by Midge Raymond
As writers, we’re told that in order to succeed, we must write every day—but of course, this isn’t realistic or feasible for most of us; we have families, day jobs, and other responsibilities that can get in the way of a daily writing practice.
As an author with a busy schedule, I’ve found that it’s not necessary to write every single day—but what is necessary is to think like a writer every day: to open my eyes and ears just a little wider than the next person, to take in everything happening in the world around me (including in my own inner world). Every day, we are surrounded by the richest material we’ll ever need—but only if we pay attention.
I always feel a little cranky when I don’t have enough time to write—but I’ve realized that there are many ways in which I can keep my writing projects moving forward, even if I don’t have time to sit down for a writing session. By thinking like a writer, I can go about my regularly scheduled life and still be writing, just in a slightly different way. And, as the time-strapped writer knows, this is better than nothing at all.
Here are a few ways in which I’ve learned to become an Everyday Writer.
1. Looking around. So often in everyday life we find ourselves occupied with our cell phones when we could be observing what’s happening around us. As soon as I made it a rule to keep my cell phone tucked away when I’m in line at the grocery store or when I’m waiting to meet someone, I found story ideas everywhere. My current project, in fact, is based on something I witnessed while in line at the post office. Good material is everywhere. So, instead of turning to a device, look upward and outward; check out what’s going on around you—and see what you find.
2. Listen. We often shut out the world around us (and often this is necessary), but in doing so we also risk missing some interesting tidbits of life. Make a point of opening your ears to what’s going on around you—and use it to launch a new piece of writing, to complete a poem, or to advance a scene in a story.
3. Making good use of my notebook. I always carry a small notebook, but often I’m too lazy to use it; I convince myself I’ll remember something, when in reality, I never do. So I make a point of jotting down anything and everything I find interesting, and putting it in an electronic file of notes later. I’ve written many stories based on little things I’ve seen or overheard—they’re always better when I return to them later, completely out of context, and let my imagination go wild.
4. Being flexible. There have been so many times (like every single January) when I start a new writing routine, and then it proves impossible to stick with for one reason or another, and I get completely off track. But if I experiment with my schedule and its possibilities, and give myself the flexibility not to write every day, I will usually find the time I need. Even if I think I only have ten minutes to write, I’ll take it—and it often stretches to twenty or thirty. If I’m about to log onto Facebook, I’ll write instead—and there’s an hour right there. There’s far more writing time in our lives than we think; we just have to find it.
In theory, these are simple and obvious ideas—but most important is actually adopting them. So here are a few writing prompts to help you put these ideas into practice.
1. Next time you’re in line somewhere (the grocery store, the post office, etc.), look around you. Choose a nearby person and note his or her appearance, everything from hair to features to clothing, all the way down to the shoes. Use what you observe to begin a new character sketch, a poem—or even to describe a character in your work-in-progress. Such details are always the most vivid when they’re studied closely, and you have ample time if you’re stuck in line.
2. As with the prompt above, the next time you’re in line—or in the waiting room at the doctor, dentist, or vet—listen to the conversations going on around you. Choose a snippet of dialogue and write it down. You can then turn it over to your own imagination to start something new, or apply it to a fictional character and see where it takes you.
3. Be sure to carry a little notebook—everywhere. Then, whenever you have a few spare moments, take it out and write down the first five things you see, whether you’re in a room, on the street, or out in nature. Then write for five minutes about each of these things, or about however many of them you have time for.
4. Write down what a typical day is like for you—everything you do from the moment you wake up in the morning until the moment you go to bed. Next, analyze this and try to find two spare hours in the day for writing. What can you trade for writing time? If you can’t find two hours, find one; if you can’t find one, find fifteen minutes. Then use that time to write, without any excuses.
Midge Raymond is a co-founder and editor at Ashland Creek Press, a boutique publisher focusing on eco-literature. She is the author of “Forgetting English,” which received the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction, as well as stories and articles appearing in such journals as TriQuarterly, American Literary Review, Bellevue Review, The Writer, and the Los Angeles Times magazine.