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Craft of Writing

I Do Some of My Best Writing When I’m Not Writing

Republished from

I remember I was reading a book when I thought of the resolution to my latest novel. The ending for one of my short stories came to me while I sat on a weight bench with a pair of dumbbells in my hands.[1] Another one occurred while standing in line for the lav on a cross-country flight.

I’ve had many such writerly epiphanies, and almost none of them happened while sitting at the keyboard. Some have come while in the car (bad news for other drivers), others in the shower or while walking Henry; almost always when it’s impossible to write them down in those situations, and so I wind up voicing the idea over and over so I don’t forget, sometimes in public until I get home, which leads me to believe that many of the street people one notices repeating nonsense are in fact writers who got immersed in a plot problem and were never able to get back to their keyboards in time.

walking-away_3One of the most problematic aspects of writing is the instrument itself—the laptop in my and many writers’ cases. I become connected, telepathically, to it, focused on the monitor, on the words I’ve already written and which I read and reread until (hopefully) the phrase that logically follows occurs. That works fine (especially for blog writing), but I’ve found that when I tear myself away from the hypnosis of the screen, the ideas that follow seem more creative. It’s often more productive if I close the clamshell and do some laundry[2] or head out to do yard work.

Walking away from the computer offers an opportunity to remain focused on the story but engage it from another perspective, without the text on the screen forcing the direction of the writing, and that’s when new solutions and tangents often emerge.

Poet Mary Ruefle[3] talks about writers needing to waste time, and makes it sound almost mandatory if one is to produce the kind of work that has meaning. She’s being slightly facetious, because I doubt she meant writers should abandon a story in favor of a rousing game of Grand Theft Auto. But in our world of 24/7 connectivity it’s more important than ever to occasionally break the hold of our devices, to disengage from the cloud and let the mind put the story, or the world, back into sense. I’d be curious to know whether other writers take creative breaks or stay glued to their monitors trying to work through writing roadblocks.

[1] The symbolism of this scene is not lost on me.

[2] Yes, I’m a sensitive, share the chores, New Age guy, which I try to balance with a little hangin’ and bangin’ in the weight room.

[3] I know I keep referencing her book, but it really is an excellent read, especially for writers.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


One thought on “I Do Some of My Best Writing When I’m Not Writing

  1. It surprises me that no one has commented on this excellent post. I recently wrote a blog about titles and the importance of writing them down (even the bad ones) as soon as possible, since they always seem to come while I am on the bus or in the grocery store. The same can be said for story ideas and ways to overcome sticking points, which rarely emerge while I am in the act of writing.

    Posted by Anthony Martin | August 31, 2015, 3:39 PM

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