How to Become a Better Writer

Rachelle Gardner

*10 Non-Writing-Related Ideas

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

1. Be creative any way you can. Cook new recipes. Paint a picture. Design a garden. Compose a song. Build something with Legos. Organize the garage.

2. Pay attention. Observe the mannerisms of people around you. Listen to how they speak. Marvel at the way they’re dressed. Notice their shoes and their posture and the look in their eye.

3. Be an armchair shrink. Analyze people’s behavior. Ask yourself how their actions reveal their character. Wonder about their motivations. Scrutinize the dynamics of relationships. Drive your spouse and kids crazy.

Creativity4. Live life with passion. Do the things on your bucket list. Stretch beyond your comfort zone. Climb a mountain. Jump out of a plane. Serve soup at a shelter. Dine in a restaurant alone.

5. Take trips. Fly, drive or ride your bike. Dig a well in Africa or lie on a beach in San Diego or discover just how big Texas really is when you drive across it… just go.

6. Watch TV intentionally. Only the best scripted shows and only a few hours a week. Pay attention to good writing and try to figure out why it works.

7. Be a patron of the arts. Theater, dance, museums, concerts, architecture, baseball games. Enjoy beauty, excellence and precision wherever you find it.

8. Spend time everyday in mundane tasks. Do them without any music, radio or TV in the background. Wash the dishes, mow the lawn. Even your commute can be done in silence. See what you find there.

9. Pursue your interests. Have a hobby or two. Besides writing.

10. Exercise. Preferably something like jogging, walking, hiking or bicycling where you have long stretches of a repetitive activity.

Anyone want to contribute #11?

100 Responses

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  1. These are great, I’ve read through them 5 times.

    I leave in 6 weeks for the Bolivian Andes on a mission trip. We’re taking 1500 short wave radios up up UP into the most remote areas of Bolivia. Talk about doing 2,3,4,5,7,9 and 10. 1 and 6 don’t factor in on that trip. It’s intense sensory overload, 24/7.
    There’s a book in there, purcolating, but not yet ready.
    I’m looking forward to seeing what other people have to say.

  2. Kelly says:

    #11 – Read a while lot of the kind of books/blogs/articles/poetry/etc. that you would want to write.

    • Kelly says:

      p.s. meant “whole lot” … typo. oops.

    • M. G. King says:

      Agree 100%, but would add, read books out of your normal genre! I find some of my best ideas and fresh vocabulary come from outside the genre ruts.

      • Iagree! I am currently participating in a literary MOOC by Coursera titled Fantasy and Science Fiction. I am a staunch romance writer/reader and the new genre is a great experience. It does add to your vocabulary and broadens your horizon so to speak.

        In general, learn to feel everything rather than just seeing it or hearing it. A writer learns to translate those feelings to words and the result is a more meaningful and enriched writing.

      • So true. I do this a few times a year, just to see what’s out there. I’ve discovered some great authors as a result.

  3. Read a variety of literary and popular fiction and pay attention to close detail like the “feel” of a paragraph or the way a character interprets their surroundings. Mostly, learn a bit more about life that you haven’t yet been exposed to ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Yeeeeeeeeeeees! Number 8 snuck up and surprised me some years ago, but it is vital. I need to work on number 9. Oh, wait, music is a hobby, isn’t it?

  5. Nail down your values and ethics, if you haven’t already, so that there’s a foundation from which you can write.

  6. Cheryl Dale says:

    Spend lots of time with those in the age group you are writing for – kids, teens, people in love, etc.

  7. Jeanne T says:

    Great ideas, Rachelle. I love #4. Passion is my word for the year, and I’m learning a lot about it. Some other things you’ve shared in past posts have challenged me to go outside my comfort zone, and I’m working on it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    My #11 play with your kids, if you have them. We have a regular game night, and it’s always fun to see what our kiddos do/how they strategize. It’s just enjoyable to sit and connect with them.

  8. thyrkas says:

    Randomize your rituals. Do you always go to the same coffee shop? Try a different one, and order something new to you. Do you always read the same writers, magazines, newspapers? Switch it up. Do you sit in the same place at church every week? Sit somewhere different -get a new perspective.

  9. #11 – have conversations with strangers or people you normally would not interact with as often e.g. Elderly, department store personnel, people in waiting rooms, etc. I have had some of my richest experiences talking to these people and others. There are certainly book- writing inspiration there.

    I love, love, love to have many hobbies, try new things and travel the world. All the above and more are a catalyst for my writing. I have a travel blog (www.pensonaworldmap.com) just for recording my worldwide adventures. I have found that just changing your locale for even a brief time (day trip to a nearby town or traveling as far as Australia) can refresh you, teach you things about yourself, others and God. Great post, Rachelle! ๐Ÿ˜€

    • I sat next to a interesting looking character on a plane in July, he looked kind of really old hippy guy/scruffy and Hawiian t-shirt-ish. I was not too excited to be next to him, as he was about 6’3 and his legs were not directly in front of him.

      ๐Ÿ™‚

      But because I am a saint, I allowed him to converse with me. Commence eye rolling nnnnow.

      He turned out to be absolutly fascinating!!! He was a retired police officer and told me story after story about his policing days. People were staring at us, we were laughing so hard.
      You never know who you’ll meet when you say hello. And the older someone is, the chances are they’ve got a story that will knock your socks off!!

      • Your example is exactly what I am talking about, Jennifer! That’s good stuff! I sat by a woman when I went to Germany last November and I thought she was rude at first because she was talking on her cell nonstop in German and ignoring me totally. But after she got off the phone she apologized for being on the phone catering away in my ear.

        Her English was flawless and we chatted over the next 5 hours of a 9 hour flight about how she came to Atlanta as a nanny and met her American husband and now has been in the US over 20 years. And we exchanged numbers and she gave me a personal tour of the Nuremberg Christmas markets!

        Then I met a nice lady on a train and I gave her a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce because I really enjoyed our conversation. Then I found out that she is the owner of a popular German fabric store for traditional clothing and because of my gift and kindness to her she mailed me two gorgeous aprons that I received out of the blue at my office after I got home.

        You just never know when you will either miss a blessing or be able to become a blessing… ๐Ÿ˜€

      • dumb predict a word…I meant “chattering” in my ear.

      • Hahahaha!!
        Catering? I read “chattering”, seriously!
        What a sweet lady!
        I sat next to an Orthodox Jew on a plane and he very LOUDLY recited a prayer in Hebrew. I saw the photocopied page from which he was praying, the prayer’s English title was “Fear of Flying”.
        Yeah, thaaaaaaaanks.

  10. You touched upon this one: Get outdoors.

    I also thinking being a member of a team helps. It provides interaction, support, and the dynamics offer constant material. Plus it sets you up for team mentality when it comes time to work with a publishing team. Pick a team, any team. Sports, book club, missons team…

    ~ Wendy

  11. Robbie Iobst says:

    Thanks Rachelle! Great list. SO important to have balance in my life so my writing comes from a good place, not an exhausted overwrought desperate me. :0)

  12. Rick Barry says:

    Good, positive suggestions for refilling the creativity bucket. I’ve sold articles with ideas that came to me while mowing or driving down the expressway. Jumping from an airplane added realism to one scene in my WW II novel. Anything fresh or different provides new sights and sensations that provide potential fodder for fiction. Thanks again, Rachelle.

    • Hi Rick…can I call you ‘Rick’?

      “Jumping from a plane added realism to one scene in my WW2 novel”.

      Okay, four words get me there. ‘Jumping’ and ‘from’ and ‘a’ and ‘plane’.

      I betcha that writing in pencil or listening to the radio would have done the same thing!!!
      Or maybe drawing a line up the back of my legs so I’d look like I had stockings.

      Have fun with that jumping stuff.

      • Rick Barry says:

        Lol. Thanks for the note, Jennifer. Truth be told, jumping solo from an airplane (none of that tandem stuff for me) had already been on my to-do list for life. The scene where my hero tumbles out the bomb bay doors of a B-24 provided the nudge to go ahead and do it. Twice! Much more exciting than Six Flags.

    • Twice? That’s just plain SICK!
      ๐Ÿ˜‰
      Six Flags?
      Nah, I’ve driven in a Jeep in the Andes, AND in Montreal rush hour, who needs Six Flags.

  13. Lynne Hartke says:

    Read books to children.

  14. Michelle Ule says:

    Learn your family stories. Take time to be surprised by the adventures of elderly people, listen to the thoughts of teenagers without judging, seek out people who don’t look or think like you and try to see the world through their point of view. Fumble around with a new language and try something you always wanted to do as a child but your mother said it was too expensive.

    (Who would have thought playing the oboe could be a source of pure joy?)

    • Family stories are awesome!! My dad was kicked out of kindergarten and had to walk all the way to the office and negotiate his reinstatement by himself before his parents found out. His dad’s cousin was the school superintendent. He got back in, AFTER cuz visited my grandfather and told him what was going on. My dad didn’t talk back in class ever again.
      Kindergarten? He was trouble even then! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Family stories can be such an inspiration. I had an uncle, who, along with his brother, signed up for service after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. When they enlisted, his brother’s name was misspelled. They ended up interrogating him as a spy.

    • I agree, Michelle. I do genealogy research too and I love reading and hearing family stories and those of the elderly in general. My debut novel has a 92-year-old main character. ๐Ÿ˜€

      One of my favorite family stories is that my ggg grandpa in Alabama once hid Frederick Douglass underneath his house and the word around was that if James Marcus Tarpley hid someone then they better not be messed with or they’d answer to his gun. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Nikole Hahn says:

    Armchair shrink seems to be part of the writers psyche. Number 11: serve. Or maybe that falls under the part where you said get out of our comfort zone? Serving gives you some more insight and observations, juicy fodder for characters.

  16. Kirsten says:

    This summer I got my first ever pet dog. She’s given me new challenges, learning how to train her to be a good dog, and got me outside on a regular basis in all weather, exercising daily, noticing the details of my neighborhood as they change from day to day, meeting many new interesting people, hearing their stories–multiple benefits that outweigh (for me) the costs and added responsibilities of pet ownership. And when I’m at home she’s always happy to keep me company, resting right beside me.

  17. Michael says:

    My #11 would be to remember. Think back to great or exciting times in your own life. What stories could you tell from them? Think back and remember traumatic experiences. How could those be developed? People love authentic stories – what’s more authentic than your own life???

  18. Nora says:

    Reading your blog post, I was thinking, โ€I do that, I do that and I do that tooโ€ฆโ€ When I finished reading I thought about it for a little while and I realized that some of the things that I thought were my faults, like being โ€œan armchair shrinkโ€ and being undecided about which hobbies I should stick to (I have so many!) are actually what stimulate my mind and makes me โ€œinterestingโ€.
    Sometimes I stumble upon books or articles which confuse me. They make me wonder if I am on the right track. Your post screamed at me, โ€There is nothing wrong with youโ€. It gave me the desire to go on, be myself and keep writing. I probably donโ€™t have the most correct or the most sophisticated English vocabulary because English is my fourth language. But, I do have interesting things to say, judging by the wide range of people who like listening to me.

  19. Dale Rogers says:

    Thanks for those great suggestions, Rachelle.
    All I can add is reading the Bible. Sometimes when I feel confused about what I’m doing, I read a chapter or so, usually Proverbs or a Psalm, and my mind seems clearer and more focused.

  20. Teddy Bellay says:

    I don’t what it is, but when I just lay down in my bed for a few seconds I come up with these ideas. I get back up walk around sometimes not thinking of any good ideas. Go back and lay down again, and another idea pops up. My book I wrote my ideas just came to me just before I fell asleep. Then I would get all excited, to where I couldnโ€™t sleep, and I would rush to my computer and start typing away. What a beautiful feeling it is just to sit and write. My quote โ€œI canโ€™t draw, but I can paint a beautiful picture with wordsโ€.

    • Teddy Bellay says:

      Sorry typo, I meant I don’t know what it is (first sentence). I forgot to mention to is that listening to the air come out the vents in my room is very relaxing.

    • Katie says:

      I completely agree Teddy. I get a lot of my ideas for writing (anything) while lying in bed, or sitting in the backyard, not doing anything. I also tend to write in my head before I put things down on paper. The only problem with this – sometimes I think I have actually written and sent thank you notes, when I’ve only composed them in my head!

  21. Love this so very much! My #11 would be this: Listen to dramatic music that sweeps you in. Sing along if you feel so compelled.

  22. Kimberly says:

    I’d add learn how to ask good questions to the list. I’m hopeless at it, but I’m always amazed at the stories you can draw out of other people by asking the right questions.

  23. Elizabeth Varadan says:

    I love this list! I already do a lot of the things on it, but it’s such a reminder that they are worth doing and that they don’t subtract from writing.

  24. Teddy Bellay says:

    I was reading the Bio on this website. Does Books and Such only take Christian Books, or do you look for other styles.

  25. Victoria KP says:

    #10 is so true for me. I do my best “writing” when my body is engaged but my mind is free to wander. I also come up with good ideas while I’m doing housework, but I’m MUCH more likely to take a long walk :-).

  26. Lori says:

    My #11 would be read books that are not what you usually read. This past year I have been reading romance novels of various variety. I usually never like romance novels and thought they were silly for the most part. However, my views have change and I can appreciate the writing.

    My #12 would be take a class (in-person or online). This past year I took an online class on the Koran and then another one on Sufism. I am not planning on converting. The book I am working on will have Muslim characters. The online classes have given me a new perspective on Islam and what a beautiful religon it actually is. Next I want to take an online classi on Rumi.

  27. I love this list. It just proves that having more experiences in life gives you more places and perspectives from which to write.

  28. Becky E Thurston says:

    #11 Eat some ice cream…with no music in the background.

  29. I clean. I do it to relax. I do it when I’m angry. I work better when my office is in order. It also gives me time to plot things out in my head.

    Thanks for the great post, Rachelle.

  30. I find a lot of my writing gets done in quiet stretches in the car. I use the voice notes on my phone to take down the really good ideas, but even the not so great ideas help me to know where the story isn’t going.

    #11-Observe young children, they wear their hearts on their sleeves!

  31. I love to sew on lazy Sunday afternoons. I use machine applique to make wall hangings, table runners and baby quilts to decorate my home and for gifts. Lots of people say they get tied up in knots trying to sew, but both my mother and grandmother were seamstresses, so I think it’s in my genes.

    Going antiquing makes a fun day out for me. I’m always on the lookout for another piece of McCoy blue spongeware or the more elusive German Gmundner folk art for my pottery collections.

    Like writing, these arts add considerable beauty to my life. Thank you for the reminder, Rachelle.

  32. Accept an invitation to an event/dinner you would rather pass up. A co-workerโ€™s Tupperware party may give your salad a spin and your plot a twist.

  33. How about: Make up stories about total strangers. Always argue the side you don’t agree with (if only in your mind). Spend idle hours justifying unacceptable behavior. I’ve always done this (when the unacceptable behavior wasn’t aimed at me), and I think it helps me write my characters’ flaws.

  34. Great list, Rachel! I love doing number four and five.

    I agree with everyone. Reading makes you a better writer. I think you should read award winning books as well as classics and current fiction. I think the more you read, the better your “voice” is.

  35. Remember your dreams. And if I wake up at night and start to worry I try changing the “what if..”s to plot ideas.

  36. Oh, man, I totally do #3. All of it. Including driving my family crazy with it.

    This post encourages and inspires me. So I *am* getting slowly more creative and progressing! Thank you!

    A possible addition: Be thankful for the opportunity to do this work. Gratitude boosts my morale when I’m tired and reminds me why I love all I am blessed to do, which inspires me to keep working!

  37. Kiersti says:

    Great post! And so true. Another thing that helps me is listening to music, especially music that holds lots of emotion and “story feel.”

  38. Amy Magaw says:

    My #11 would be watching old movies, i.e., An Affair to Remember, even I like Hitchcocks’ Rebecca! Sometimes I get the best ideas just by being observant while driving to pick up my kids from school. Life is all around us-we just have to SEE it. And there is passion in life.

  39. If you have a pair of gravity boots, try reading a small chapter of a non-fiction book upside down.

  40. My #11 would be: surround yourself with beauty, cheap “luxuries” that add romance to lifeโ€“โ€“scented candles, pretty flowers, a good cup of tea poured from a teapot, mood music, paintings on the walls, wear earrings every day (optional if you’re a guy).

  41. Amy Morgan says:

    Ironing is my very favorite #8 task. #11 would be crafting conversations as I see the check out teller and the bagger, or the hotel maid and the domineering guest. Endless opportunities….

  42. R.A.Savary says:

    What I got from this post was living life to the fullest. I don’t have to do anything different or new. What I do to enjoy life is live it without any expectations, as though I am doing whatever I am doing for the first time, with no past experience or knowledge of what will take place, throwing whatever I’ve heard or read out the window.

    It’s like looking at the same old things through the eyes of a child, or a foreigner who never saw them. When I live that way my writing is better; or maybe, when I write that way, living is better. Perhaps it’s a combination of both, or maybe, it’s just me.

    Maybe, for me anymore, it’s not maybe.

  43. Step away from the keyboard and clear your mind. Let the story percolate while you do the rest of Rachelle’s list. And enjoy life!

  44. Sue Harrison says:

    Terrific ideas! My #11
    Do something to help someone else. Get your mind off yourself and reach out in love!

  45. I sew. Usually for my daughters (including daughters-in-love) and grands. Usually tweaking a pattern.

    When I go buggy-eyed at the computer I can still see well enough to sew. (Usually)

    Does anyone else have trouble with their vision after spending hours at the computer screen?

  46. Susan S says:

    I think all these number ideas represent down time to me. When I get too overloaded I am able to recharge with purposeful down time; whether through travel, hanging with the kids, crafting, or plain silence. Thanks for the reminder that through all our busyness it’s perfectly acceptable to unwind.

  47. Lauri Meyers says:

    I was reading the post when a family of swans walked by- mom, dad, and 6 nearly grown kids. I really took the time to appreciate the waddle of a swan. When they turned toward the lake I thought they might fall down for their tail feathers running into each other. Reminded of me Laverne and Shirley crisscross ing legs!

  48. Randy Maddox says:

    My #11 would be…close my mouth and open my other senses. Listening to the way others speak, not just in words but gestures and expressions has been eye opening. Walking through a local fair, smelling the aroma, shaking peoples hands, seeing the way they smile, that has been priceless. Doing this has helped me to work on some of the best advice I was given in regards to my writing…every word has a purpose.

  49. My #11 would be: Don’t judge; just accept.

  50. Sandy Cody says:

    It’s a great list and I agree with every item, but I think the the only thing I do where I can see an actual improvement in my writing is … writing – just keep punching keys and pulling words out of the well.

  51. Asakiyume says:

    Here via Jon Gibbs on Livejournal. All your ideas are *excellent*, but I think your no. 8 is very novel and definitely fruitful. Thanks for posting!

  52. Walt Socha says:

    Please, anything but “#1….organize the garage”…!
    For a possible minor #11: Do a journal or some other daily unrelated-to-your-novel-etc writing session (15 minutes or less).

  53. Linda Boutin says:

    Join a writers’ group and keep up with book signings, library writers’ events and book fairs. You will be inspired!

  54. All great ideas! I love doing mindless activities mindfully. Don’t know why!
    Rachelle, I hope you don’t mind that I occasionally post a link to my Facebook page “A Page A Day”.

  55. Peter DeHaan says:

    I find it helpful to periodically unplug and turn off: No Internet, cell phone, TV, radio, or iPod. (Notice that computer is not on the list. That’s because if a great idea comes to me, I don’t want to lose it.)

  56. I love all of these ideas and even do a few already. Another thing I do is read books in the genre I write and other genres for enjoyment. A well-written story that captures your attention and imagination can be very inspiring.

  57. mary says:

    I’m with Renee – the thing I would add is: read. Read all sorts of stories, nonfiction as well as fiction, and not just the genre(s) you’re interested in writing.

    Great list – though I also agree about organizing the garage as an activity to be avoided! I’m here from Jon Gibbs’s journal.

  58. Julie Sunne says:

    I carry a small notebook everywhere I go. It’s often in unusual places (doctor waiting rooms for instance) where inspiration strikes. Great list.

  59. Don’t get up. Lie in bed for an extra 15 minutes and let your imagination wander.

    Take a long bath. No music or screens, just the chance to daydream.

    Lie in a hammock among the trees. Watch the way the sun and wind play with the poplar leaves.

    Bonnie Ferrante

  60. Sheila Brodhead says:

    Play with children.

  61. SolariC says:

    I like to follow points 1, 5, 9 and 10 in the list you gave up there. I should also consider the other six ideas as well. Thanks for suggesting them!

    My #11 is to pray or meditate. If you make the effort to clear your mind of distractions, in the quiet suddenly inspiration is likely to come pouring in.

  62. Such wonderful “out of the box” ideas to expand our creativity.

    My # 11 is PLAY WITH LITTLE CHILDREN. They help me remember all the wonders in life I sometimes take for granted—even the the play of shadows thru the trees is exciting.
    gerri

  63. Kathleen Rouser says:

    There is great merit to being creative in other areas. And sometimes
    taking time to organize things in my environment frees me to think more clearly when I write, because I’m not as distracted by the mess any more. It gets my mind off where I might be stuck. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Exercise is great, too. It gets the blood pumping to the brain. Spending time with the Lord, resting in Him can also be a great way to fill up the tank with more to put into one’s writing, especially in regards to emotional energy.

  64. Natasha says:

    I agree with some quiet and stillness but I find too much of it is counterproductive for me. So lately I’ve been listening to audiobooks while exercising or doing those mundane tasks. It feels like I’m sneaking in reading time and puts me in a creative space while I’m going about my day. Just wanted to share that because it has been really helpful to my writing lately. I use the Audible (dot com) app on my phone, it’s really easy to use and the books are reasonably priced.
    Thanks, and great article! Found it from Twitter.

  65. Eva says:

    Turn on your favorite music and listen to the stories in the lyrics

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