We’ve all heard that writers write and that writing is re-writing. Yet, there are many other aspects to the creative writing process that do not involve putting pen to paper or moving your fingers across the keyboard. Assuming you already know your craft–you’ve studied your lit terms and are well acquainted with them–and you are already a voracious reader of quality fiction, here are my five writing tips for making you a better fiction writer that do not involve writing.
1) Watch movies
Although screenwriting is very different from novel writing, storytelling is still storytelling. Both novels and movies employ the same core elements of fiction such as plot, setting, character, theme and conflict. So the more movies you watch, the more you continuously expose yourself to the elements of fiction that will eventually become second nature for you as you write. As with reading good fiction, when you watch good fiction, you learn by osmosis without even trying. All the while, you’ll be entertained in the process. So no need to feel too guilty the next time you binge on Netflix.
2) Study people
Good writers are good observers. I’ve always been a people watcher. I notice body language, inflections in speech, subtle nuances in behavior. I can’t help it. There is always a part of me that is standing back, witnessing everything from an objective point of view. I’m fascinated by what motivates others. In conversations, I’ve trained myself to be a good listener, to listen more than I talk, and to listen with my heart as well as my head. If I go out to dinner and the couple at the next table is having a loud argument, I’m more likely to take mental notes than to be annoyed by their behavior. Being genuinely interested in others will help you create absorbing, relatable and realistic characters.
3) Practice other artforms
Before I studied creative writing, I studied acting. Learning how to get inside a character’s head to find out what motivates them has really been an asset now that I am the one creating the characters. I also paint. I’m no Rembrandt, but that’s not the point. Painting relaxes me and makes me happy. More importantly, it puts me in touch with the creative realm where all the magic happens. When I paint, I lose myself and enter a zone where there are no holds barred. This is the exact same place you need to be when you are writing your first draft–before you edit and critique what you’ve written. Practicing other artforms strengthens your connection to the creative realm and stretches your imagination by allowing you to view things from a different creative angle.
4) Read inspirational books about the writing life
You’ve no doubt already read lots of novels. And you’ve probably also read Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale and The Elements of Style by Strunk and White or other similar books. But have you read The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes? How about The Writing Life by Annie Dillard? Aside from books that teach the craft of writing, it’s helpful to read books by other writers about the life of being a writer. Reading inspirational books about the writing life will help you confirm your calling to become a writer because it validates your own similar experiences. This inspires you to stay true to the commitment you’ve made to yourself to write, and instills confidence that you have something to offer.
5) Allow time for reverie
Creative ideas flow freely during reverie. Yet so do important truths and insights. One of the primary reasons you should allow time for reverie is to catch yourself thinking. The more time you spend practicing mindfulness to become self-aware, the more you end up noticing your own thoughts. Truly unique thoughts, creative ideas and intuitions will never shout at you. They usually whisper. You stand a better chance of being aware of these thoughts and ideas when you are comfortable in solitude and practice it often.
And when you do manage to catch some of the more unusual notions, you can apply them to your writing. As a result, your characters will have more depth, and your overall story will have more intrinsic value. Taking time for reverie enables you to come from a deeper, more profound place when you write. It will exercise your intuitive muscle, teach you to trust your instincts, and infuse your writing with authenticity.
Just remember, everyone is different and no two writers are alike. You get to choose the things that inspire you the most and the practices that work best for you. I hope these tips help, or at the very least point you in some interesting directions. Good luck!
Janet Rebhan is the author of the novel Finding Tranquility Base (2012), and Rachael’s Return (June 2020, She Writes Press), which weaves magical realism in a domestic thriller about mother-daughter soulmates. Born in Texas, she was sixteen when she moved to Los Angeles, where she pursued acting and modeling before studying creative writing at UCLA. Rebhan has two grown daughters and still resides in the Los Angeles area. For more information, visit her website at www.janetrebhan.com.