The enemy of writing is time. It limits productivity and advancement. For many writers, a conflict exists between the hours they spend (or wish they could spend) on their latest story ideas and the other responsibilities in their lives.
But what if all of life could be devoted to writing? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. You don’t have to be free of distractions or hunched over a desk to set off brainstorms, flex your imagination’s muscles, and spiff up your style. In fact, your results may be more fluid when you aren’t pushing words onto paper, because the pressure to excel won’t be as high.
Once you learn flexible, creativity-inducing habits, any activity or setting can transform into an opportunity for writing growth. Here are four that have personally enriched my craft.
Habit #1: Think Like a Poet
For the past few years, I’ve regularly played ultimate frisbee at a park. The sky is usually gorgeous. And the best part?
The cloud formations change continually. I treat this as a challenge to describe every curve, shadow, and wisp with equal cleverness. Over the years, I’ve come up with more than a hundred metaphors that range from blueberry stains to moth-eaten trousers to bleeding battleships on a foamy sea. Every time I walk outside, it’s a chance to test and hone my figurative language skills.
You don’t need to choose clouds as your subject—anything that fluctuates can serve as a prompt for pizzazzy prose. You can engage in this exercise while watching your kids play, driving to work, and washing dishes, plus dozens of other situations where your mind is mostly idle. Pro tip: invite a friend to join you and make it into a game.
Habit #2: Edit Your Own Sentences
Normal people enjoy hobbies like skiing, chess, and chatting with friends. Weird, right?
Real fun is when you pause your internal monologue while you’re brushing your teeth to remind yourself that “this hour is really too late for me to be going to bed” could be better phrased as “I should go to bed earlier.”
Then you realize “could be better phrased as” would become more succinct if you tweaked it to “would flow better as.”
And when you start nitpicking other people’s sentences instead of just your own, you can buy a T-shirt that says, “Blame my editor for teaching me this.”
I actually do reword my thoughts sometimes. It freshens up my voice so I don’t develop verbal tics that might annoy or confuse readers. You can do the same with emails, journaling, or any other task that involves communication. Begin by studying a few articles on how to write beautiful, smooth, and concise prose. Memorize the techniques that’ll help you the most and keep an eye out for moments when you can practice what you’ve learned.
Habit #3: Use Truth as Inspiration Wherever You Find It
I often daydream about stories during church. Should I feel ashamed?
I’ve decided not to. The sermons ignite my story embers like a match. Maybe King Saul’s mistakes kickstart a meaningful backstory for my villain, or the Beatitudes hint at how I could portray the virtue of meekness without sounding preachy.
I don’t take traditional (boring) sermon notes because I know the myths I concoct as I’m listening will carry the teachings of Scripture with me to my grave.
Life lessons and notable events abound even outside of church walls. For instance, I’ve given one of my characters struggles that mirror my own (e.g., reluctance to acknowledge fears, frustration with fate, obsession over goals). Some of these I’ve conquered and others I haven’t yet. Look for similar truth sparks while you’re sitting in a pew or wrestling with a problem. When you turn personal revelations and experiences into stories, you’ll not only become wiser but also more masterful at building compelling themes.
Habit #4: Fix Poor Storytelling (in Your Mind)
Writers definitely never fritter away time reading. They couldn’t hate anything more. So, if a parent or spouse forces you to read a book, try surviving by critiquing the contents to prove you’re stronger. Books need to understand who’s boss.
Every story can stand refining, even after publication. Maybe the author does too much telling, the romance isn’t fully convincing, or the ending isn’t as powerful as it could be. When I read K.M. Weiland’s Behold the Dawn, I pretended that the plot didn’t rely so much on the protagonist info-dumping about the state of his soul. When I read Lord of the Rings, I loved the ending, but since I’m such a dramatic type, I envisioned an extra cataclysmic/eucatastrophic finale at Mount Doom instead. (Both of these are stellar novels, by the way, so don’t jump to the conclusion that I’m knocking them.)
Passive reading is for plebeians. Active reading is weight training for the grand colosseum we call an empty page. Aim to pinpoint at least one weak area in every novel you consume.
The Day Remade
While I’d hardly recommend focusing your every thought on writing (you’ll lose all your friends that way), incorporating storytelling discipline into everyday life spices up your routine and shapes you into a writing ninja.
Which of these habits are you going to implement today? Would you add any to the list that I didn’t mention? Share your own strategies in the comments below.
Many moons ago, a series of suspiciously providential events led Daeus to cast his lot among the worldwide community of Christian storytellers. Since then, no reports indicate that he has come back out. Perhaps he is lost among those fine gallivanters forever. Rest in peace, Daeus Lamb.
Daeus dreams impossibly large (which doesn’t bother him a bit) and tends to bite off more than he can chew. Watch this in action as he tries to capture the depths of the fantasy genre on his YouTube channel, or as he seeks to express the meaning of life in just a short novelette. (Psst. It’s a popular little book called God of Manna and you can get it for free here.)