The life of a writer is a fairytale borrowing reality’s dancing shoes for the weekend. It’s chaotic. Not only do you have to wake up, go to work/school, do laundry, feed yourself and try not to spend all your savings on coffee (an impossible feat?), you have to somehow make time for writing, too. And sometimes, you just don’t feel like it.
While some may find it tiring, the ability to construct a story is a skill you will never cease to refine. Like playing an instrument – let’s use the flute – you’ll get better over time without even realizing it. But like playing the flute, you don’t keep practicing by playing the same songs over and over again; that gets boring. You find new songs to play. You listen to professional flutists do their thing. Then you practice some more, because you’ve rekindled that desire to spend time on getting better at something you enjoy.
To be a better writer, you have to do more than sit around and write. Does that sound a little bizarre? Good. It’s making you think a little more about your technique, isn’t it? There are more ways to improve your skills than practicing the actual skill itself. Here are three non-writing activities you can engage in to enhance one of your most valuable skills: the art of rhetoric, in the many pairs of shoes it lends out to its friends.
Start a Vlog
Like a blog, a vlog allows you to start a discussion on any topic you want and invite others to join in. Vlogging requires the ability to communicate a message through speech, and sometimes a little tech and semi-fancy graphic know-how on the side. It has been proven that human speech came before writing, and we’re losing this skill enough with our dependence on social media (gradually, but still).
Making and posting videos is an effective and sometimes even fun way to get your thoughts and ideas out there, network with others interested in the same topics and practicing new ways to communicate what you stand for and disagree with. Whether you do it solo or Hank-and-John style, it’s one of many ways to make your voice heard and refine your ability to communicate without having to pick up a pen.
Join a Book Club
This might sound a bit nerdy, but you’re a writer; that shouldn’t bother you. Sometimes you need a break from writing, and often writers turn to other writers’ books for stress relief, inspiration and even the baseline for a few new ideas. Take your love of reading to the next level; read a book, then try discussing it with others outside the classroom.
If you’re in school, check to see if there’s a student-led book club anywhere on campus. If there isn’t, consider joining one. If you’re a lonely twenty-something wandering around your hometown looking for something to do, check to see if the library has any discussion groups for adults, or consider starting your own. Discussing books can enhance and change the way you view a story, and can even motivate you to stay up a little later in the evening to work on writing your own.
Explore Your Surroundings
You could live in the same small suburban town, or big chaotic city, your entire life without really taking the time to learn what it’s made of. Sometimes we move; we go away to school, get a new job, want to try something new. It’s fun to build new worlds straight from our imaginations, but the foundation for that inspiration has to come from somewhere. It could be waiting for you just beyond your backyard (literally).
This doesn’t mean you have to find a forest preserve and hike yourself into lostness. Visit a local business you’ve passed a thousand times but have never gone inside. Go to a concert in the park (summer is coming!). Just walk around and listen to the conversations around you, if there really isn’t anything new to explore. You’ll gather more material for your next story than you mean to, which is much better than feeling stuck in a blank-page rut.
Don’t take the above tips to mean improving your skills doesn’t require practice. You should still write as often as you can; if not every day, at least several times per week. Even a few notes in a journal can do more for your word-filled future than no words at all. The key is to alternate your activities so you aren’t sitting at your computer writing all day.
Give yourself a chance to reflect on your other experiences at the end of the day, rather than writing about experiences you’ve never had. Writing “what you know” gets boring when you’re not learning anything new. Launch your comfortable little self right out of your personal safe zone, returning only when your brain and fingers are itching to get new words out on paper. Or, more realistically, into a blank virtual document.