What’s a Writer to do?

When I’m not writing, for one reason or another, I am still a writer, and I am still working.

How to be a writer not writing

The topic has been on my mind over the last month for two reasons. First, I have some revision to do, and I really wanted to start before Christmas. I did organize my notes and make an overall plan for the changes, but my husband kept pointing out how, er, intense I was about the whole thing. I wasn’t happy unless I was typing, but I wasn’t happy then either, because there was so much I needed to be paying attention to outside of my book-world.

So I walked away from Nikki-Mac, letting the Scrivener app sit unused on my dock. I focused on preparing media for our Christmas Eve service, wrapping gifts, and running last-minute errands before the holiday.

I figured, when we made it to Tennessee a few days after Christmas, I could get back to work. It’s peaceful by the river, and there would be no tasks for me to accomplish – no dishes to wash or meals to prepare.

Instead, I caught the flu. My husband and sons left to visit my stepdaughter in Alabama and then to stay with my in-laws in Tennessee. I stayed home.

I had all the time in the world, but no ability to focus on my work. I couldn’t even focus on reading a book, let alone writing one. All of it required too much brain-power. On top of being sick, I don’t sleep well when I am home alone. My brain triggers fight or flight as soon as the lights go out, and with all that adrenaline pumping, I am alert and miserable until the sun rises.

I watched a lot of YouTube and Netflix while I had the flu.

The thing is, I never really quit writing during that time. I quit typing. I quit making active notes and changes to my manuscript. But my brain kept on turning the prose over and over. I kept thinking about my characters and some of the fuzzy areas dissolved into clarity. I found a great writing podcast and listened to that. I read a few short stories and thought about why they worked. As for all the Netflix, I thought about those stories too. How did the writers keep my interest in the characters from season to season… What tiny comments and scenes did they stick in to make me care about a character or situation without beating me over the head with their purpose? When I turned a movie or show off without finishing, why did I do it? What could have changed my interest level?

I lay awake at night and, instead of wasting that time, I thought about fear, about how the brain processes fear. I thought about my characters at those moments when they feel afraid and transferred my all-alone-at-night anxiety into their bodies. I had vivid dreams when I did sleep and I thought about what those dreams meant.

I do this all the time.

My friend and I sometimes talk about retirement and what she will do then. It is always what she will do, because I don’t plan to retire. I don’t think I can retire from being a writer. Even if I one day quit pursuing publication and never make another dime, I will still be a writer, and I will still write. If I can’t put the words on paper, I will be writing in my mind. I will examine stories and wonder why the author did this or that. I will read books and talk to other writers.

So, tell me, writer friends, how do you write when you aren’t writing?

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