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Parallel work: What to do when the words won’t come

You can't write all day, every day. Here are 11 activities to help you shake things up without losing any momentum.

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Parallel Work- Chores
Taking care of household chores helps you accomplish something. Even if it’s not writing.

I can’t write every day. Writing is hard. It’s thankless. Only a few good hours exist to crank out quality sentences – usually on the day the electric bill is due or when the internet is on the fritz.

Since freelance writing is a business, what you do daily should improve the business. Writing is part of that, of course, but it’s a solitary, personal endeavor – what’s on the page comes from you. Some distance is crucial. Enter the important concept of parallel work, a phrase I first heard from my writer pal A.C. Shilton, which buoys your personal and professional self. 

Most importantly, it gets you in the mood to write. Here is what to do to shake things up without losing precious momentum. 

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1. Change location, find inspiration.

Ah, the essence of parallel work. Every tip originates from this concept. Tethering yourself to a computer screen in the same secluded space day after day, willing the brain to work and the fingers to move, is madness. Interact with the world, and you’ll be amazed at what comes forth. I have come up with story ideas while shooting hoops on an empty basketball court, feeding my daughter before dawn broke, and meandering through a used bookstore.

2. Practice self-care.

Going to the gym, or embarking on a physical activity beyond typing, is vital. Go for a walk outside. Take a yoga class, with a side of meditation. To paraphrase noted legal mind Elle Woods: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy writers just don’t create bad story ideas. They just don’t!” 


Seriously, getting outside can get forgotten while staring at a blinking cursor. Suspending the hermit’s lifestyle to become a human being will lead to a sharper focus and better writing. Another plus: People won’t find you insufferable at dinner parties anymore.

3. Take a trip to the local library.

Find authors whose prose inspires, educates, and enthralls. Research back issues of a magazine to polish up a pitch letter. Sign up for a program to feed the creative furnace. Also, many libraries have access to online catalogues such as LexisNexis. A library card, that invaluable, wallet-sized resource, can help sharpen or fortify your reporting chops for free.