Friday, 16 July 2010

How to write all the time – Part 2

Think it's impossible to write when you're at work, driving, at a funeral, or even asleep? Think again. Observation and Invention can be done at any time, recording the results is trickier but not impossible. We've talked about this in the past, and will again, but for now, here are more tips on getting through the days without losing your sense of self.

Writing when driving

  • If you've been capturing ideas when you have a moment and a hand free, then you should already have a heap of questions about your WIP to ruminate over. Now's the time to do it.

  • Being stuck in a traffic jam couldn't be more mind-numbing, right? Take a look at your fellow drivers - what are they wearing, where are they going. Invent lives and backgrounds for them.

  • The world is all around and you've got nothing better to do than look at it – make ten observations that strike you about what you see, then make ten more – it's likely the latter will be the more unusual and unique.

  • Your drive to work is so demanding you can't look at anywhere other than the road? Slam an audio book into the cd player – listening to someone else's stories may help inspire your own.

  • Feel the road-rage – yep, it's a genuine emotion, and therefore material – embrace it.

Writing at work

  • Got a great idea when you should be crunching that spreadsheet? Send yourself an email to your home address, if that's not an option, make an urgent call to your mobile voice-mail as you step out of the office and leave yourself a message.

  • Look at your boss and your co-workers – see who has the status, who's stifling their ambition? What are people really thinking? Imagine how the status would change in a different situation, who would be the real leaders. Who fancies who? Who hates who? There's all sorts bubbling under the surface – try to figure it out.

  • Use your lunchbreak to write – there's nothing like being right amongst the alternative to a writing career to inspire you to get some words down.

  • Learn shorthand – no one will have any idea you're not actually writing up the meeting minutes when in fact you're nailing chapter 15.

Writing at a family event

  • So you have a fifteen hour drive to cousin Nigel's wedding who you last saw when he was his mother's bump? Look around the congregation, try and figure out if anyone there has slept with the bride or groom – what are they thinking? Is there anybody there who would like to sleep with them? Perhaps you do? Perhaps you already have.

  • Ask and listen – Uncle Bob may tell you about his experience as a Bomber pilot during the war. Auntie Jude may tell you who slept with the bride last week. Cousin Kevin may reveal his drug addiction. The human race is your subject, and there's nothing like a wedding or a funeral for a compelling mix of people with a whole heap of emotional baggage and back-ground. Things are bound to kick-off.

Writing when you're asleep

  • Dreams – the one time when you can guarantee that your internal editor isn't around to spoil things – sex, violence, nightmares, characters, dead people – things you couldn't possibly imagine yourself imagining happen in dreams. Start keeping a dream journal, because like all good ideas, they will be forgotten.

There is really no excuse. Writing can be just a hobby, but it can also be a way of life.


  1. Great post James!

    I work with a lot of uh, "interesting characters." They always give me story ideas. I also like to eavesdrop on people during lunch. Sometimes it can be the tone and what ISN'T said that can be so interesting.

    Have a great weekend!

  2. You must have been f0llowing me around. Not only is writing a way of life it's the way my brain is wired. It has story-generating subroutines running the whole time.

  3. @Hey Karen - I had a feeling you might relate to this post!

    @Roz, that's exactly what I do - follow you around and nick all your best stuff ;)

  4. I come up with great ideas while I drive too, but I have a recorder to store them in. I can't write while working, though, it's a totally different mindset for me.

    Marc Vun Kannon

  5. Dreams, if you can remember them in the morning, are great things to use. I have a novel that starts from a dream and it takes up several chapters to get it all in the novel.

  6. Great post! I've also been known to email ideas, snippets of catchy sentences and phrases to my personal email during work. Or made use of the note feature on my cell while out and about. You've got to take advantage when inspiration strikes.

  7. Hi James! Thanks for following my blog. I'm a following you too!
    This is such an interesting topic. I found that after I started writing, I couldn't shut my mind to the ideas that popped up in every situation. Now I have the opposite problem--I can't stop thinking about my WIP wherever I am.

  8. These are great tips. It's true, once we're aware and thinking like a writer, it never really turns off!

  9. I love this post!
    We all do this, let our mind wander while doing other things then we feel guilty about it.
    We shouldn't. It's all part of writing.

  10. @Author Guy - welcome to the blog. Yeah, if you're really working hard on something else you can't hope to think about anything else - but those times you get to day-dream - that's the time to capture those thoughts.

    @John - nice to meet you - yep, dreams are such good sources of material, but as you suggest, it's remembering them that's the key. I have great dreams, but they fade so fast.

    @Christine - hello Christine - yeah, I'm looking for a good notes tool for my Android phone - do you use Android, and if so, can you recommend one?

    @Lydia - thanks Lydia, loved your blog - great posts, love the medical stuff too, gives a really interesting angle to your blog.

    @Julie & Nora - hey guys - such a lot of interest for this subject - I think it must really resonate with writers, most of whom don't have the luxury of being able to write full time, and have to squeeze it in when we can.

    Welcome new followers and posters - very exciting to have you reading and commenting. Hopefully you'll find other stuff of interest and use on my blog.

  11. I love this post--I saved it and have just linked to it from my own blog. It's so true that once you start writing regularly, you can't turn your brain off. You see the stories in everything!

  12. Here from Amie's link. Some great ideas. Some which I also use. Especially the dreams--I kept a regular dream journal in high school and college and still use dream ideas frequently. There have also been times when I've carried a small recorder to help me remember fleeting thoughts.

    Tossing It Out

  13. great post! good to know i'm doing the right thing by neglecting my real job, like i'm doing, right now. i use any spare time at work these days to read awesome blogs about writing and even to work on my own blog.

    my co-workers, (mostly my insane boss that i've nicknamed The Beast) could provide some great writing material. i also like your idea about creating back-stories for people when stuck in traffic.

    thanks for the great ideas and for writing such a relatable post!