In Others’ Words: When Not Writing is Writing

“What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.” ~ Burton Rascoe (1892-1957), American journalist & editor

My husband Rob would most likely change today’s quote just a tad so that it reads “What no husband of a writer can ever understand … ”

I’m a writer.

I write.

But sometimes the writing process is more about pondering than it is about producing words. And for me, “sometimes” is now.

It’s not that I haven’t written anything. If you were sitting here, I could pull up the Word document of a partial synopsis that screeches to a halt about 700 words in because, well, I don’t know what happens next. I could also show you the thoughts I’ve plotted out in The Book Buddy and Kiss and Tell: How to Write a Romance, both excellent work-texts for mapping out a romance novel — and both written by best-selling author Susan May Warren. And I could then show you the path I’ve worn out as I’ve paced from my office to my ‘fridge to my laundry room back to my office and repeat … repeat … repeat … all the while mulling over my story.

And yes, sometimes I stare out my office window. Good thing I moved my desk so that it doesn’t face the wall anymore.

What I have to remind myself when I have days like today and yesterday and the day before that is that writing is a process. I’m all about showing up each day ready to write — but that doesn’t guarantee that the story is ready to be written.

In Your Words: Readers, is what I described how you imagined the writing life? Writers, what do you do when work involves staring out the window?

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  1. Karen S. Elliott
    June 20, 2012, 4:21 am   /  Reply

    Here’s a little writing tip I learned from friend Chris Eboch – Imagine what happens in the next five minutes. Often, this is enough to get you going again.

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:16 am   /  Reply

      Great advice, Karen. Five minutes from now …

  2. June 20, 2012, 4:29 am   /  Reply

    My pondering isn’t so much staring out the window as it is counting the ceiling tiles in my bedroom. I do my best thinking first thing in the morning. My brain is refreshed and uncluttered by the day’s to-do list. Pondering and asking what if are necessary tools for writers. I’m a bit stuck in the pondering phase right now, trying to get my character to open up. Time for those what if questions.

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:17 am   /  Reply

      Sometimes those characters just won’t talk, will they?
      It’s amazing how close-mouthing imaginary people are!

  3. June 20, 2012, 4:42 am   /  Reply

    I think that’s what I imagined. Writing, watching for inspiration, taking time to mull it all over. Reality is so different. Day job, part time job, husband and house to care for. Edits on one story, working on another, social media to learn, marketing to worry with, waiting…waiting…waiting…

    I would SO love the chance to just stare out the window…

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:17 am   /  Reply

      The writing life is what I imagined — and more, so much more.
      You’ve got that right, Sharon!

  4. June 20, 2012, 6:26 am   /  Reply

    If I find myself staring out the window for too long, I get up and do something else. Take a walk, do some housecleaning, throw some laundry in. Getting away from the computer and doing some physical activity tends to help me focus better when I get back to work. And of course, there’s always room for a dark chocolate snack to boost the energy level!

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:18 am   /  Reply

      Agreed, Cynthia.
      Toss in a load of laundry.
      Cruise the pantry.
      Make the beds.

  5. June 20, 2012, 6:33 am   /  Reply

    I am in the staring process while editing another ms. So I know all about the process! And I suppose it is what I imagined because I’ve always done it. Staring and dreaming up stories. It’s my favorite thing to do before I fall asleep…plot, dream, imagine. All the same to me. 🙂

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:19 am   /  Reply

      Writing is a process … and it takes time.
      I should have moved my desk so it faced the window sooner.

  6. June 20, 2012, 6:56 am   /  Reply

    Love this–and it’s true, rug-pacing seems to be an occupational hazard for writers, and staring into space often helps. Bless you as you fill in the blanks of your next synopsis/book.

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:19 am   /  Reply

      Thank you, Dee, for always blessing me.

  7. June 20, 2012, 7:23 am   /  Reply

    My work involves driving around, listening to music. Or going on walks.

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:19 am   /  Reply

      Music always helps too — lifts my mood.
      Sometimes I even listen to what my imaginary characters might listen to.

  8. June 20, 2012, 7:37 am   /  Reply

    Oh this probably won’t surprise you–I love staring out the window. That’s where ideas are born and often in my sleep as well. I think it’s b/c my go, go, go mind has finally calmed down some the characters have room to breathe & begin telling their stories.
    ~ Wendy

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:20 am   /  Reply

      Would you please, please, please move in next door, Wendy?

  9. June 20, 2012, 8:03 am   /  Reply

    Beth , love, Love, LOVE that quote! And your thoughtful words. The best way I can describe what I do as a writer when I stare out the window is that I’m chewing my cud. Cows have 4 stomachs, so throughout the day, they regurgitate undigested grass and chew on it some more. (I know, gross, but I’m from Texas. Cows are just everywhere.) My staring and pondering time is God’s time to ruminate in me. To turn over what I think or feel against the truth of His Word or gentle whispers. When I allow myself that staring time, I can’t type fast enough when I reach a keyboard. Woo Hoo!

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:21 am   /  Reply

      OK … Texas. Cows. It works. Chewing cud. Mulling.

  10. Jeanne
    June 20, 2012, 8:05 am   /  Reply

    I focus on other tasks for a little while. Dealing with piles, cooking, dreaming…..It’s hard for me to “just” stare out of a window–my mind begins to wander far from where it should. 🙂 Praying for you today.

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:21 am   /  Reply

      Thank you, Jeanne.
      And we’ll brainstorm tomorrow.

  11. June 20, 2012, 8:18 am   /  Reply

    I think best when I talk and write, so I don’t spend much time pondering outside of putting words on paper. I type, erase, type again over and over and over. I can easily pour out five or six thousand words down on paper in one sitting with just my ramblings, character journals or plot ideas. Then I take my ideas to my hubby and I hash them out once more. I throw ideas and thoughts at him as fast as I can and all I require from him is an “uh, ha” and a nod of the head. When I’m ready to hear his thoughts I say: “So what do you think.” Then it’s his turn. 🙂 I see so much more when I have someone else to talk to about it. The only time I ponder is when I’m doing dishing, laundry or cleaning toilets!

    I love Susan May Warren’s books! I am currently going through Kiss and Tell and it’s been a PERFECT fit for my pondering. She presents an idea and I resond (in writing). I’m so excited to meet her in person this fall! I’m planning on going to her Storycrafter’s Retreat near Minneapolis in October. A weekend of sharing thoughts and ideas with other writers sounds like Heaven to me!!

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:22 am   /  Reply

      Oh, yes, Gabrielle, Susie’s books are the best! And you’re gonna love the Storycrafters retreat. I went to the first one — and it turned my writing around!

  12. June 20, 2012, 8:40 am   /  Reply

    The best way for me to process and brainstorm IS to write…but not on the computer. I have to write it down the old-fashioned way. Not sure why. And I jot. The ideas come out not as full sentences, just bits of ideas. It’s interesting going back and making sense of them later!

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:23 am   /  Reply

      Lindsay — are we twins?
      Because sometimes it’s me and a legal pad and a pen … and I scribble away.
      Hey … maybe I need to stop staring out the window and do that today.

  13. June 20, 2012, 8:52 am   /  Reply

    I’m in a pondering phase as well. Actually, I told myself that I’d put things on hold this summer and focus on my boys and trying to establish some sort of routine so we’ll all survive the summer. Writing when the kids are home is one big guilt trip for me. If I’m not writing, then I feel like I should be. If I am writing, I feel like a terrible mom for letting my kids watch TV or play computer games while I work. So, since I just finished a ginormous edit, I figured I’d take a breather, be a good mom for once, and let my new story concept marinate in my brain for a couple of months. But I am thinking about it, and that counts as writing just as you said.

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:23 am   /  Reply

      So you are still being a writer, it’s just on the back burner for the summer.
      Priorities, E.

  14. June 20, 2012, 9:02 am   /  Reply

    I love to stare out at the water of Lake Superior or a lake. It calms me and helps me to think more clearly. Unless I have found a solitary place, my thoughts are frequently interrupted by the patter of little feet.

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:24 am   /  Reply

      Can you see the lake from your window, Michelle? I am jealous!

  15. June 20, 2012, 9:04 am   /  Reply

    I think I’ve said this before, but when I have those stuck moments, I watch an episode of Gilmore Girls. It’s like…the mental version of 5 Hour Energy. 🙂 But that’s usually when I’m already into a story, needing to start a new scene or something. Starting a brand new story from scratch…yeah, then there’s lots of window staring and bubble bath-ing as I ponder. 🙂

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:24 am   /  Reply

      I need to go find the DVDS of GG … they are here somewhere …

    • June 20, 2012, 11:56 am   /  Reply

      This made me laugh, Mel. So that IS where Harrison came from… 😛

  16. June 20, 2012, 9:28 am   /  Reply

    You gotta love it when a writer’s work means staring out a window! (Yes, I do it too.)

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:24 am   /  Reply

      I like your positive attitude, Teri.

  17. June 20, 2012, 9:30 am   /  Reply

    In one of my summer classes I have to draw (not very good, but I’m trying). This week’s assignment is interesting, because I have to stare and think about what I’m seeing to color, shade, etc. I like to think this will help me write in the future. With so much technology, phones, iPads, etc., it’s refreshing to stare for a few minutes.

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:25 am   /  Reply

      Oh! You gave me an idea: I should mind map the story some — kind of a combo of writing and drawing!

  18. June 20, 2012, 10:29 am   /  Reply

    Great post, Beth. My husband would sympathize with yours – when I give him a blank stare and don’t answer the question he just asked, I’m writing in my head. He just can’t see the paths my story is taking. 😉

    When I feel like I can’t write on a story, I ask myself, “What is the worst thing that can happen to this character right now?” Conflict gets me going every time. 🙂

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:26 am   /  Reply

      OK, my husband and your husband can commiserate, Shelley.
      And right now I need to ask both “What’s the next thing” and “What are all the worst things” that could happen?

  19. June 20, 2012, 11:07 am   /  Reply

    Good post. Sometimes I think I’m always “writing.” I’ll be driving, doing errands, and I’ll see a small park or two people in an energetic conversation or a bucolic scene — and immediately I’ll start to think of ways to put what I’m seeing into words.

    • Beth Vogt
      June 20, 2012, 11:27 am   /  Reply

      Me too, Megan.
      Always writing.
      Or thinking about writing.
      Or wishing I was writing …
      such a strange life we lead.

  20. June 20, 2012, 2:23 pm   /  Reply

    My husband calls it my “thousand-yard stare”. For me, book revision requires as much staring at walls, ceilings or the view out the window, as getting the original idea down. Like you said, no matter what stage, it seems it’s just part of the writing deal. But a long walk and some time at our community dock, watching the river tide come in or out, often helps me if I’ve gotten really stuck. Great post.

    • June 20, 2012, 2:29 pm   /  Reply

      Oh, and wanted to let you know, I lent my copy of your book to a good friend last Saturday. Next morning at church, she leans over and says, “Yeah, that book you gave me? I’m almost finished. I stayed up practically all night reading it.” My comment…”Told ya.”

      Way to go, Beth. Really enjoyed Wish You Were Here. So, if you need to “stare” to author up another one like that, you stare away.

      • Beth Vogt
        June 20, 2012, 3:46 pm   /  Reply

        Thank you, Marney. You just made me day — twice!!

  21. June 20, 2012, 6:09 pm   /  Reply

    Oh I love Karen’s advice! What happens in the next 5 minutes–that is great.
    The surprising thing for me about my writing life is how often I need to jot down notes when I’m driving. Either I get one of my kids to do it, or I repeat it out loud until I get to a traffic light. But you’re right, the staring out the window or the creative wheels turning at odd moments–all part of the process!

  22. June 21, 2012, 12:15 am   /  Reply

    I really like “that doesn’t guarantee the story is ready to be written.” I’m thinking on that one for a while.

  23. June 25, 2012, 9:11 pm   /  Reply

    I imagined a lot more writing with the words flowing much more quickly and freely. I was surprised at first by all the staring, but honestly that’s my favorite part. All the ideas swirling around in my head. Hopefully, the best get put on paper!

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