10 non-writing activities that will improve your writing

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Reading time: About 3 minutes

This will sound counterintuitive, but, in order to improve your writing, sometimes you may need to stop writing.

Just as making great music isn’t always about being pitch perfect (think of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen), writing isn’t always about, well, writing.

In order to write, your mind needs to be both relaxed and fit. Having written a lot helps, of course, but here are 10 other activities you can do to better prepare yourself to write. You might also consider this list whenever you’re taking a break from writing.

  1. Read. Good writers are always excellent readers. I’m not your grade 10 English lit teacher so I’m not going to give you any names but here’s a test that might help you: Can you imagine nothing more marvellous than sounding like the writer you’re reading? If so, you’re reading the right material.
  2. Walk. I love walking and regularly walk to meetings that are 45 minutes or more away from my office. I find I do some of my best “writing” during this time, mulling over ideas for this column and thinking about other writing jobs. I never put pencil to paper when walking. If I’m really worried about forgetting something, I just dictate a note to myself on my cellphone.
  3. Get some other form of exercise. If you don’t walk as much as I do, you need some regular form of exercise. It doesn’t matter what it is but it should get you moving. Swimming. Squash. Yoga. Pilates. Free weights. Choose something you enjoy so it doesn’t feel like drudgery.
  4. Listen to some music.Music nudges our deepest feelings. And you need to feel, deeply, to be able to write. I don’t listen to music while writing, but I enjoy it before and after. High-energy music will make you feel more energetic; quieter music will help you become more reflective.
  5. Go to a movie or a play. No! This isn’t just “goofing off.” Seeing something creative will help inspire your own creativity. Even if you’re not conscious of it you’ll be seeing metaphors, personification, pacing and rising action. Non-fiction writers need to learn this stuff, too. And, by the way, if you’re wondering how non-conscious thought can possibly help your writing, I have one word for you: mindmapping!
  6. Talk to friends. Here’s another category that might sound more like creative procrastinating rather than a legitimate writing technique. But connecting with friends will help you feel more connected. Writers are not robots. Friends make us human and that, in turn, helps our writing.
  7. Breathe. Many of us tend to be shallow breathers – half-mindedly grabbing enough air to fill only the tops of our lungs. But oxygen helps the brain and of course you know it’s your brain that writes, not your fingers, correct? If you’ve never concentrated on your breathing, search for advice in your local bookstore, the Internet (here’s one link and another), or check out Eoin Finn’s free material in iTunes.
  8. Do something to help someone else. It’s well known that volunteering is good for both our minds and bodies. “But, Daphne,” I can hear you asking, “how can it possibly help our writing?” Let me give you a couple of ways: It distracts you from your own problems (which might be interfering with your writing). It exposes you to others who likely think very differently from you (which can help you better understand the diversity of your readers). And, if you chose a volunteer job that suits you well, it’s fun (which will put you in a better frame of mind for writing.)
  9. Meditate. I know the idea of meditating scares a lot of people. But if you want to calm your mind (and have you ever seen an agitated mind that writes well?), it’s one of the best techniques you can try. Interested? I’ve found Sylvia Boorstein’s books very helpful and accessible.
  10.  Get enough sleep. Many writing coaches urge their clients to get up really early to write before they become too busy with other things. I encourage people to get up early ONLY if their body clocks make this easy for them. Having had serious sleep problems myself, I know how crucial it is to get a good night’s sleep. Most of us need 7 to 9 hours sleep per night, every night. Don’t think you’re doing your writing a favour by shortchanging yourself.

If you really want to improve your writing, concentrate on the big picture. Make sure you have more than a good writing life. Have a good life, period.

Do any of these non-writing activities help YOU to write? Or can you suggest a few new ones? Please comment below. (If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.)

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