Supporting Your Writing Life, Uncategorized

10 Things to Do When You Aren’t Writing

Hey, guys! Hope your Summer has been enjoyable, inspiring, and productive.

During Camp NaNo, one of my biggest struggles was to keep myself interested in my WIP. My plot changed a hundred times. My characters switched personalities. But I knew that deep down at the core of it all, I still had a fantastic story to tell. I just had to find my spark again, and again, and again… every day of July.

Here’s a list of 10 block-busting activities to help you get back into the swing of things (or to stay focused on your writing project when the writing part gets hard.)


  1. Five Senses. Before writing a scene (or picking one that you’re going to edit,) take the time to jot down at least one item in each of your POV character’s five senses, and remember: even if he isn’t eating anything, taste can still apply; dust hits the back of his dry tongue, or smoke burns his throat and leaves an ashy flavor, or the overturned forest earth tastes sweet in the air after so long in a desert wasteland. Taste and smell can go hand in hand.
  2. Describe the Food. Usually we don’t get to witness characters taking a bathroom break (how awkward would that be?) but sometimes we hurry along in our plot and tend to focus on the BIG THINGS happening but not the simple, human moments that flesh out our Brain Children in a reader’s mind. Do your characters need to have an important conversation? Whatever time of day it is, consider having them converse over a meal and use the senses of taste and touch (pulling apart the soft, chewy, warm bread and dipping it in marinara sauce,) to ground the reader.
  3. Create an Aesthetic. Remember the activity when you were a kid (or raised kids) where you’d cut up a bunch of magazines and make a collage of pictures and words that inspired you? Do that. If you want to do it 21-century style, go ahead and use Pinterest. I love that site.
  4. Cast Your Characters. Have a difficult time describing your characters? Or are they always shifting around in your mind’s eye? Or do you just imagine they have a really great sense of style, but you need some inspiration? Go pick out some actors, some clothing, accessories, and cars with your character’s preferences in mind—or just discover as you go! Their preferences (and how others see them/they want to be seen) are as much a part of their personality as who they hang out with.
  5. Watch a Movie with a Pen. Guys, this one is a gold mine. You can study plot, character development, camera angles, and so much more all in the space of two hours. But that’s not all. Grab a pen and a pad, and when a piece of dialogue resonates with you, jot it down. Or pick a character who acts most like one of your own and study what you like and don’t like about them, and what you’d do to change them. Pick one of your own characters and imagine how the dynamics of the group would be different if they were in XYZ role instead of Tom Cruise’s character. Pay attention to the background music; how do audio cues come into play, and what could you do with adding ‘background noise’ to influence your readers’ mood?
  6. Play Mood Games with Music. You all know I dig music + writing put together. If you haven’t already made eighty million playlists for every mood of every character you have ever created (and an additional playlist for every cute-meet, fight, breakup, and reunion for their relationships,) then I highly recommend you do that. But for now, go ahead and put your music library (or favorite CD) on shuffle. With every song that comes on, without skipping any to get to your next favorite, write down the 1. Mood of the song. 2. How your character would display this mood physically/how others could tell they were in this mood. 3. Write any phrases that stand out to you.
  7. Make an Ultimate ‘What If’ List. What if your morally-upstanding guy murdered someone to protect a loved one? What if your villain found a wounded animal and tried to save it? What if the little girl is really the bad guy? What if the old man is really the superhero? What if the homeless woman was a millionaire in disguise…? You’ll be amazed at what a little stream-of-conscious note-taking can do.
  8. Freewrite. Take ten minutes to write about what’s on your desk, or if you’re in a public place, describe someone around you. Don’t stop typing. Just ‘shake loose’ all those initial ‘bad’, stumbly words to make room for the good ones. Get the pump primed and your mind ready to create.
  9. Random Words. This is another exercise that will feel like a game. Take three, five, or even as many as ten random words (you can find a generator online to make sure they are truly random,) then write the first five or ten paragraphs of a story that would connect them all. If inspiration hits, run with it. It’s a fun puzzle to solve!
  10.  Tell Someone About It. If you aren’t a member of a writing group or online forum, phone up a friend and ask for just fifteen minutes of their time. Then set a timer—and gush about your book or characters as fast as you can; everything that’s wrong, everything that’s right, everything you want to happen, how stubborn it’s being. Don’t worry about making sense or hopping around in your timeline. Your friend could even put the phone down and walk away for a while; the important thing is that you start talking, because when we hear our own voice trying to make sense of it for someone else, usually the cogs start clicking into place. (PS: Make sure to have some paper with you to write down all those loophole-spoiling ideas!)


And that’s it for today. Go, be free!



10 Things to Do When You Aren't Writing

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