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Zen and the art of not writing

Iain Broome
Iain Broome
3 min read

Guest post by Beth Morey
Does this situation sound familiar?

You wake at an indefinably early hour to sneak in some quality time with your manuscript. You brew the coffee, clear the inbox and gag that pesky inner editor. You apply the seat of your pajama pants to the seat of your desk chair. You insert 99% of the perspiration, as recommended, fingers poised over the keyboard – yet the pages only fill with drivel, or worse, remain lifeless and empty.

After 30, 60, or more dedicated minutes which feel less like writing and more like the medieval art of dentistry, you save your progress with a sigh and trudge to the bathroom for a shower.

An inconvenient truth

You’re halfway through your daily lather when it hits – the plot twist which, you realise, your entire novel is hinging on, or the exquisite article lead that you just spent the last hour trying to suss out.

You throw back the shower curtain and, snatching a towel to retain some shred of modesty, rocket toward the nearest scrap of paper and pencil. Frantically you press words into the paper’s safekeeping, water dripping from your barely toweled body onto the paper.

Breathless and shivering, you feel victorious. You are a writer, and you have created something worth finishing and – hopefully – worth reading.

It’s good to plan, but…

This type of scene plays out in my life more than I care to admit. I’m not complaining, though. As a writer, these flashes of insight are exhilarating. I just wish they occurred at more convenient and regularly scheduled times.

There is great value in sitting down before a blank computer screen or stack of paper and squeezing words into being one clenching syllable at a time. A regular writing routine is an excellent tool, as are world-building, outlining, and other brainstorming techniques.

Every writer needs to slog through some form of resistance eventually. Writing is not easy, we all know, and not for armchair authors whose literary dreams are more transient than, say, Lindsey Lohan’s hair color.

However, there is also something to be said for not writing, for choosing to step away from the page. Whether it’s because the words just aren’t working, the dog needs to be walked or the pile of dirty dishes accumulating in the kitchen has reached critical mass (ie there are no spoons left).

Life away from the act of writing happens. It has to.

I’ve found that those occasions when I’m explicitly not writing are often more helpful and productive than when I am.

Finding the ‘Ah-ha’ moments

One of the basic how-to tips doled out to beginner writers is to carry a notebook everywhere in the event that inspiration strikes. I do – at least, I try to. I’m still perfecting my proficiency with this trick of the writing trade.

I mean, there are only so many places a notebook can go (remember the shower?). But I try, and it’s paid off.

Some of my best “ah ha!” moments have come when I’m doing something that does not require my brain’s full engagement. Maybe it’s my subconscious mulling my story’s problems over, or maybe it’s the gods of writing sending me a freebie.

Regardless of the why, these zen moments pay off on the page. In addition to bath time, I hit the inspiration zone when I’m hiking with my dogs, driving (especially long distances), washing the dishes or working out. I wonder what my fellow gym-goers think is going on when I scrawl on my open notebook in the midst of a sweaty elliptical session.

Letting it happen

Not that I would care (much) if I learned that their opinions are less than flattering, because I am a writer. I haven’t bled for my craft – yet – but I am dedicated to improving my work, to telling my stories, to all the lonely yet wonderful joys of the writing life.

So sometimes I simply don’t write. I let the zen flow of not-writing trickle words and worlds into my imagination for when I return to the page, refreshed.

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Iain Broome Twitter

I'm the author of the novel, A is for Angelica. Every week, I send Draft Mode, a newsletter full of tips and tools that help you improve your craft and promote your writing.

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