Who says you have to have a pen in your hand or a Word document open in order to be productive? You might be in a place or situation where you’re not able to sit down and write uninterrupted, you might be stuck on where to take your story or what to write about next, or maybe you just need a break for a while. There are ways to be productive even when you’re out and about, at a friend’s house, shopping, or in bed. Here are seven ways you can keep those creative juices flowing:
We all know that to be good writers we should be readers. Reading other people’s work helps us to identify new writing styles, recognise what works, and think about how we can apply what we learn to our own writing. So reading – whether we read within or genre or something completely different, and whether we read a published book, a magazine, or something a friend has written – is a good use of our time when we’re not writing.
Walking around town, sitting in a café, riding the bus? These are great opportunities for people-watching. What are the people walking past doing? Are they talking to each other? What are they saying, and how do they say it? Watch how people walk – are they walking with purpose, or stooping? Do they stop to look at something? Are they smiling? What are they thinking about? Where are they going? What’s their story, and can you use them in your next piece of writing?
- Watch TV
“Watching TV isn’t productive!” you might exclaim. But depending what you watch, film and television can help you with dialogue, plotting, and character development. I’ve started watching Lost (I know, I know, where have I been, right?) and I find it really interesting how the flashbacks give the viewer more insight into the characters and their past, and how this influences their actions and their motivation.
I get some of my best ideas when I’m swimming or in the steam room or Jacuzzi at the gym. Which isn’t ideal because it means I don’t have a pen handy to write any of them down, so I have to try to remember them. But doing something relaxing or physical like exercise can free up our minds to tackle other things, so we can get some great writing ideas during these times. Just write them down as soon as you can, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking “oh that’s easy to remember, I’ll remember that without writing it down, no problem.” For me at least, that isn’t true. I once got an idea for a poem on my drive home from work. By the time I was halfway home I had written the whole thing in my head and I was reciting the lines out loud to myself over and over because I was so scared of forgetting it all. I got home after the 45-ish minute drive, burst through the door, shouted “I need to write something down!” and poured it all into my notebook, thankfully all still intact despite my terrible memory.
- Take photos
Find another way to be creative, like taking photographs of people and things around you. Then when you need some inspiration you can look back at the photos and do some freewriting about what you see (and what you don’t see, or what you imagine just out of the frame). Or if you’re the artistic type, swap your pen for a set of pencils or paints, or have a little doodle and just see where your hand takes you.
Probably the thing on the list that feels most like work, research is another way of staying productive without actually writing. Take to the internet and look up places where your story is set, or places that interest you. Read about periods in history that you might like to write about. Learn about the history of your hometown. Find something new to inspire you.
Talk to a friend about what you’re writing – bouncing ideas off someone else can help spark something new, renew your excitement about your project, or give you confirmation that you have a solid idea on your hands. Alternatively, talk to your family about your family history. What stories can you learn about your ancestors? Plus, chatting (and eavesdropping) can help you with dialogue to help you to write realistic people in your stories.