We all hear the advice to write every day. And I must say that when I do, the words flow smoother and the story moves along faster.
But I also feel that time spent not writing will improve the book. Now, I’m not talking about watching a sitcom or a game show on TV. While you may get an idea or a character, from these, chances are you are just wasting time.
When I lecture on character development, I recommend spending time sitting in the porch swing, quietly visiting with a character. Not writing. Just quiet time talking to and listening to what the character has to say. And if you give it the right atmosphere, devoid of distractions, the character will speak to you. You will learn more about the character, maybe something important, something that will change how you depict or deal with the character.
Scenes are best developed when you take the time to close your eyes and visualize the scene, watch it unfold, observe (not dictate) how the characters interact, see how emotions develop. Quiet often, if you are sufficiently in the background, things will happen you didn’t expect. Those could be subtle things, enhancing character. Or they could be something that alters the plot. Once that’s done, typing up the scene will be easy, quick, and – most importantly – the scene will be better.
Once when I was working in a research center, I sat with my eyes closed. A friend came in and asked what I was doing. I replied, “I’m doing what I’m paid to do. I’m thinking.” When you are sitting quietly listening to your characters or watching a scene, you are engaged in the act of writing. Sitting at the computer, pounding away at the keyboard, is a part of writing. But it is only one phase of the process.
Another aspect of “not writing” is listening. Once you write a section of dialog, you need to read it aloud. Listen to how the words fit together. Do they convey not only the message, but the feeling and the atmosphere you want for the scene? Do they reflect the emotions of the character at that specific moment in the book? When read aloud, do they force the reader to convey those emotions?
This exercise should be done also after you have reached the end of the book. Go back and read all the dialog. Better yet, have someone else read the dialog and you listen with your eyes closed. Does it elicit the feeling you want at that point in the book?
These “not writing” times may be the most important phase of writing. Not only are they okay, they are essential if you want to get the best out of the time when you are typing, bu they are often forgotten. Writers may feel they are not being productive. Today, you often hear the advice to simply crank out the pages as fast as possible, but speed is not the measure of quality unless you are in a race.
“Not writing” time could be the best part of your writing.
After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing. He has had four non-fiction books published. He now concentrates on his favorite genres, mystery, suspense and thriller. His thirteenth book is scheduled for release in May, 2018. He is a member of International Thriller Writers.