Everyone makes mistakes—even writers—but that's okay because each mistake is a great learning opportunity. The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them early in the process. Note: The mistakes in this series aren't focused on grammar rules, though we offer help in that area as well.
Rather, we're looking at bigger picture mistakes and mishaps, including the error of using too much exposition, neglecting research, or researching too much. This week's writing mistake writers make is not using your spare 15 minutes.
Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Using Your Spare 15 Minutes
In my last blog post about the mistakes that writers make, I wrote about the mistake I made of relying on perfect conditions to write. Not every writer can wait to write until they’re sitting in the perfect chair, with their perfect pen, on a perfect day with no interruptions.
While I used to be one of these writers, I’ve learned to make the time and conditions I already have work for me, rather than waiting for the perfect time to write to crop up. This means writing in short bursts during spare moments rather than giving in to the temptation to scroll through Twitter, check the news, or stare off into space.
Because I work full-time for WD in addition to running a business with my fiancé, my writing happens during in-between moments—such as journaling for a few minutes while I wind down before I go to sleep. I choose which projects to focus on based on which will work best with this method. For example, I’m documenting my thoughts about the pelvic disorder I have and the journey to healing in short journal entries rather than trying to craft a personal essay about it. Changing up my writing process has made me push creative my boundaries in ways that I hadn’t before, so I’m going to keep at it as long as it works.
Mistake Fix: Make Use of Your Time
I’ll share some ways that I’ve found to effectively use a spare 15 minutes for writing—many of which might not feel like “writing” to you, but can inspire a story one way or another.
1. Open a journal and jot down details that you find funny or interesting. What do you find funny or interesting about them? You might not know right now, and that’s OK. This list might prompt some inspiration for a new piece, or at the very least remain in your brain’s “cache”—the plethora of tiny details in your head that can be pulled from whenever needed. For example, you might write that you think the name “Fitzherbert” is funny and later choose this name for a character in a short story.
2. Look up something that you’re curious about. What is the Belle Époque era? What happened to Miranda Cosgrove after “iCarly”? You never know where your search will lead, nor how your search results will inspire your next piece. Follow curiosities with your writer’s hat on. My curiosity about Miranda Cosgrove led me to think about ex-child actors which made me think of how I’m often mistaken for a child which then led me to plot a short story about a character who wanted to be an actress but is now using her ex-theater kid skills as a detective. This story idea has nothing to do with my original Google search but was set in motion by it nevertheless.
3. Start a dream journal. Keep a notebook next to your bed and write down the details you remember from your dreams as soon as you wake up. One of these dreams might inspire your next story, essay, or poem.
4. Keep a notebook next to your bed and jot down your thoughts before going to sleep—such as the events of your day, your hopes for the new day, or the random thoughts that recently popped in your head. Your brain tends to unpack more wildly right before falling asleep, and you’ll be surprised at the wealth of ideas you might come across this way.
5. Read the diaries of other writers. The journals of many well-known literary figures, such as Sylvia Plath, have been published. Memoirists and essayists such as David Sedaris pull extensively from their diaries in order to recount details of past events or brainstorm ideas for new pieces. Reading their daily musings is an opportunity to see the thought processes of some of the most admired writers, and this insight into their mindset may also push you think with your own writer’s hat on.
6. Read an interview with an author. Aside from the wealth of writing advice offered, I find it interesting when authors reveal how their books started or what their writing processes looked like. Oftentimes this gives me an idea of a new writing project or technique to try.
7. Begin a new short story or novel chapter in a notebook. Yes, with paper and pen, because it takes time to turn on a computer and open a file. Whenever you have a few minutes, pick up writing right where you left off—whether in the middle of a scene, sentence, or paragraph. Repeat this cycle until you come to a stopping point with your story. Don’t read your previous pages before adding more to the story. This takes time, and every second counts when you’re writing in 15-minute intervals. The key here is getting that terrible first draft out like the wind.
8. Similar to the above idea, tackle a nonfiction project 15 minutes at a time. Writing a memoir or essay is tough when you don’t know where to begin, or which parts of the story to focus on. But if you have a vague idea of the thoughts you want to include or memories that you think embody your story in some way, take time each day to record these thoughts and memories in short journal entries. Later, when you’ve filled the notebook or run out of things to say, you can read your past entries to get an idea of a common thread or narrative structure that might be useful in creating a full-length piece.
9. Make a reading list of books that are similar to the one you’d like to write, or are related to your work-in-progress tangentially. For example, if you’d like to write a werewolf-inspired YA fantasy, some books about werewolf lore might be at the top of your list.
Perhaps the biggest mistake that writers make is not realizing everything that might inspire their work. The books we read, the experiences we have, and the curiosities we follow all make up our writing just as much as the words we put down on the page—perhaps even more so. Take a few minutes to step out of the box of what you think sitting down to write looks like; you may be surprised at where your new writing process takes you.