When it comes to improving as a writer, there are some fairly obvious methods to try. For example, reading a diverse range of books, taking courses/workshops from experts in the field, and maintaining a regular writing practice are all excellent ways to develop your craft.
If you’re serious about becoming a successful author, those are great tips to keep in mind. It’s true that more-obvious forms of learning — through reading material, coursework, and dedicated work-time — are valuable. But you don’t need to stop there.
Instead, recognize that many alternative, seemingly-unrelated activities can seriously up your writing game. Here are four such examples:
1. Listen to intellectually-stimulating podcasts (they need not be about writing).
Yes, it’s useful to listen to writing-related podcasts. Ashley Gainer’s Copy Chatter is a perfect example. Such resources can provide insider knowledge and advice. But you can go far beyond them, too.
Any intellectually-stimulating podcast will do — just one that you find genuinely interesting, regardless of the genre. The Daily by the New York Times is one of my personal favourites.
The topics of discussion on The Daily vary wildly from day-to-day, but they’re always interesting and challenging. Host Michael Barbaro often covers recent political news in the United States (but also globally), and also bounces around from subjects like the dangers of e-cigarettes to the failing business model of Uber.
You never really know what you’re going to get, but it’s always an in-depth investigation full of balanced reporting. As someone who often instinctually leans pretty far to the left on political matters, the reporting of the New York Times often challenges me to reconsider my opinions and appreciate alternative viewpoints (like more moderate or conservative beliefs) before automatically discounting them.
The Daily is great because new episodes are often released each weekday (as the name implies), so you’ve got a steady flow of new content to consume. But feel free to find a mix of different podcasts you like, and just take the time to enjoy them.
Listening to intellectually-engaging podcasts won’t magically turn you into a creative genius. You probably won’t spring from your seat at the end of an episode, suddenly inspired to create new work, and write your greatest masterpiece.
But, over time, regularly indulging in content that interests you (such as podcasts) will help you become a better thinker. Challenging podcasts will present you with new ideas, viewpoints, and experts to consider. At times, you’ll dive deep into seemingly-obscure topics. You’ll laugh; you’ll have fun; you’ll get your mind turning.
And none of it has to feel labourious. When you consume content tailored to your interests, it will feel effortless. All of that new information will inform your thinking process, your opinions, and even your writing style.
Becoming an effective writer means consuming information, processing your perspective on it, and formulating your ideas into words. Any type of intellectual activity — like listening to an engaging podcast — will improve your work.
2. Watch interesting films.
Similarly, watching interesting films can aid your writing process.Especially if you’re a fiction writer (or screenwriter, more obviously), movies can help teach the concept of world-building. You’ll get wrapped up in entirely-fictional storylines, each with unique characters, settings, and dialogue.
Take a second to think: What was the most interesting movie you’ve ever seen? Why was it so interesting? What did the writer, director, or filmmaker do creatively to build such an engaging storyline? Or, if it was a documentary, what kind of creative liberties were taken in presenting the facts?
You don’t need to pick movies about famous authors, or those based on classic works of literature, for this to be effective. Pretty much any film that you find interesting and engaging will serve the same purpose.
As with #1 (listening to podcasts), all you need to do is consume content that you enjoy, and that challenges you. Over time, such exposure to new viewpoints will naturally inform your creative process.
3. Spend time with your loved ones.
Many people believe that, to become a great writer, you need to lock yourself away in a secluded room and spend hours upon hours labouring at your keyboard. But that’s simply not true. Even though some legendary authors — think Emily Dickinson — were solitary individuals, that’s not necessarily what you should aim for.
To produce great work, you need to first be in a mental state where you feel motivated to do so. And we, as humans, aren’t meant to focus all of our time on working or writing. Our well-being is holistic in nature; if we don’t feel socially-connected to other people, we probably won’t feel great about ourselves. In turn, we might not be at our best, creatively.
Spending time with the people you love — even if just through a FaceTime call or socially-distanced walk — will inevitably lift your spirits. It can help you unwind and just have fun.
And if you feel fulfilled, happy, and loved, you’re probably going to have higher motivation levels. We need downtime to recharge and rest — that way, we can feel energized enough to show up at our keyboards and put in the work, when the time comes.
4. Meditate — even if only for 30 seconds.
In an article for Author Unlimited, Albert Flynn DeSilver summarizes:
“A study published in the Journal of Psychiatry Research discovered that mindfulness meditation actually altered the section of the brain responsible for learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.”
So, when it comes to any kind of creative work, meditation is essentially a cheat code. It’s an effective way to centre the mind, calm the body, and find some stillness in this chaotic world.
Whether you’re trying to reduce your stress levels or increase your creative output, meditation is a valuable tool. I was first truly introduced to a formal meditation practice by taking an MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) course several years ago. My initial goal was to improve my mental health, but the benefits stretched into every facet of my life.
When I started truly understanding how to meditate, how to become more mindful, and how to step back from my thoughts in an objective way, my whole worldview radically changed.
Things that I used to see as inherently “bad” or “unfair” suddenly shifted: They just were. Even if I resisted them, even if I thought that I didn’t deserve them, even if I hated that I was going through them, I was able to step back and observe that they were happening. Plain and simple.
These things were happening, whether I perceived them as “good” or “bad,” and fighting against reality wasn’t helping anything — in fact, it was making things worse. Gaining that sense of perspective was huge.
Similarly to spending time with loved ones, taking time from your day to meditate can seriously help you relax. And if not relax, at least carve time out of your busy schedule to take care of yourself — to invest in self-care, and to invest in your well-being.
Becoming a more well-rounded, adjusted individual will invariably help you grow and learn as an author. When you develop new ways of perceiving the world around you, you’ll have new ideas, thoughts, and concepts to share — perhaps in a new piece of writing.
Some of my favourite resources for meditation/mindfulness include:
The InsightTimer app (with a comprehensive free version), which lets you find and listen to free, guided meditations
Palouse Mindfulness, an invaluable resource, which allows you to take an entire 8-week MBSR course online, at no cost
Buddhify, which is a paid app with extremely high-quality meditation tracks (it costs a one-time fee for lifetime access)
Try including even the briefest of meditations into your daily routine, and watch what happens — to your mind, your wellbeing, and your writing.
There you have it: four indirect ways to up your writing game.
Thanks, as always, for reading the Writing Advice blog, and be sure to subscribe so that you’re notified of each new article.
Pride Month is also coming to an end, so check out this article I have pinned to the top of the blog, which includes info and a call for donations to The Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention. It will be highlighted here for the rest of June, but I encourage you to support such causes all year round, if possible.