There is currently a heatwave in England. Every weather channel has various diagrams to explain just how toasty it is and invariably there’s a lot of red on the map. Those of you from hotter climates may well laugh, but it’s currently 30 degrees Celsius and I’m officially melting. And while my office has air-conditioning, my flat does not.
Unfortunately, the blistering heat has coincided with my Writing Weekend. As the name implies, I’m supposed to bang out as much writing as possible because I have so little time during the month to get anything done. I have to complete a short story, write two chapters of my novel (at least!) and get a few blog posts scheduled.
All while I feel like I’m under the magnifying glass of the kid who uses it to fry ants.
Is it completely fair to sometimes throw in the towel and say, you know what? There will be no writing today. Deadlines be damned, if the magic isn’t there, it’s usually not wise to force it. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other things you can be doing in lieu of actually writing.
Here are five alternatives to sitting down at the keyboard which will help the next time you do.
Do some critical reading instead. Have you ever read back your own writing and had the feeling that it’s… wrong? You don’t know why, it’s just not right. But then you pick up a published author and know inherently that they’ve struck all the right notes.
That’s because all good writers start as good readers. We know what makes an engaging story. Even if we’ve never sat down and thought about it, we can spot it a mile off. Learning to read critically is the first step in recognising where your own story structure or characterisation or dialogue is falling down.
Pick up a book, maybe even one you know and love and break it down. Why do I love it? How do they structure their story? How do they make me understand what the characters are feeling without telling? You’ll be amazed at how much you can pick up by treating the text as a teaching tool.
I don’t mean head on down to the gym, but you should if you have a cheap local one. I’ve been forcing myself to go twice a week now – something I never would have done last year, but I’m on a bit of a health kick.
But what I’ve discovered is the benefit of getting a little blood pumping through the head. And the sense of momentum has always been a pretty powerful motivator for me. I love writing on the train, I find that some of my best ideas come when I’m on long walks. Even if you’re just on a treadmill, the sense of accomplishment makes you think anything is possible. Even that last tricky chapter you couldn’t complete yesterday.
Henry David Thoreau would agree and once said:
Whether you’re writing a non-fiction blog or writing, research makes your life and writing ten times better. But it takes time and energy and is usually the last thing you want to do when you’re in the mood to write.
So save your non-writing time for research. If you’re blog writing, use this time for image searching or finding articles to link to. If you’re fiction writing, this is the perfect opportunity to search for inspirational images of your world or characters. Or find out what Carribean slang consisted of in the 1800s. Or what cocktails your hero would have to choose from in 1950s Germany.
I’ve been doing this a lot recently and I can’t stress enough the value of it. If you’re stuck in a chapter, filling in some of the holes in your world can lead you to ideas you never would have thought of.
This is the sneaky one. This is writing but not writing.
If the idea of sitting down and tackling another chapter fills you with dread, it’s easy to think ‘I can’t write today’. What this means is – I can’t write what I think I should be writing today.
Then don’t! Put the novel away and start throwing ideas out on a piece of paper. Odd words or scenes, maybe a line of dialogue and see where it gets you. There’s no such thing as pointless writing, even if it’ll never see the light of day again. And who knows? A bit of free writing may unblock whatever was putting you off writing in the first place.
5. Find other writers!
This is the perfect time to go out and hunt for other writers. Use your down time to do something productive for your writing career and find a writers group. I’m part of the London Writers Cafe and going there once or twice a month gives me the kick I need to keep writing and not get discouraged. It’s truly invaluable.
Or maybe a talk by an author. They may be difficult to find depending on where you’re based, but I can’t tell you how inspirational listening to successful writers can be.
For anyone who’s given up on writing today, I hope I’ve inspired you to do something else.
For those of you currently in the UK, here’s your bonus activity for today. Buy a desk fan. I mean, like, right now. I’m heading over Amazon before my screen turns into a luminous puddle. Byyeee.