If you’d guess that most of a writer’s life is writing, I suppose you’d be correct. But besides chipping away at my work in progress there are other activities I partake in regularly to cultivate my writer’s brain.
It’s important to give the brain some white space. What do I mean by that? I mean deliberately creating space by not working every possible minute (and believe me when I say I still struggle with this … I’ve gotten way better, but I still struggle). Give yourself time to let your mind wander. When I was in high school, I heard that mystery great Agatha Christie got her ideas when she was washing the dishes. Broadway virtuoso (and fellow New Yorker) Lin Manuel Miranda also talks about the importance of taking a break. In his article, he says, “The harder you work, the less you open yourself up to be receptive to inspiration.”
Now as you can imagine, my schedule with an infant is pretty hectic. (I’ll write more about this later) Some days, I don’t even get the writing in, much less the extra-curriculars. When things are running smoothly (the exception rather than the rule) I manage to grab a few minutes here and there.
And so without further ado, here’s my current lineup of seven non-writing activities, things I like to do that give my brain some space and enhance my creativity.
1. I play word games. I love my word games. This is often the very first non-writing activity I’ll engage in for the day. Scrabble is still my all-time fave (and how could you not know that? I mention it in like every single version of my bio) but lately, I’ve also been obsessed with Wordle (the new WordleBot companion will really help you up your game if you’re consistent with it). Actually, I’m a huge fan of all the New York Times word games; the Crossword (I usually just do the mini on weekdays and I try to tackle the full one on weekends … haven’t finished one yet but my all-time record with the mini is ten seconds!), Spelling Bee, and Letterboxed. And while it’s not a word game, I also like to solve a Sudoku puzzle here and there. Bejeweled and Tetris also make their way into my game lineup sometimes still.
2. I read the paper. And speaking of the NYT, reading the newspaper is another one of my activities. I’ve read the New York Times since I was 15 years old, and even if I only get to quickly skim the top headlines, I try to open the app every single day. And as an added bonus, it makes a great research tool.
3. I read books. And while we’re on the topic of reading, this is yet another, very important activity. Stephen King said in his famous treatise On Writing that a writer must do two things: write a lot and read a lot. And while I typically like to stay away from a-writer-must-do pieces of advice, I do agree with this. I’m usually in the middle of at least one fiction and one nonfiction book at any given time. Before baby, I easily tore through a book or two a week. Nowadays the reading is a bit slower but definitely still there.
4. I watch TV. Akin to this is watching TV and movies. We’re living in a new golden age of on screen storytelling. This was not always the case. Fun fact: my 6th grade science project was titled Does TV Rot Your Brain? My hypothesis was that it does, though I can’t remember if my experiment proved this or not. By the time I was 16, I was the only teenager I knew that had voluntarily removed the TV from her bedroom (and I lived that way until well into my adulthood … after getting married, my husband insisted that there be a TV in the room and I lost that battle). So I wasn’t always a big TV watcher. But now? Man oh man are there some phenomenal stories on TV. So now I probably watch too much, just like everyone else. As a writer, this provides a bottomless well of inspiration.
5. I listen to things. When I want to give my eyes a break, I listen to podcasts. I love to do this while I’m out for my daily walk with the baby. If I finish an episode before the walk ends, then I listen to some music. It’s a great way to engage a different part of the brain and there’s so much to learn out there and so many formats to learn it in. And also a great source of material.
6. I practice foreign languages. Duolingo is my go-to for this. I’m currently working my way through the main Romance languages so I rotate among lessons in Spanish, French and Italian. But Arabic, German, and Japanese are also on my list.
7. I journal. I know, I know. How can writing be a non writing activity? Well it’s not. Not technically. But it’s a whole different kind of writing from writing a novel. It helps me tremendously to just dump stray thoughts on paper in a stream of consciousness journal exercise. Julia Cameron famously suggests three longhand pages every morning (aptly named morning pages) in her book The Artist’s Way. I’ll admit I only get through three pages some of the time. Mostly, I do one. But I try to do at least two because I find that’s how many it takes for the the really juicy ideas, insights, and epiphanies to start bubbling to the surface.