5 Opportunities to Increase Your Writing Productivity (Without Actually Writing)

In an ideal world, you’d have many more hours to dedicate to writing.

In reality, you carve out what meager “free time” you can, sacrificing things like sleep, a social life, exercise, a clean house, and quality time with friends and family. When your laundry pile resembles a laundry mountain and you haven’t hit the gym in a month, it’s hard to justify spending extra time working on something that doesn’t pay the bills (yet!). Until you can add hours to the day, what’s the solution?

(Can writers query multiple agents at the same agency?)



Guest column by Donna Gambale, Philadelphia-based YA writer and
co-founder of the First Novels Club website. She is the author of
MAGNETIC KAMA SUTRA (2009, Running Press). Find her on Twitter.



The key is in making the writing time you do have as productive as possible. If you can only spare one hour to write, you can’t waste 20 minutes staring at a blinking cursor because you’re working through a plot or characterization problem, or because you have to re-immerse yourself in your draft after an absence. Make all 60 minutes count.

Here’s how:

Every day, there are numerous opportunities to brainstorm about your project to keep it fresh in your mind and allow you to progress more rapidly when you sit down to write.

(How to Sell Pieces to Magazines and Newspapers.)

The best times are when you’re occupied physically but don’t have to actively think about the task at hand, which is why so many creative people swear by the ideas they get while showering or going for a run. In those moments, your mind is free to focus on your work, and as a major plus, it also removes the pressure that can build during official “writing time.”

Basically, you can be more creative without worrying about word count — and that’s an all-around win.

Top 5 Brainstorming Opportunities

1. Driving

Daily driving involves such basic muscle memory that we find a million ways to entertain ourselves. If you’re struggling to understand your villain’s motivation or your hero’s goals, turn off the radio and talk it out. Sure, talking to yourself in an otherwise-silent car seems weird at first, but hearing your thoughts aloud is a jarring change of pace that just might solve your problem.

2. Doing Chores

A never-ending cycle of household chores eats up valuable hours of your time each week. But really, how much brainpower does it take to vacuum, rake leaves, or load the dishwasher? You can make mental character profiles or figure out plot arcs while you check things off your to-do list.

3. Falling Asleep

There’s a reason “sleep on it” is a common expression. Numerous studies have shown that sleep is essential to creativity and problem solving, yet it’s usually the first thing people sacrifice when they’re over-scheduled. Think about your novel as you fall asleep, envisioning scenes as if they’re in a movie. Always keep a pen and paper handy on your nightstand for when inspiration strikes!

4. Cooking

It seems to take forever for an oven to pre-heat or water to boil, and tasks like chopping salad ingredients and peeling potatoes aren’t exactly stimulating. It’s the perfect opportunity to expand your world-building, flesh out backstory, or even analyze how to add tension to a scene. Just don’t burn dinner!

(Will a literary agent search for you online after you query them?)

5. Waiting

When you’re in line at the grocery store, bank, post office, or shopping mall, the person in front of you will inevitably have eight questions and require a manager’s help. And at any given doctor’s appointment, you won’t be seen for at least a half hour. Instead of texting or tweeting about this unfair purgatory (or reading the year-old waiting room magazines), start brainstorming!


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11 thoughts on “5 Opportunities to Increase Your Writing Productivity (Without Actually Writing)

  1. Susan

    I get some of my best ideas while I’m walking the dogs (when they’re behaving, that is!) The trick, I find, is remembering those pearls of wisdom – it’s amazing how easily they leak out of the old brain if I don’t have something to hand to record them.

    1. workingwriter414

      Smartphone (or iPod Touch) with a note-taking app like Evernote, especially if you can use the microphone to record the idea!

      I’m big on walking for ideas too. Even if you’re just running your schedule/plan for the day through your mind, it clears the cobwebs out for other ideas.

  2. pdworkman

    Walking/running! I have lots of great stuff going when I’m out on a long run. And there are some days that I schedule a walk (without music/audiobook) just in order to brainstorm a new storyline. Jotting ideas down on my phone, walking some more, writing down more ideas…

  3. TFailla

    For my non-fiction “day job,” I frequently print out a draft then go work out or handle some non-writing things before coming back to it. During that time away from my piece, I frequently get ideas that I come back and incorporate into my draft.

  4. Kenneth Peters

    I’ve noticed I get ideas in the shower, driving and/or falling asleep.

    And yes, it’s good advice to keep that notepad next to the bed for late night ideas!

    A digital recorder or smart phone can be used for verbal note-taking while driving.

  5. msmarcie

    I’m with Dragonlover. I get a lot of inspiration in the shower and I used to think that something was wrong.

    I also get inspired when exercising. I love roller skating and when I’m floating along the skate floor, ideas overflow.

  6. justine_manzano

    This is dead on. I come up with 99% of my ideas (and my made up statistics) while washing dishes or walking to the train station in the morning. Ideally, I feel like I spend any time I’m physically alone mentally hanging out with my characters and trying to figure out where they are going and where they have fun. They are decent companions. 😉

  7. Dragonlover

    These are great opportunities, but there is a 6th one – while getting ready of the morning. In the shower or while brushing my teeth, drying my hair or applying makeup I get some of my best ideas and work through the tough scenes in my head. I must also admit that sometimes I even run a scene through out loud to my dog or cats. Now if I can just get the time to write them down, I will be going great. LOL!!

    Thanks for all of your articles. They are so down to earth and doable that I thoroughly enjoy reading them.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, your family and everyone out there. (Happy Kwanzaa or Happy Hanukkah to everyone too.)

    1. mikepascale

      Thanks for beating me to it, Dragonlover!

      “In the shower” should be #1 or 2.

      The only two have worked for me best are while falling asleep (or waking) and showering. Literally half of the ideas and creative solutions I’ve come up with have been while in the shower. I’m sure some psychologist could speak to the reasons why–sound and feel of the water, the warmth, whatever–but all I know is I’ve conditioned my cranium by now to be most creative at those times.

      Great article, Chuck!
      And happy ho’days to the board.


  8. yehudit45

    I discovered the value of pre-writing while doing chores my freshman year in college. When I had an essay to write, I’d take all the accumulated laundry and start ironing it. by the time I had enough blouses ironed to get me through the week, I also had my essay written in my head–all I had to do was type what I had thought out.


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