Writing Tip of the Week: What Actually Counts as “Writing”?

Did you write today?  What did you write today?  How many pages or words did you write today?  Sometimes, the thought of sitting down at the computer or laptop at home after 40 hours in front of a computer at work can be a difficult task.  You want to get outside, see people, do anything other than sit and stare at a screen – well, one where staring requires active thought and creativity.  

While the act of physical writing is an essential part of the writer’s life (especially if they plan to show their work to others), I often do a lot of the creative legwork in places other than in front of the computer.  I find that these activities open up my creativity channels and help me to brainstorm and connect ideas in a more productive manner.

Let’s talk about them!


I often get hung up on the seeming finality and concrete nature of typing or writing an idea down; they seem to have more weight once they make it to the page.  This can prevent your ability to explore, add to, or remove concepts or ideas that don’t work in a fast-paced manner.

I like to actively think out my ideas for scenes, chapters, plot points, etc., and workshop them in my head for a while before I commit anything to paper.  I have found that this method allows me to swap out characters, change settings, create dialogue, and alter story points faster and more efficiently.

If something isn’t working, I can explore other options.  What about this?  What about that?  What if she went here instead of there?  What if he didn’t answer the phone?  Once I’ve worked things out, I’m more prepared to write the idea down.  Depending on how I fleshed out the idea, I will either write it in bullet point or paragraph form.

I do this on the couch, watching YouTube videos, cleaning, or doing other mundane activities.  Sometimes giving your creative brain free reign is a great way to solve a complex story problem.


Sometimes clichés deliver solid advice, and “Sleep on it” is definitely one that can result in many creative epiphanies.  Often, we are distracted throughout the day with dozens of other projects, chores, and activities that we don’t have the time to focus on our story.  

Once I’m in bed, ready to drift off, I will start to think of the story problem or issue that I’m having.  The crazy thing is that the subconscious often can find a way to resolve the issue while you sleep, resulting in you waking up with the answer to your story problem.  Does it always work?  No.  But when you do have that moment when you wake up, and the story dots all connect, it’s a great feeling.


Walking.  Running.  Swimming.  Any form of physical exertion can help you get out of your head and allow your brain to do what it does best: solve problems.  I’ve been on a walk on a break at work and develop story ideas or story solutions.  I’ve been on the treadmill at the gym and worked out big story sequences.  

It’s amazing how even ten minutes of walking can clear your head and let the creativity flow.

Motivating Yourself

Yes, crafting a narrative and creating compelling characters and dialogue takes time and effort.  But it is work that should be fun and get you excited about the story you want to tell.  If you dread working on your story, all the thinking, sleeping, and exercise aren’t going to get you very far (although you might have solved other problems, be well-rested and in good shape).  

You are the only person who can get yourself excited and motivated to work on your novel, screenplay, or play.  If you can’t find the motivation, ask yourself why.  Ask yourself what’s missing from the project that would get me excited and motivated to get it done.  

The key is to find an aspect of the story you love and want to explore and express to audiences and use that energy and motivation to create your fictional world and its characters.

Final Thoughts

Creative people are always creating.  No matter where creatives are, stories, scenes, characters, and dialogue flow in and out of their brains rapidly.  A legal pad and pen or a computer and word processing program don’t make you a writer; they are just tools to help finish the job.

By taking steps through thinking, sleeping, exercising, and motivating yourself to open up the creative reaches of your mind, when you do commit your ideas to paper, they will be more impactful to you and the reader.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip: Ideas in Action

Ideas.  We all have them.  Billions of people all around the planet have ideas every day.  Some good.  Some bad.  Some brilliant.  Some ridiculous.  From kids to the elderly, ideas are racing through the minds of people 24/7.  But what are they doing with them?

A coworker of mine used to pitch me several game show ideas a week.  And every time, I would tell him to write them down.  He never did.  Just kept coming up with them week after week.  But what if he had written them down?  What if one of them had actually been an idea worth exploring further?

If you think of an idea, write it down.  You can use a notebook, the Notes app on your phone, or a computer file.  Sounds simple enough.  But most people don’t take the time to do this.

And they need to.

There are tens of millions of creative people out there. Still, most don’t take the time to write down their ideas and cultivate the good ones into possible stories.

Having an idea is easy.  Building on an idea is the hard part.

Good ideas deserve action.  If you have a story idea that intrigues you, something that makes you pause and wonder what happens next, this is the time to act and get to work.  The biggest mistake is to let the idea dissolve into memory, only to be forgotten and never expanded upon.

Sit down and take the time to brainstorm and hash out the idea’s finer points and details.  Possible characters, conflicts, locations.  How the story begins.  How it ends.  Is there something compelling for you to continue the journey to make it more than an simple idea?

If so, continue.  If not, move on but don’t throw any of those notes away.  You never know when something from one idea could be merged into another.  It happens.

An idea is actionable when you decide for it to be.  No one can stop you from developing what you’ve thought of into a more dimensional creative work.

The ideas start and stop with you.  It is your choice what to do with them.  

Choose action.  

Happy writing, and I’ll see you next week!

Pre-Writing: A Writer’s Best Friend

You’ve finally done it! You’ve come up with a great story idea, and you’re ready to start writing your amazing story. Or are you? I’m sure you’ve heard stories about the writer who has started a novel or screenplay but lost steam and tossed what they did have in a drawer, never to be looked at again. I, too, have had an idea and just started into it with no real direction, only to see the idea fizzle out quicker than it popped into my head.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Behold the fun and excitement of pre-writing! While the word may bring back memories of writing those dreaded 500-word essays for your high school English class, pre-writing can positively affect your creative work. It can also help you create a useful road map to get to your final destination: the end of your story.

So, let’s talk about some of the ways you can pre-write your way to a completed draft of your next novel, play, screenplay, short story, or other written work.


Once you’ve established your story idea, maybe even have a few characters and plot points in mind, it’s time to take your mind on a trip. Sit down with a pad and pen and start writing down ideas for your story. It doesn’t matter if they are good ideas, ridiculous ideas, crazy ideas, or even ideas you think are stupid. Write them down. Every idea has a purpose until it’s no longer needed once you begin to craft your story.

The same with characters, too. Who are they? Write mini-bios and descriptions for them. What are their relationships to each other and the story? Remember that none of this is set in stone, and you can cross-out, use arrows, or do other notations as you begin to build the story and characters.  

Your goal here is to get the ideas out of your head and onto paper. Even in this crude form, you can begin to visually see your ideas in words on the page. You can also draw diagrams and maps if that helps you to work on different aspects of the story or characters.

This should be a fun activity where you play around with different ideas and concepts. Don’t commit or reject any ideas 100% at this point. You only have one goal here: to flesh the story and its characters out on paper.

Why is this useful? I’ve found that if I’m working on a story in my head and not writing things down, I tend to either forget the idea I had or repeat it in my head and cannot move on to another aspect of the story. Getting it down and out – for the record, so to speak – allows your brain not to stress about forgetting the idea and frees up your brain for more ideas to flow in.

Keep a Notepad Handy

Getting the story out of your head, as I said above, frees your mind to create more. And your creative brain has no set schedule. Ideas can come at any time, so it’s a good idea to have a notepad handy at your bedside or even a Notes file on your phone. Then, when snippets of dialogue, description, or other creative thoughts pop into your head, you have a handy place to jot them down.

Check out my article called The 3AM Idea for more on this topic.

Fun Fact:  Larry David (SeinfeldCurb Your Enthusiasm) carries a pocket notebook with him all the time in the event an idea strikes!

Active Procrastination/Research

We all tend to procrastinate, whether it’s with writing or other tasks. We’re human. But, what if you took that procrastination and made it work for you and your writing?  

If you’re writing historical fiction, you could find a documentary about that period on YouTube and learn about it while hanging out on the couch.

In fact, most topics in your story probably have a video about them on YouTube. If you’re going to be scrolling through and looking for videos anyway, you might as well watch a few videos that will help with your story.

Think about the topics, themes, character traits, activities, or locations in your story. Now, look up that particular item on YouTube. Watch a few videos and see if you can glean some new information that can help enhance an aspect of your story or gives you a new perspective.

This is especially helpful if you want to have your story in a real location that you cannot easily travel to due to the current world situation. You can find videos about most countries, cities, and regions worldwide and use that to inform your work.

You can then add these new ideas to your brainstorm notes, and make sure to bookmark or save the videos that effectively helped with your research.

And you didn’t even have to get off the couch to work on your writing today!

Outlines/Beat Sheets/Treatments

Our pre-writing objective is to get the story out in a coherent form that can then be used as an essential guide to writing the actual novel, script, etc. Knowing the beginning, middle, end, and the main plot points or story beats along the way can save you a lot of time and headaches once you sit down to begin your initial draft.

A basic outline or beat sheet (used for TV and film) can help you flesh out your story’s overall arc from start to finish with a few sentences per the significant plot points throughout the story. This gives you a bird’s-eye view of where things will go and how the story will progress. You must know where the story will go. If you are unsure, the reader will definitely not know, either.

It’s important to note that it is much easier to change an outline or beat sheet than to change sections of an entire manuscript (I know this from experience). Changing the story arc in this format will enable you to explore where the story could lead without the hassle of thousands of words being affected by your choices.

A more detailed version of the outline and beat sheet is the treatment (mainly used for screenplays). This is a detailed scene-by-scene breakdown of the story. Again, like the other two, it’s much easier to cut or re-write sections of a treatment than it is to do significant changes to the screenplay draft.

Take your time to craft the story here and reap the benefits later on once the drafting begins.

You can use one or all of these methods as you work through the early stages of creative development in your writing project. The key is to have it down and ready to access so when you do start to write, you know where you’re going.  

Taking this time now will definitely save you a big headache in the future. And will keep your files and drawers free of unfinished projects!

Have any pre-writing tips to share? Leave a comment and let others know!