#111: Practicing Writing Without Actually Writing

Not every day you can spend eight or ten hours at your laptop, laying down paragraph after paragraph, powering through the scenes of your WIP. But can you do something small to improve your writing every day?

One benefit of being a storyteller is that stories are everywhere around us. They’re woven deep into the fabric of society. We encounter dozens of them every day without thinking about it. Each of us is also living a story of our own. How can we use that to our advantage?

Recently, I’ve been binging episodes of Darknet Diaries — a true-crime podcast by Jack Rhysider. Each episode explores the story of a major security breach or infamous cyber-criminal. When listening to it, I often find myself on the edge. I want to know what happens next. How did that hacker manage to steal millions of credit card numbers in just a few months? Or how could a gang possibly infiltrate the computer networks of hundreds of banks around the world?

I’m excited because this is the sort of stuff that I’m into. But there’s more to it than that. As I listen to each story, I try to focus on the emotional response that different parts of it trigger in me. What does it make me feel?

Sometimes, I root for the hackers; other times for the network admins and the FBI that is trying to hunt them down. Sometimes, I will switch sides as the story develops. Sometimes the characters are just shadows in the background, and I’m fascinated by the scope of the hack or the way they pulled it off and all the cool techniques they used. Often, I want to know more.

All it takes is pausing and thinking about how you feel and what precisely the author did. It can be fascinating to watch. Observing your emotional state while consuming stories is one of the best ways to understand how stories work.

You can do this while reading a book on your way to work, listening to a podcast while doing the dishes or binging your favourite shows on Netflix before bed.

Chances are that if you feel something while reading, watching or listening to a story, other people will feel the same way. Over time, you’ll build an intuitive understanding of what triggers these responses, and you’ll be able to use those techniques while writing stories of your own.

Reading books and blogs about writing and storytelling will only take you so far. The best way to improve beyond the basics is to experience these tricks of the trade for yourself. Now even a full-day Netflix binge can become a highly-productive research session. For science!

Watch your favourite writers blow your mind scene after scene and become a better writer without actually writing anything. (Disclaimer: You will have to write something eventually.)

What I Am Reading

I finished Peter Drucker’s classic The Effective Executive this week. It started off really well, but it ended with a rather dry analysis of unknown-to-me businessmen of the 50s. Still, it was fascinating to read a book about knowledge work that was written way before the Internet.

Now I’m reading another rather short book by Viktor E. Frankl called Man’s Search For Meaning. This was recommended on pretty much every podcast that I listen to, and I’m finally getting to it. Its subtitle reads The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust. Things aren’t quite as bad yet, but I do think that we all could use some hope in crazy times like these.


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