For busy writers with full-time jobs, kids, illness, or other obligations, the creative process often involves a bit of anguish. Not necessarily frustration over things like plot or story structure, but frustration over the lack of time available to actually write. If they don’t wake up obscenely early or stay up too late, if they don’t use their precious lunch break to write, when will they have a chance to sit down and work? Writers need time to map out ideas, time to revise, time to write a scene that doesn’t work and delete it.
Lack of time can cause even the most devoted writer to want to give up.
Julianna Baggott, author of over 20 books in multiple genres, professor, and mother of four, has a solution for writers like her who struggle with lack of time.
Her solution, shared on her Efficient Creativity podcast: write without writing. Baggott describes it in a much more eloquent way, of course. Essentially she suggests using downtime (commutes, showering, cooking dinner, etc.) for musing about your work.
The time to muse, as Baggott puts it, is critical for writers; you need to give your brain a chance to wander, to consider options, to ask, “what if?” And when your spend your short writing time on musing (otherwise known as staring at the wall) but not getting much writing completed, it can look like you didn’t do much work at all.
If part of your brain is always thinking about titles, characters, and what you are going to write about next, when you sit down to finally write, the ideas are already there. For example, if you have practiced the dialogue for your story in your head while folding laundry, your first written draft isn’t a true first draft. You aren’t starting from scratch. Now you can use that limited writing time to actually write rather than staring into space thinking about what you are going to write next.
Baggott’s advice for trying this musing technique is to “Find a time when your prefrontal cortex is busy with something simple and repetitive and then let your mind take a controlled-wander. I mean set it to a question (a problem, something you want to solve or simply better understand) but then let it go. If it goes way too far afield, reset it. Try this at different times during the day, under different circumstances.”
The description of Efficient Creativity says it all: “Baggott explains how she developed her creative process amid chaos in the hope that her creative life might survive. Forged under duress, her process made her more prolific than if she’d been living a quiet, distraction-free life of endless free hours. She breaks down how it works and how you can develop it as a practice of your own.”
And the first episode of the podcast is available for free.
I recently tried this method of writing without writing without realizing that I was doing it. In my situation, I was trying not to think about an event from years before, but I kept cycling through the memories and replaying the story, almost as if I was telling it to someone. The more I thought about it, the more it stayed the same. I knew how the story started and how it ended. I knew it was short and I knew there was something important right under the surface of the story that I couldn’t yet get to without putting the words to paper.
When I finally sat down to write it, it showed up on the page nearly perfect (by my standards) in less than an hour. I spent another hour editing and moving words around. By spending so much time “writing” it in my head, I already worked through drafts 1–10. I’m so happy with the piece that I started submitting for publication the next day.
Note: this is not at all how I usually work. I would never recommend submitting work to literary magazines or agents/editors without months of revision, beta readers, and hand-wringing. My writing process is lengthy; sometimes I sit on a piece, so to speak, for years before revisiting it.
To put it mildly, this new way of working is a game changer for me and my busy schedule. Yes, it takes work to train your brain to write in this way, but if you haven’t given it a try, it is worth learning more about. If a writer like Baggott can raise 4 children and write twenty books while working outside the home, I am hopeful that I can get there, too.