Yeah, thanks. Cos the idea's always the hardest part isn't it? It's not the hundreds of hours sat alone, in front of a computer, typing away to produce 60 – 90,000 words or more, that's the easy bit isn't it? ;-)
Before I go into my thoughts on how writing isn't just about writing, you do have to do *some* writing if you want to have some claim to saying you're a writer. It doesn't have to be anything that's published, or publishable, but simply producing words, telling stories (and not only talking about doing it) means you're a writer. OK? Right, now onwards and upwards…
Sometimes, due to Life, Family, Work, Stress, Health, Time, you can't write as much as you'd like. You can't add the thousand words you wanted to add that week. And it's easy to fall into a guilt spiral of 'Oh no I've not written the words, I'm never going to write them, I won't go back to the story, it's best I leave it, I'm embarrassed to come back go it' etc. This is all in your head. One of the most important things about writing, and the simplest bits of writing advice I've been given, on numerous occasions, in person, in blogs and through transcendental yogic flying (I may have made up that last bit) is: FINISH WHAT YOU'RE WRITING. RIGHT TO THE END.
But when you have a time when you can't write, you can't add to the wordage of your work in progress, there's load of other ways you can still be writing; you can still have the joy of writing in your life even if you're not physically writing.
1) Reading. It might sound odd to say reading is still writing. When I read, as well as getting lost in the story, and the characters, I also read with a little bit of an English lit critique eye too. If I see a phrase I like the sound of I make a note of the page number. If I notice how the author's done something clever – telling what the characters have done over a long period of time, without using pages and pages of words, or shifting between now and a different time frame, or as in The Stepford Wives, having the reader, gradually realise what's happening at the same time as the main character, in its slow, horrific reveal. For all these I copy what the author wrote into my notebook with a little note next to it 'clever use of dialogue' or whatever I liked, so I can try it when I'm next writing something of my own.
2) Listening. Even when I'm not writing, I'm still listening out for dialogue, stories people say, interesting phrases, anything that sparks off an idea I could use in a story. A friend told me a sort of parable someone had told them about behaviour and how it stays with others long after the person who did that behaviour has gone. I liked that concept and I've a story I'm planning on expanding on that.
3) Thinking. When you can't physically sit in front of a computer and, you know, write, you can still sit wherever you are – on a bus, in a traffic jam in your car, waiting in the queue at the post office, and think about writing. Why did that character do what he did? What was the back story for the other character that made her behave like she did? I do most of this 'brainstorming' or 'mind mapping' on paper and pencil as it gives me the freedom to write randomly, linking things with lines. It also, means I'm writing differently from sitting at a computer. For me the physical act of using a pencil and paper feels so different from typing it somehow usually unblocks me and the plot/character/whatever ideas often flow. Randomly, but they flow. I don't try to marshal the ideas at this stage, just let them flow out of myself.
4) Watching. So you're too tired to read a book. It's been one of those days. The day job was hell on toast and your mother-in-law called for a five minute chat that took up all your dinner-making time, and then little Jane/Michael came home from school with a need to talk about something that happened at school, and a letter explaining s/he needs to come to school TOMORROW dressed as a character from a Dickens novel. You get the idea. So you flop in front of the TV and watch your favourite drama / film. Even when you're doing this, you can still do it as part of writing. Listen to how the characters speak, do they talk in short fragments of sentences, or long run on sentences, mixing one idea with the next, and the next idea and the next, until they're out of breath? Does something that happens in the show give you an idea for something similar in one of your stories? There's no shame in borrowing ideas from other sources. According to The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker, there are only seven basic plots IN THE WORLD, with variations within each, so don't feel guilty about borrowing bits from other stories. You'll write them in your voice, in your way, with your characters, and it will be, what it could only ever be, yours.
5) Walking. For walking you can substitute any simple, repetitive physical activity you can do without much conscious thought. Swimming, weight lifting, washing up even. I like to walk. I've recently got into walking 3-4 days a week for 45mins to an hour each time. I stride off, with my podcast on (Women's Hour, Desert Island Discs, various other flotsam and jetsam from the podcasts section of Itunes) and I listen, while walking. I don't take notes, I just let the words wash around me while I walk. Any physical activity you can do without really thinking about it, is good to help unblock conscious problems you're stuck with. Humans tend to solve problems by thinking about them. That's how we're trained to work. See point 3) cos that's often the best way to solve a problem. Only sometimes that's exactly the wrong thing to do. And you'll know when it's the wrong thing to do! How often have you been stuck on something, a plot problem, a character issue, and you've sat to think about it and. Nothing. Then a few days later you're in the shower / walking the dog / stacking the dishwasher and BOOM, it comes to you, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. So even when you're not physically writing, you can be solving writing problems while you mop the floor, or mow the lawn. And it all counts as writing. Pretty clever isn't it?
So the next time you start feeling guilty because you aren't sat in front of a laptop *writing* remember it's wider than just that, but that is of course important too.