The Writing You Do Before You Sit Down to Write
04 Nov 2016

The Writing You Do Before You Sit Down to Write

04 Nov 2016

This morning after my alarm went off, I hit snooze a few extra times while remaining in that netherworld of wakefulness and sleep. I couldn’t imagine getting up yet … just a few more minutes, I thought to myself. But I never actually went back to sleep either. Instead, I thought about the novel I’m working on for National Novel Writing Month. I let my mind work through a conversation two of my characters need to have, and I thought of a scene change that would allow them to move through time without the need to write out every single day.

When I finally got up 30 minutes later, I wasn’t even frustrated. I had been doing the work of a writer that whole time.

Yesterday, I sat down to write an essay that was long overdue. Part of the reason I was getting to it so late is that I wasn’t sure what to write about a few weeks back when I should have been working on it. The other reason? I just hadn’t had time to think. When I blocked off just an hour and a half to write the essay yesterday, I was skeptical. It might take me twice as long, I admitted to myself. But since that moment about two weeks ago when I finally chose my topic, I found my brain had been working away at the writing already. By the time I sat down at the laptop yesterday, the hardest part was done.


This aspect of writing — the work that happens in my mind long before I choose words or set them down in sentences — is hard to explain to people. If I had a real job with a time clock and a boss, I could never have gotten away with “working” during my 30-minute snooze fest this morning. But as a writer, I find that this subconscious — or just barely conscious — work is actually the most important kind.

And it’s the kind of work that suffers when I get too busy or task-oriented and don’t give myself enough time to just let my mind wander and dream.

I also struggle with this kind of work when I don’t take the time to read, and read widely. Too much of my day is spent skimming, flying through blog posts so I can leave a comment, scrolling through social media feeds so I can keep up with the latest, or scanning through emails so I can find the information I need to respond to. When I do that, my mind is jumping from here to there but never really retaining new facts or making connections with other things I’ve read and situations I’ve encountered. Without that information synthesis, I find I have little to write about.

Of course all of this reading and thinking and dreaming takes time, which is why as I writer I have to guard my schedule and say “no thank you” more than I like.

It’s also why sometimes I just keep on hitting the snooze button. On good days, I do my best work before my feet ever hit the floor in the morning.

What about you? How do you find the time to do this pre-writing or barely-conscious kind of writing? How do you explain it to others when they find you daydreaming in front of your laptop?

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