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Things Writers Have To Do That Aren't Actually Writing


“If you wish to be a writer, write.”

That quote from Greek philosopher Epictetus is perhaps among the most famous pieces of advice a fledgling writer may be given.


I'm sure I've heard it at least a hundred times over!


As writers, the need to be writing is right there in the name. And if we want to deepen our understanding of the craft and improve our stories, we must be writing consistently—even if we aren't writing every single day.


The thing is, writing a novel, a script, a short story, or any other piece requires so much more than simply putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and letting the words find their way to the page. And as the social media landscape continues to expand, so does the list of tasks a writer must take on.


Here are some things a writer has to do that aren't actively writing (but totally count as writing 😉).

Brainstorming & Plotting

For a lot of writers, there's a lot that happens behind the scenes before they can begin writing the first draft of a new project. The amount of prep and what it entails varies from one writer to another. And regardless of whether they identify as a Planner, a Pantser, or a Plantser, each has their own personal take on the process. A writer might do a tiny bit of brainstorming before they dive into the new project head-first, or they might devote a couple of days to crafting a structured outline.


As a Plantser, I tend to go into a new project with a minimal outline—I've found that the more in-depth I go, the more likely that outline will become obsolete because of how my stories evolve as I'm drafting. Even though I may not be spending as long on plotting my WIPs as other writers, it still takes me a bit of time to get things sorted out enough for me to feel like I've got a good enough grasp on my story before I dive into it.


Outlines aren't set in stone. Stories evolve and plans can change. Maybe you realize a plot thread isn't working and needs to be scrapped, or it excites you and becomes something you want to explore in a greater depth. Your secondary character might be wanting a bigger role in the store. Or you may just want to up the stakes and introduce your antagonist two chapters sooner than planned.


Whatever the reason, you may find yourself needing to forge a new path for your story—and that path isn't always clear. Sometimes, you need to rework things or go into an entirely new direction that can take some time to figure out.


When this happens, the problem may not be something you can draft your way through. Instead, stepping away to brainstorm may be the best solution. Even if you're not actively putting pen to paper, you're still working on your story.


Research

As a writer of historical romance, a chunk of my not-actively-writing time involves research—and even as I'm writing, I'll be looking into things as they come up. It's all part of creating a realistic setting for my readers to explore alongside characters who feel like an authentic part of it.


Even if you're not working with a historical setting, chances are that you'll encounter things you don't know or are unsure about. You might be writing about a character who works in a career field that's different than your own or grew up in a different religion than you did.


No matter the case, there are things you're going to be diving into, and that can be a lengthy process. It's not always easy to find the info you're seeking, and you may end up having to wait for books to come in or find yourself exchanging emails with an expert in a different time zone that impacts the timing of things.


You'll probably have a fair bit of reading to do, but not all research happens on the page. You might be watching documentaries, movies, or videos on YouTube or listening to podcasts. Maybe you're able to travel to a place that appears in your work or visit an insightful museum exhibit. Some research might also be hands-on, like testing out a character's signature cookie recipe in your own kitchen.


No matter the method of your research, it's not always going to be something that entails actively writing, but it's still a crucial element to the process!


Editing

Okay, you've finished your first draft! Now what?


Well, firstly, congratulate yourself and celebrate because you deserve to.


But the completion of the first draft doesn't mean the work is over. Far from it, actually.


Unless you're blessed with the ability to write a perfect first draft, you've got some editing ahead of you. For many writers, editing takes longer than writing the first draft.


Editing tends to be more painstaking and time-consuming. Instead of exploring and seeing where things take you as you write, your focus becomes nit-picking in order to polish things up, identifying and bolstering your story's weaker parts, and cutting down bulkier sections.


It often takes several rounds of self-edits before a story is ready for beta readers, and often several rounds of beta reader feedback before you're ready to consider entering the publishing phase.


So, again, it's not actively writing something new, but it's a key step in the journey.


Networking & Marketing

It's a common assumption that writers in the traditional publishing sphere don't have to worry as much about marketing their book, as their publisher will be handling all of that for them.


That is seldom the case. While some titles are given a sizeable budget for advertising, it's often set aside for authors that have already established themselves or for sequels to popular releases. Publishing is a business, so naturally the return on investment must be considered. It's easy to assume that an up-and-coming debut author will not generate the same sales as an author who's already proven successful and is publishing the eighth book in a series, so that second author will be given a much larger chunk of the funds allotted for promotion.


But even if your publisher is contributing to the marketing of your book or you're able to hire a publicist, you should still expect to do your part.


Much of the marketing landscape occurs online nowadays. You might run ads or post about your book on social media, write guest blog posts, or send out periodic newsletters to keep your readers up to date on your projects (I'm hoping to get my own going soon enough).


But it's not enough to say, "Here's my book. Buy it!" and leave it at that.


In fact, this will potentially result in fewer sales.


And, in my opinion, it's also not a great idea to cold message people on social media with a link to your book or spam their comments with unsolicited self-promos—a trend that seems to be dying down at last but still happens often enough that it warrants a mention here.


Instead, it's important to engage with your audience. You don't have to fixate on follower counts, but you may want to take note of the posts that get more views and continue making similar ones. It's also wise to respond to comments on your posts and comment on others'. This interactivity establishes a connection. Folks are more likely to support you when they know you and your stories.


Authors should be prepared to take an active role in marketing their books no matter if they're taking the traditional publishing route or are self-publishing.


But it's not just about sales. It's about making connections within the writing community. Writing can be isolating at times, but publishing is something that you rarely do entirely by yourself without outside help.


By connecting with other users in those spaces, you're opening yourself up to friendships and people you can learn from. That's actually how I met the members of my long-distance writing groups! While we haven't known each other long, we've already had some great chats about the craft and exchanged feedback I know will be helpful going forward.


Additionally, networking may lead to other doors opening. You may learn of contests to submit your writing to, find agents you may want to query, or reviewers who could be a good fit for an ARC someday.


The key is to not let yourself get sucked in for too long. It's easy for this form of productivity to become procrastination...


Simply Existing & Living Life

No matter how passionate we might be about writing, it's something that tends to be pushed onto the backburner in favor of everyday responsibilities like day jobs and family obligations.


I'm sure a lot of us would love to spend entire days dedicated to working on our stories. But here's the thing: that could have an unexpected negative impact on our writing.


There's the obvious risk of becoming an unkempt gremlin if you're perpetually hunched over your desk, forgoing basic hygiene and everyday upkeep, but also health risks that can come with being consumed by the craft.

(BTW, as you might've already guessed, I'm not a doctor. I'm just speaking from experience here.)


For one thing, if you let yourself become sleep-deprived because you're working on your WIP, the quality of that draft will likely begin to slip. That'll give you so much more to fix in editing, worsening the cycle. The same may be said for skipping meals in favor of finishing a chapter.


You may feel productive in the moment, but being wholly-focused on your writing all the time will cause problems in the long run.


Trust me, I know.


I've always been hyper-fixated on my writing, working on my stories in any spare moment. This was only amplified during the Pandemic, while I was furloughed from the then-day-job and later laid off when the company closed its brick-and-mortar locations. Between that and the lockdowns, my writing became my world. And because of that, I kind of forgot how to live.


I've become even more of an introvert than I had been prior.


Not to mention that our lived experiences often inform what happens to our characters. That one conversation with a stranger that inspired an entire character or a single interaction that sparks a whole chapter.


It's okay, and frankly vital, to take those breaks. Go for a walk. Watch a movie. Hit the gym. Meet up with friends for coffee. Take up tai chi. Check out that new Indian restaurant downtown. Travel, even if it's only a weekend staycation visiting local tourist attractions. Make a splash. Take a chance on something new.


Exist.

Get out. Live life.

Your writing will thank you for it.





Writing is what writers are known for, but there's often a lot happening behind the scenes that their readers may not be clued into. Those tasks may not always be as exciting as chasing that shiny new story idea, but they're necessary evils.


We're often made to feel guilty for not being 100% productive 100% of the time. That's why I've become a fan of the "Girl Moss" wave that was trending this past January. Instead of embracing hustle culture, I saw quite a few people encouraging one another to slow down and care for themselves, seeking inner peace and calm instead of charging ahead at full speed at all hours of the day.


So while our friend Epictetus may've been on the right track when he said that in order to be a writer, we have to write, there is so much more beyond that. Different steps along the path to publication, but also knowing how to step back every now and then. It's all equally important.


It just makes writing and publishing a book that much more impressive!




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