You can find a lot of advice on how to live a life as a writer by using your notebook, laptop, or keyboard. But how about away from the writing itself? What do practiced writers do when they’re away from the work? They keep it in their minds and their hearts. They use five practices.
1. They read. Everything you read, as a story or a book, helps your writing. Once you start to write, you look at every story differently. While you do that, you’re looking for parts of stories that are just like yours. The premise, like a priest falling in love or a reporter fighting a pandemic. Or a character with a trait like yours. Or just writing: good that you want to emulate, not-so-good you want to avoid.
2. They study the craft with guide books. There is so much to learn about the craft of making stories. You will be reading as long as you love to learn how to be more skilled in your writing. Find books on making scenes. Find books on point of view. Find books on creating beautiful settings, or vivid places where evil lives. Fellow novelist Margo Raab told a story about writers working on craft. Her friend went to a food-writing course, and who should sit down next to her but Julia Child. “What are you doing here?” she asked. Julia replied, “Well, when you love doing something, how can you ever learn too much about it?”
3. They make Artist’s Dates. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron includes one fun practice. Reward yourself with an Artist’s Date. Go someplace and make a date with your muse. A park you don’t usually visit. A museum. A concert or a library. Even a coffeehouse. Drink in the setting, the colors, the new sounds. Feed your artist with new experiences, once a week.
4. They look for characters in life. Every time you’re in line, in a crowd, attending an event or even a party, look around. People who could live in your stories are all around you. The looks on their faces, the clothes they wear, the gestures they use. Someone could look just like you’ve imagined your heroine to be. People you see in person are the most vivid.
5. They listen for stories — everybody has one. While you talk to people, encourage their stories. Learn and listen to their lives. Even at a coffeehouse (see above) stories are right at your elbow. Practice gentle eavesdropping, listening. Every story has a way of working into your own storytelling.
If you practice your writing regularly, much of what you see and live will have a chance to pop up in your storytelling. Live to be a writer by letting your non-writing time enrich your story.
What have you done, away from the page, that’s helped your storytelling?