Writing can be a lonely and stationary way to spend your time. Whether it’s your fulltime job or free-time passion, I’m here to tell you that logging hours behind the computer or with pen in hand is not the only way to improve your writing. Sometimes you have to get up and let the outside world help fuel your inspiration. Here are a few of my favorite things to do away from my desk that help me demolish writer’s block and improve my prose at the most fundamental level.
This doesn’t have to mean hit the gym or go for a run; in fact, a hike in the woods, game of pick-up basketball or night of salsa dancing with friends could be just as effective. Regardless of your chosen form, exercise and movement help to take your mind off your project and instead use that nervous energy to fuel your body. Some studies have even suggested that you experience a period of increased creativity for two hours after a tough workout. Exercise also boosts self-confidence and reduces stress, so when you sit down at your desk again, you’ll be inspired, relaxed and feeling good.
2. Read books about writing.
Usually I would tout merely reading books of any kind to improve writing, but that seems rather obvious for this crowd. So I’ll take it even further into the realm of “No, duh,” and suggest that you read books about writing or writers. There are certainly some duds out there, but if you know where to look in the writing and creativity section of your bookstore or local library, you’ll find yourself deep in the pages of a book that will make you want to sprint right back to your writing desk at the same time that you’re dying to turn the page and keep reading. Some of my favorites are:
Natalie Golberg’s Writing Down the Bones
Robert S. Boynton’s The New New Journalism
Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing
3. Spend time with animals.
Pets are known to relieve loneliness (a potential plague of the solitary writer), lower blood pressure and decrease feelings of depression, so taking some time out of a project to play with a pet, walk your dog or volunteer at an animal shelter can be a great way to improve general mental health, which in turn will make it a lot easier to tackle a difficult writing project. Taking your dog to the park or volunteering also allows you to meet interesting people, and interaction with real life characters often sparks the best literary ones. Not to mention that many great books have been written about animals: Charlotte’s Web, Seabiscuit, and Animal Farm to name a few.
4. Watch, and listen to, sports.
Sports commentators, the good ones anyways, don’t always get the credit they deserve as storytellers. Turn on a game sometime and pay close attention to the commentator as he or she breaks down the action for you. Notice the strategies employed to talk constantly throughout a match. I like to compare this to writing a first draft: Let it all out here, keep typing for two hours like you’re trying to fill the empty space between plays at a sporting event. You can always clean it up later.
You’ll also probably pick up a couple choice words and phrases. Soccer commentator Ray Hudson comes to mind with his favorite word “magisterial” and his unique descriptions. For example, as Argentina’s Lionel Messi went for a goal, Hudson said: “He soaks up the defenders just like a paper towel sops up milk.” As you can see, interpreters of sport can be instructive to writers, too.
Finally, take some time to watch the athletes themselves. Think of ways to describe the movements they make. If you can beautifully capture Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins smashing through opponents on his way to putting the puck in the back of the net or Kerri Walsh Jennings laying out for a tough dig before bouncing back up out of the sand to score a game winning kill, you’ll have no problem writing your characters’ movements.
5. Go to an art museum, music concert or theater performance.
Observing other artists’ ways of expressing creativity can be a great way to spark your own. Use visual art to help you picture your setting or character, or remember your favorite painting and use it as a prompt to get the juices flowing at the start of your next writing session.
You can treat performance or musical art the same way as a sports game. Pay attention to the way the performers’ bodies move and the sounds they make. Then just quit thinking about it and enjoy the show. Any time you can cram more art into your life, your work will benefit.