How Not Writing Can Help Your Writing


by Diane Laney Fitzpatrick


I know, it sounds like a lame excuse, doesn’t it?

“It’s not that I’m not writing. It’s just that I’m thinking about my next chapter while I play this game of Solitaire on my phone. With Law and Order reruns playing in the background.”

Those of us who have perfected the art of procrastination have memorized all of these justifications. So imagine my delight when I learned that there is quite a bit of value to the things you do as a writer that do not involve writing. Not writing can actually help you become a better writer.

In other words, give it a break.

Stephen King, in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, recommends walking away from whatever you’re writing in order to see your writing through fresh eyes, and as someone else’s baby instead of your own. “You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience,” he writes.

Screenplay writers often put their completed work in a drawer and let it sit for three weeks while they travel, catch up on things around the house – anything but looking at that screenplay, before picking it back up again and starting on editing.

That’s not to say you should indulge in computer games and crime dramas with wild abandon. There are some productive things you can do while not writing, to help you become a better writer.


Get Thyself Into Other Forms of Creativity

Sew something. Color in that adult coloring book you got for Christmas two years ago. Refinish the dining room chair you trash-picked last summer. Knit a scarf. Start a baby quilt. Dust off your old junior high clarinet (try not to scare the dog). Belt out the songs from your high school musical (again, the dog . . .) Pick up some needlepoint. Bang out a couple of scrapbook pages. Close the curtains and dance. Tie-dye something. Learn origami.

How in God’s name, you ask, is this going to help you be a better writer?

Because you aren’t going to become a better writer solely by writing more. Yes, practice makes perfect. But practice mixed in with other forms of creativity makes perfect-est.

Creativity feeds off itself. Being creative in different ways will increase your creativity as a writer. Plus mixing it up a little bit will put you back in your writer’s seat with a refreshed creative brain.


There’s a Reason You Come Up With Your Best Ideas in the Shower

Or when you’re in the checkout line at the grocery store. Or other places light years away from your novel on your laptop. Because great ideas love to sneak up on you and take you by surprise. You can sit at your desk for hours, racking your brain for that segue-way you so desperately need, and here it comes, in the middle of your parent teacher conference.

Of course you’ll want to surreptitiously jot down your most excellent idea. But look more closely at why it came to you when it did. Your mind was on other things. You weren’t trying so hard.

While you’re off being a mom or a grandpa or an accountant or a gym rat or any of the other non-writer roles you have, be ready for that next idea to come your way.


Replace “Writing” With “Reading” on Your Daily Schedule

Every writer knows that the way to become a better writer is to be a reader. Read, read, read, we are told. But who has time to read when we’re so busy writing? Some effort is required to put reading into its deserved place in your writer’s life.

If you’ve always been a bedtime reader but find yourself falling asleep after reading the same sentence every night for a week, turn your schedule upside down. Start reading a chapter first thing in the morning. Set aside 30 minutes at the end of your work day to unwind with a book before the evening circus begins. Give reading the place it deserves in your daily schedule. Move it from the “when everything else is done” time slot to the “important things I need to get done today” spot.

Reading is part of your job. It’s a vital part of the development of your craft.


Think of Non-Writing Time as Fodder

When I first started blogging, I wrote like a house afire. There seemed to be an endless supply of blog topics. And then, in the second year, when my supply began to run short, I had to get out of my study and my comfort zone and start doing things to write about. I went to a class to learn Michael Jackson Thriller dance. I learned how to make cheese in my kitchen. And I swear I only took up yoga for something to write about. And when I did take the time to sit and write, my blog was more interesting.

The writer who sits alone writing day after day will soon run out of things to write about. Because writing is a solitary – some would say lonely, even – enterprise, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the more we sit and write the harder we’re working.

Change that thinking. You’re taking a walk? You’re working. Meeting a fun and fascinating friend for lunch? You’re working. Settled in a corner of Starbucks watching people come and go? You’re workin’ here! Give your readers something to read that shows you’re a curious, compelling, thought-provoking writer.




Guest post contributed by Diane Laney Fitzpatrick. Diane is the author of Great-Grandma Is on Twitter and Other Signs the Rapture Is Near and Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves. She writes a humor blog, “Just Humor Me,” and is working on a third book and her first screenplay. A former journalist, she lives in San Francisco.

73 thoughts on “How Not Writing Can Help Your Writing

  1. Ha! Always as I thought. I was working even when I wasn’t working on my writing. It’s true. I’m not a lazy writer.

    Now that I’m home-bound, I’m finding I have much less to write about. And I’ve put off reading when writing, though I’ve wanted to revisit a novel or two, and pick up a new one to ingest. Putting it on my daily to-do list.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. And there I was, always wondering if anyone else knew about “the shower” to solve almost any plot hole…
    I’ve recently changed my work schedule and negotiated more time for writing during the week. Now I can spend the weekend with my family without the gnawing feeling that I should be at my desk, writing. That’s a good thing for all of us.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I recently read something about how “writing takes place in the dark,” and it’s true. Some of the best ideas come when you least expect them when you’re not even thinking about your WIP, but doing something else, and then suddenly epiphany. This is also why the “Write every day” mantra isn’t good advice. If you have something to write about every day, but all means do so, but don’t feel guilty if nothing comes out each time.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes! I’m glad someone said this because this month I tried to write a poem every day but felt gulty because it only came in waves – I’d write maybe four or 5 things one day and then the next maybe even write less. I used to have no trouble writing every day, but years have passed and I can’t seem to do that on top of everything else

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Writing works differently for everyone. Some people can write every day and that works for them, but it’s ridiculous to make these hard and fast rules for everyone. It’s why I have a problem with Stephen King’s “never use adverbs.” Many people quote it, but it’s an appeal to authority fallacy. Of course he’s a best selling author, but when you have something as subjective as writing to contend with, you can certainly give tips and critiques, but there aren’t any static rules.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for sharing! I feel a lot less like a procrastinating hack when I make a flock of origami geese at my desk instead of trying to flesh out my missing three chapters for my book now ☺️ I like it – cheers!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I completely agree with your note on reading.

    In a recent post, I compared writing to bodybuilding: writing is lifting; reading is eating right. It’s impossible to grow your muscles (read: the writing part of your brain) without feeding it.

    Anywho, I really dig this post. Looking forward to reading more.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m a big fan of ‘the drawer’, throw your script in there and forget about it for a while and coming back with new eyes is the best way to detach yourself enough from your work to be able to edit. Great advice 🙂


  7. These are some great ideas. As a writer, it seems very difficult to take that break because I always feel like I must be writing and producing something at all time. However, I have noticed that I run out of ideas a lot quicker if all I do is write.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. This is probably the most accurate thing I’ve ever read – I get my best inspirations pretty much anywhere but in front of my laptop. Could be when I’m out walking, at a grocery store, when I’m drawing, or even (more frequently than I care to admit) when I’m talking to myself in front the bathroom mirror (yes.. I’m a little crazy… hopefully I’m not the only one…?)

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Thank you. Writing is more than just sitting at the computer or the typewriter and typing out sentence after sentence. It takes absorbing the world around us, learning from all it has to offer us. I would like to say that taking walks out in nature is also very beneficial to writers. The woods, the desert, the mountains, the seaside, can all invigorate our minds. Nature has inspired artists, poets, authors, musicians, and religious leaders alike, for good reason. It’s spiritual, and for many of us writers writing is a spiritual process.

    Liked by 4 people

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