200 things a novelist can do in 5 minutes or less
June 12, 2013 8:44 AM   Subscribe

[Novelists Filter] Name a few quick things (under 5 minutes) I can do to become a better writer.

Heyo! I'm an aspirting novelist, or rather a novelist aspiring to be a published. I spend most of my time when I'm not at work writing or reading, but it occurred to me that there are often little 5-10 minute breaks at work where I could be doing *something* to help advance the cause.

Most of my co-workers use the time to check their email or sports stats or the weather or whatever, but I've been trying to brainstorm ways I could use this time productively. I need at least 7-10 minutes to really *get into* writing a scene or something, so straight up drafting is not the sort of thing I can do. I'm at a public desk (librarian) so I can't do anything crazy physical or that's obviously NOT WORKING or is loud or otherwise inappropriate for a public space.

Here are some things I've thought of so far, to give you an idea what I mean:
-describe someone around me (get character description chops up)
-post a writing/lit related post on fb/twitter/g+ etc (boost followers...more followers=more readers when book launches...hopefully)
-read review of new books coming out (see if any could be comp'd with mine, steal plot ideas, etc)
-read writing-related blog posts (revision ides, moral support, etc)
-email self one paragraph from novel that I know needs work, edit on the fly
-do quick character sketch to get to know my imaginary friends better
-check PW for contest/publish opportunities for short stories (so as to gain readership for book, and prove to pubs that other ppl think my writing is good)
-mentally reconstruct the plot of a book I liked...later go home and see what I missed (get better at plotting? maybe?)

I am arbitrarily trying to reach 200, so I'll always have something I can be doing.
posted by Calicatt to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 74 users marked this as a favorite
Note down an especially great turn of phrase or colorful language you've not heard before.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:47 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Spy on people. Eavesdrop. Take notes.
posted by Shoggoth at 8:53 AM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Browse a dictionary, dead-tree version only. It is a time-honored, old-school way to prompt ideas.
posted by thinkpiece at 8:55 AM on June 12, 2013

Response by poster: er...*aspiring novelist that is

I don't know what aspiriting is but it sounds soulless

(and thanks for the comments so far! :)
posted by Calicatt at 8:57 AM on June 12, 2013

I sometimes take the opening phrase of an AskMe question and make a very basic plot outline (no more than bullet points, and no more than 6 of them) for a story that could spring from that single phrase. I rarely use these plots in anything afterwards, but it's a satisfying and usually useful exercise.
posted by bunglin jones at 8:57 AM on June 12, 2013 [8 favorites]

The best thing you can do as an aspiring writer is to write. And write. And write.
posted by dobie at 9:06 AM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sometimes, I'll find a shopping list or a cash register receipt in a library book and spin off a story about that person. Like 2 bottles of wine and 6 tins of cat food--big night alone with Fluffy, Muffy and Mittens?
posted by Ideefixe at 9:13 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

What dobie said.

Listen to conversations and try to remember them as accurately as you can.

Look at something and write a description of it. Don't get fancy. Stick to concrete details. Accuracy may require metaphor, but avoid comparisons as much as possible. Where your vocabulary fails you, circumlocute until you have a reference book.

Read dictionaries of scientific and architectural terms.

Read AskMes about the finicky details of professions.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:16 AM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Meditation. It can exercise your brain in a way that builds powers of concentration and creativity.
posted by Asparagus at 9:17 AM on June 12, 2013

Write about not writing
posted by brujita at 9:18 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Make up five minute, spur of the moment, quick songs in your head and sing them out loud.
This gets me playing with words and stories.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 9:26 AM on June 12, 2013

Read aloud and feel the rhythm of good prose in your body.

Oops. Well, maybe not aloud.
posted by zadcat at 9:27 AM on June 12, 2013

Run a word search in your story for the word "very" and delete most instances of them. Use exotic words carefully. If you are the omniscient narrator, stay out of sight. Don't try the second person POV unless you are drunk.
posted by mule98J at 10:19 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Having read a book, write a few paragraphs imitating its style. Compare the book to what you wrote. Look for the glaring differences, and then try to correct them.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:29 AM on June 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think Gibbon, of all people, gave a version of this advice: Read something you've written. Look for the finest passages. Cross them out.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:50 AM on June 12, 2013

Note an object that someone around you (or one of your characters) has, and devise a backstory about their relationship with it. Where did they get it - was it a gift, something they'd wanted for ages, something they just impulse bought or got for free at a convention? How do they feel about it - do they secretly hope people notice it, has it faded into the background for them, do they hate it for some weird reason, does it remind them of some particular person or time? And so on.

Personally I find this is more fun with mundane objects that don't really write their own story; figuring out that there can be something interesting about a person's jumbo pack of Bic pens from Costco is more appealing than coming up with the backstory on a crystal skull-topped mahogany walking stick, because it reminds me that everything is secretly amazing ...
posted by DingoMutt at 10:52 AM on June 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

If you're already putting up lit-related posts on social media, spend some of that time interacting with other writers' efforts as well. You might learn some new things and when it comes time to promote something of your own, you'll be in less of a vacuum.

How about reading a poem? And if you have an iPhone, there's a cool poetry memorization app.
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:13 AM on June 12, 2013

Observe the people around you. Who are they? Why are they here? What are they afraid of? What are they keeping secret? Whom do they love? What is their faith? What is their work? How do they feel about their work? What do they do when no one is watching?
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 12:42 PM on June 12, 2013

Choose a passage from a book you love and hand-write it out, as if you are the author and are writing it for the first time yourself.
posted by zeri at 2:58 PM on June 12, 2013

Write a passionate love letter to an inanimate object in your house.

Later, have the object reply.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:16 AM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

140-character obituaries for people you've only met once in your life.
posted by duffell at 7:53 AM on June 13, 2013

Take a paragraph of first-person internal monologue from a novel, and rewrite it in the voice of other characters/famous people/friends/family - work on finding someone's authentic voice.
posted by duffell at 10:08 AM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Build out the wider universe of your characters. This is to help you understand them and their context better--you won't necessarily use all of it in your writing.
posted by duffell at 10:17 AM on June 13, 2013

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