Having said that, I know sometimes we just won't be writing. If you are at one of these rare moments as a writer when you aren't writing, then there are by my count 5 things you should be doing besides writing. These are the only 5 activities I don't feel guilty doing instead of writing.
OK, maybe I feel a little guilty, but I get over it...usually.
So what are these five things? Fine, here they are:
- Researching - Got an idea for a historical thriller set in biblical times, but you know nothing about ancient civilizations? Doing a little research on the times, how people lived, etc., is essential. In my second book of the Mall Demons Fantasy Series, I take readers back to the time of the biblical Noah. Although I know the story, I did research on everything from what ancient people wore, what they ate, how they farmed and traded, as well as, when they married. WARNING: If you're researching, set a time limit or deadline. Once you reach that limit or deadline, stop researching and start writing. The temptation is to keep researching until you know EVERYTHING about your topic. You'll never know everything. If you try, you'll never stop researching and start writing.
- Reading - This is the activity I do most when I'm not writing. Why? You can't truly grow as a writer if you don't read. Makes no sense to want to write (a craft that relies on words), but not want to read (an activity that familiarizes you with words). This is the one activity that I will schedule in my day, like writing. I must read every day: fiction, nonfiction, newspapers, magazines. This helps me learn how to be a better writer. I often see how another writer describes a tree or someone's face and it gives me ideas how I can do the same. Can't stress how important reading is for writers. Reading is fundamental.
- Living - I'm a big fan of experience. The more you do in life, the more you can write about with authority. Reading and research can compensate for experience. I'll admit that. However, experience will go a long way towards giving you confidence in your writing. I can set a story in Austin, Texas, describing the city or a neighborhood park with confidence because I have experienced many, many years of life there. I can create a character who is an Army veteran, knowing I will make him realistic because I was a soldier for eight years. I can write a scene showing the birth of a child because I witnessed the birth of all my children firsthand...and I did not faint. My advice: don't forget to live. write a lot; read a lot; but don't sacrifice life. Get out of your house or apartment. Turn off your computer. Take a walk outside. Meet real people. Live.
- Resting - On December 1st last year, I didn't bother to write one sentence. I didn't write a sentence the next day or the next. I was resting. It was my sabbatical, if you will. I had just spent all of November writing a novel draft, 50,000 words. I was drained. After such a frenzied period of writing activity, I felt I needed a well-deserved rest to recharge. That was OK. Don't abuse this. I do not allow myself to say, "I wrote today for 10 minutes. Now I can take tomorrow off."
- Thinking - If you're not writing, you should be thinking of writing. Bottom line. Whether you are researching, reading, living or resting, you should be thinking about writing. End of discussion. If you are a writer, you must write or be thinking of writing. Human nature is too easily corrupted. We will compromise in a heartbeat. You can't compromise your craft. If you're not writing, you're not a writer.