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The world is full of advice about how to improve your writing. Heck, this site exists to help people with careers outside of writing make the most of their limited time and become better authors.
But if you’ve spent much time reading articles and books about writing, much of the advice starts to sound the same. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, necessarily, but how many times do you need to hear that time you spend watching TV could be better spent writing?
Dont’ get me wrong: learning the basics about squeezing the most out of your writing time and ability is important, but sometimes you need to try something different.
Sometimes, you need to focus on other areas of your life if you want to improve your writing. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true.
In that spirit, here are 21 ways to hack your writing life by focusing on non-writing activities.
Watch More TV
I know, know … this is sacrilege. After all, TV is the great time waster, so how can it possibly help your writing? Here are a few ways:
Relaxation: We all need to wind down, and if TV helps you do that, who’s to say you’re wrong?
Inspiration: If you’re stuck for your next story idea, you’ve probably worked through all your usual sources. TV is all about entertainment, and there are enough story ideas streaming through hundreds of channels at any moment to fill a lifetime of books.
Research: This may sound far-fetched, but there are tons of fact-based shows on the tube these days — history, true crime, science, how-to, paranormal, and more. All of it’s there for your perusal, and it might help you nail down a dangling mystery in your own book.
Don’t spend hours slumped in front of the tube, but you don’t have to avoid TV forever. It might even help you in your writing.
Further Reading: Amanda Chatel at Bustle runs down other ways TV might be good for you.
Eat Good Food
You can’t perform your best at any endeavor if you don’t supply your body with the right kinds of healthy, whole foods. Get a handle on your diet, and you’ll be much happier and more productive.
Further Reading: Cathy Presland gets you started with a list of “brainy” snacks.
The most important things in your life are your physical, mental, and emotional health. You cannot serve others in any meaningful capacity if you are ill. And you sure as heck won’t produce your best writing if you’re sick or in terrible physical condition.
Ever try to sit in a chair for a few hours with a bad back? Not pleasant, and that’s minor compared to many ailments we foist upon ourselves through poor habits and physical neglect.
Get yourself in reasonable shape and stay that way if you want to fulfill your potential as a writer.
Further Reading: Josh Vogt is big into fitness for writers, and he shares what he’s learned here.
Become More Productive at Work
Do you find it impossible to get your work done at the office and spend half your nights at home playing catch-up? It’s not an uncommon situation, but it’s absolutely deadly to your writing endeavors, not to mention your personal relationships.
Your workload is not likely to decrease anytime soon, so what’s the answer?
Most of us have plenty of room to optimize our professional productivity, and focusing on efficiency of effort at work is often the best way to free up more time at home. Especially if you’ve never focused on specific productivity enhancers, you may be in for a pleasant surprise.
Further Reading: Dustin Wax runs down a few dozen productivity blogs to get you started.
Become More Productive at Home
In a similar vein, the more work you have to do at home, the less time you’ll have to write on your “off” time. But the quicker you can finish mowing the lawn or painting the house, the sooner you can get back to your novel. Becoming more efficient at home can yield more writing time, the most precious commodity an author has.
Further Reading: Annie Mueller has some tips for knocking off your household chores in a more timely fashion.
Clean Your House
While you usually want to get housework out of the way so you can move on to other matters, did you know that cleaning up can actually be good for you … and your writing?Not many people really look forward to housecleaning, but it’s the type of “busy work” that can let your mind work through any tangles it might have — like how to get your protagonist out of his latest mess. While you’re focused on spiffing up your kitchen tile, your subconscious can concentrate on resolving those story points that have been holding you back.
Not many people really look forward to housecleaning, but it’s the type of “busy work” that can let your mind work through any tangles it might have — like how to get your protagonist out of his latest mess. While you’re focused on spiffing up your kitchen tile, your subconscious can concentrate on resolving those story points that have been holding you back.
Further Reading: 6 Ways Cleaning Alleviates Stress by Elizabeth Scott, MS
Engage with Your Family
You can’t work all the time if you hope to stay healthy, happy, and productive in the long-term. You must set aside time to spend with your family and friends, both to nurture those relationships and to recharge your own batteries. Not only are these connections vital to your overall well-being, but your conversations just might spark new ideas
Probably my favorite time of the week is Sunday Story Night, where we read stories we’ve written or enjoyed. Sometimes, we just play games, usually charades or other word-based diversions. Whatever we do, I always come out the other side more energized and ready for the week ahead.
Further Reading: Scholastic has some great ideas about encouraging family reading.
Engage with Your Community
This can be a tough one for introverts, not necessarily because we’re shy but because putting ourselves out there takes a lot of energy. But the rewards of community involvement are too great to ignore and include making connections that can help your career, helping people who need a boost or a friendly face, and just having a good time. Plus, getting out to see and do new things is a great way to spark new ideas for your writing.
Further Reading: When I’m 64 runs down the benefits of social and community engagement, particularly as we get older.
Play a Musical Instrument
Studies have shown that playing a musical instrument stimulates creative and social centers in your brain that otherwise lie mostly dormant. So, while you may bang your head against a wall trying to jar loose your next story idea, it turns out you might be better off banging a drum.
Further Reading: Michael Matthews details 18 benefits of playing a musical instrument, most of which apply directly to authors.
Get a Hobby
As with other items on this list, participating in a hobby you love helps you relax and gives you the opportunity to interact with more people. Stepping away from writing for a few hours to, say, go to an antique show with your uncle, can clear your mind and leave you raring to create again.
Further Reading: Kerry Bramham at How to Retire Early makes a compelling case for picking up a hobby to improve your life.
Too often in life, and especially as writers, we view each day as just another grind to suffer through. It can feel like our work is never finished and that we never really accomplish anything. But the truth is, you probably hit milestones of some sort nearly every week, if not more frequently.
Every time you finish a report for your boss or clean out a flower garden, you’ve notched another victory. Take time to acknowledge your accomplishments even if that just means admiring a new bare patch of dirt for a few minutes. Giving yourself kudos — or more tangible rewards — can stoke your enthusiasm and send your productivity on an upward climb.
Further Reading: Janice Holly Booth reminds us to celebrate whenever we can, via AARP’s Life Reimagined site.
Do Something Crazy
When baseball players spiral into an extended slump, they’ll try almost anything to get back on track. From eating exotic foods to switching bats to buying a new vehicle, nothing is off the table. While you may not have the wherewithal to swap out your ride, you can make a dramatic change to give your day a little more pep. If you always eat oatmeal for breakfast, try
If you always eat oatmeal for breakfast, try pizza. Ask your boss for a one-day flex schedule and work from Noon to 8 pm instead of your normal 9-to-5. Take a 10-mile hike instead of spending your Saturday afternoon watching movies.
Any dramatic change has the potential to bring a new perspective and renewed enthusiasm for your “normal” life workflow … or, it just might lead you to a better way of doing things.
Further Reading: Get some courage to do the outrageous from Lisa Work’s inspiring post.
Say Goodbye to Negative People
When it comes to friends and family, there are two basic types of people in your life: those who build you up and those who tear you down. Their efforts don’t have to be overt or even directed toward you, either. An encounter with a happy, positive person can you leave you feeling good about the world, while even a passing greeting with a grumbler can leave you grouchy, too.
There is enough bad news each day that you don’t need any help in bringing down your mood. The good news is, you can choose.
You can choose to associate with positive people. You can choose to stay away from negative people. You can screen calls, block Facebook posts, unfollow the mood offenders.
You can walk away. And you should.
Further Reading: David Wolfe has other 10 other tips on how to rid yourself of negative energy.
Studies have shown that married people are happier and live longer than their single counterparts. Marriage gives you a partner to share the good and bad in life, and your spouse makes — or should make — your best times sweeter and your worst times more bearable. Marriage provides a solid structure that makes goals seem more attainable.
Of course, you don’t want to marry just any old bum, but if you’re already in a strong relationship and waffling on the “I Do” decision, you might factor the impact on life quality — and writing — into your thought process.
Further Reading: FamilyFacts.org has a laundry list of the benefits of marriage, complete with references.
Go to Church
People who have faith in something bigger than themselves tend to roll with the punches that life doles out better than those who live in the moment. There is great comfort in truly believing that, in the end, there will be a bigger payoff than any book launch or job interview could ever deliver. And even if you’re on the fence with your faith, going to church can be good for you and your writing.
For one thing, Sunday morning service is a wonderful opportunity to connect with other members of your community and to catch up with friends you don’t see during other times of the week. For another, church is, by and large, a nurturing and non-threatening environment full of goodwill and hope. If you’re trying to eliminate negativity (see above) and improve your outlook on life, you could do a lot worse.
And, who knows, maybe you’ll find the big answers you’ve been seeking.
Further Reading: Health Fitness Revolution cites 10 healthy benefits of regular church-going.
Love Your Job
Even the best job in the world — whatever that may be for you — will be just a job some days. No profession is full of glamor and fun all the time, and they all grind on occasion. There will be days and weeks on end that challenge your commitment to your chosen profession.
But here’s the thing …
You can choose how engaged you are in your work every day. You can choose — to a large degree — how much you love your job.
Try this … next time you have a boring meeting staring you in the face, leave your cell phone, laptop, and tablet outside the meeting room. Instead, look each participant in the eye as they speak, think about what they’re saying, figure out what you can add to the conversation, and engage. When you dig in and really pay attention, it’s amazing how interesting even weekly staff updates can be.
Stringing together days and weeks of engagement, of caring about what you’re doing, can do wonders for your mood and your outlook. And that can’t help but make you a better, more productive writer, too.
Further Reading: Loving what you do may be more important than doing what you love, says Jay Yarow.
If television isn’t your thing, then fishing might be. What may seem like a boring, wasted morning or afternoon on a river bank or in a rowboat can be a wonderful respite for the overloaded modern mind. Leave your phone in the car or, even better, pick a spot outside cell range, and you’ll be forced to focus on the moment.
Listen to the trees sway in the wind and the birds chirping. Feel the breeze on your face and the ground under your feet. Smell the wet sand and wildflowers. Watch your bobber for movement or study the patterns of the clouds high above you.
An afternoon on the lake can clear your head like nothing else and leave you ready to take on the world — and your book.
Further Reading: The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has 10 good reasons you should go fishing.
Listen to the Radio
Music is part of the fabric of our lives. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you’re likely to hear tunes — on your car radio, in the elevator, in the waiting room at your doctor’s office, blaring from your earbuds.
But music is much more than just background noise. Researchers have known for years that music can change your mood almost in an instant. Certain types of music have also been shown to stimulate the creative centers in your brain, which seems like pretty important information for writers, wouldn’t you say?
You can get your music however you like, but the unpredictability of listening to the radio adds variety beyond what your CD and mp3 collection can offer.
Further Reading: J. D. Heyes presents evidence that says listening to the radio is a healthier alternative to watching television.
No matter who is President or what’s happening in the US and around the world, there are always people and organizations who need help. And, when you’re able, providing some of that help is a wonderful way for you to connect with your community (see above), gain some perspective on your own life, and make a positive impact on this place we call home.
And who knows?
You just might learn something you can incorporate into your writing, too!
Further Reading: Check out 5 benefits of volunteering from Points of Light.
Learn a New Language
Have you ever been around a young child as he’s learning to speak? The transformation from babbling to stumbling through a few words to holding conversations happens in a flash, and the concomitant personality changes are startling. A child’s new language skills change the world for everyone around him, making communication much easier and opening all sorts of new conceptual connections for the child.
While adults generally can’t pick up a new language as quickly as children can, the context from which we approach the experience can make it almost as rich.
For instance, you already know at least one language really well — probably English if you’re reading this. When you start diving into another language, you’ll find words and phrases that seem familiar. You’ll begin to draw parallels between “our” words and “theirs,” and you’ll be able to make linguistic connections you would have never considered before. If you’re at all interested in etymology, learning a new language is a treasure trove of material for your word hobby.
And, of course, all these new insights and the associated expanded vocabulary can make your writing more varied and interesting.
So, what do you think?
¿Estás listo para aprender Español?
Further Reading: Rype magazine shares some of the perks of learning a new language.
Get a Pet
They don’t call dogs “man’s best friend for nothing.” Good ol’ fido can do everything for you from going on walks to catching varmints to warding off intruders. Your dog will be the first to greet you when you come home from work at night and the last to lick you in your face before bed. He’ll also be the only one — hopefully — to poop on your floor.
OK, so maybe dogs aren’t perfect, but pets can be a tremendous boon to your life … and your health. That goes for other pets, too.
Scientists have found, for example, that pet owners can lower their blood pressure by petting their four-legged companions. Dogs, in particular, can help with weight control, too, since they’re demanding in terms of their own exercise schedules.
You can’t do much of anything if you’re always sick, and a stressed-out, worried mind can be murder for your writing efforts. If pets can help with all that and give you furry hugs?
Seems like a no-lose proposition.
Further Reading: Emily Holland at The Chopra Center explains why owning a pet is so awesome.
What do you do outside your writing to help make yourself a better author? Tell me about it in the comments below.
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