do any of these I’ve listed?

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