It’s National Novel Writing Month. Do you know where your brain children are? For novelists this can either prove to be a thrilling time of year or a daunting season. Whether you’re tackling your first novel this month or working on your fifteenth, it’s good to be reminded that becoming a better writing doesn’t always have to do with what we put on the page.
If you take a holistic and comprehensive approach to the task of writing, the results may pleasantly surprise you.
With that, here are 10 non-writing ways to strengthen your craft—to bring out the brain children.
Take a Hike
I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a million times, fresh air does more than merely invigorate. Nature has an unparalleled ability to recharge us, to reintroduce us our glorious surroundings, thereby reacquainting us with some excellent material.
When you’re a writer you have permission. And I’m not just talking about visiting coffee shops. Sure, you’ll glean some good tidbits there, but I’ve picked up dialogue at soccer games, outdoor concerts, even at the grocery store.
Read, Read, Read
No-brainer, right? Of course, consume novels. Books in the genre you write. But also read marketing materials, magazine articles, advertisements, flash fiction, memoir, non-fiction . . . you name it, get your hands on it and soak it up with your eyes. Absorb it all.
“Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.” Lisa See
Paint. Knit. Garden. Find another way to get your juices flowing. There have been studies done that show the benefits of toying with new creative outlets. Brain activity increases. And who wouldn’t want more brain activity? Especially when it comes to brainstorming an ideal ending or adding a phenomenal character. So, go artsy. For novel’s sake.
Keep a Notebook Handy
I’ve crashed out of the shower in order to get my thoughts down on paper. I’ll never forget the advice a guest shared in one of my college writing classes (but I did forget his name). “Always keep a pen and paper nearby. You don’t want to risk losing precious material.” I carry a journal with me, along with the book I’m reading. A pen and paper are stationed on my bedside table. I haven’t figured out the whole transcribing in the shower thing yet. (This one isn’t writing-free, but it’s something that can be done besides actual work on the novel. Take notes about anything that grabs your attention in life—anything that strikes you.)
Become More Self-Aware
This’ll do more than improve your writing. It’s good life stuff. Learn how to say sorry after you screw up. Be honest about your imperfections. Laugh at yourself. Reflect. Take responsibility for your life. Let go of the unnecessary. Why does any of this matter? You’ll do your characters a favor. What you imbue into them will be an extension of what you’ve learned in your own life.
I spend a lot of time on Google. And I Google some pretty strange things. I also talk to people, professionals and slackers. I study people. Everything from the gestures they make to how they speak to things they choose not to share. I turn life and all of my surroundings into research. It has a way of making life infinitely more interesting.
Connect with Other Readers
I’m talking book clubs, baby! Fellow readers are invaluable. It’s in these environments that I learn from audiences what works and what doesn’t, what attracts a reader and what turns them off. I’ve lived here in CA for less than six months and I’ve already started up a book club of bright, engaging women. I made it a priority, and I’m so grateful for the group coming together.
Ask Questions & Stay Curious
I’ve said this before, too (that’s what ten years of blogging does) stay curious, my friends! People are wonderful teachers. You won’t ever fully know what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, but if you ask deep and thoughtful questions, you can have a better understanding. You could gain empathy and God knows, our world needs more of that + more active listeners. Not only is investing in others good for your novel, it’s good for the world.
I’ll end on this note. So, you’ve grown more empathetic. Excellent. That’s only going to flesh out your characters more—give them permission to make big mistakes and to heal properly. One more step. Shut down the temptation to judge. How would this improve your writing? Characterization 101. Characters need your permission as their creator to fail. And fail in massive ways. They need to get hurt. They need to grow. They can’t grow if you are forcing them to be perfect from page one. Write honestly, but with a solid understanding that we all, characters and authors alike, desperately need to grow.
Good luck to all the novel writers out there. I’m rooting for you. Live a full life + get the words on the page.
*Be back on the 19th.