• Things I Did This Week Instead of Writing, Vol. 1

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 32 comments

    TL;DR version: I didn’t write this week. Here is a list of some of the stupid things I did instead. What’s your list of stupid things you did this week instead of write? Let us know in the comments below. Maybe a little public shaming can give us all a boost?


    I didn’t write this week.

    Usually when this happens I claim a lack of time. It’s so easy to say that, isn’t it? “I didn’t have time to write this week. Maybe next week.”

    This is not how books get written.

    The truth is, I had plenty of time this week to write. Outside of essential activities such as work, exercise, meals, sleep, and bathroom things, I had many open hours.

    I’ll have probably the same amount of open hours next week, and the week after. So I figured a little public self-shaming, and the prospect of future public self-shaming, might give me some motivation to change this pattern.

    Below is a list of things I did this week instead of write, and how I feel about them.

    Leave your own list in the comments section. Maybe communally we can figure out some ways to help each other cut down on activities that we feel aren’t adding value to our lives and that we do at the expense of our writing.


    The List


    1. Played Dr. Mario, Tecmo Bowl and Super Mario Bros. on the new “classic” NES.

    I’d say I spent two to four hours doing this. To what end? A little bit of nostalgia and some mild, mindless diversion, I suppose.

    I did not write while I played these video games.

    While I understand that not all — not even most — of my leisure time can (or even should?) go to writing, some of these activities seem more fruitful than others.

    This one is not among the more fruitful.

    (Question: Should writing be considered something that occurs during “leisure” or “free” time? Or does doing so make it easier to dismiss as essential? How do you view writing: more as a leisure “free time” activity or more like a job?)


    2. Put together some number of jigsaw puzzles on JigZone.com (a most horribly unfortunate name).

    What were they of? I don’t even remember. Birds and shit. Their only purpose was to waste some down time. Eight minutes here, eight minutes there. Do that once a day and oops, there are fifty-six minutes that could’ve gone to writing. Because:

    I did not write while I puzzled.


    3. Watched various episodes of the following television programs: Scrubs, Arrested Development, Gilmore Girls, Z Nation, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Scream.

    Not only is this too much TV, but some of these were episodes I had seen before. Repeated viewings of TV shows is an odd thing, I think. I’m sure we derive comfort from it, and I imagine there are psychological reasons for doing it. But!

    I did not write while I watched these programs.

    And I hesitate to calculate, or even estimate, the time I spent doing this. It would probably be alarming.

    (N.B.: I am watching Scrubs on Netflix while I write this. It’s a problem.)


    4. Read some books.

    I debated whether or not to include reading. For a writer, is there a more important leisure activity? Is it even a leisure activity, or is every minute spent reading also a minute spent learning about writing?

    In the end, pleasure-reading is still a leisure activity, and as such, it’s time that could have been spent writing. So.

    Included in that reading was Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago. 

    Stuart Dybek is so good that he makes me want to give up trying.

    Stuart Dybek is so good that he made George Saunders overhaul his style — his entire gestalt as a writer, really — and become the writer we know today.

    So, different responses to coming up against overwhelming talent. I prefer Saunders’.

    I did not write while I read these books.

    However, I do think that a lot of what we read goes into a lot of what we write. So I don’t feel bad for doing this reading. But if I could have done an hour less of it and filled that time with writing, I’d be happier.

    But not as happy as I’d be if I wrote during some of the time I instead spent playing video games and watching TV.


    Your Turn

    What does your list look like? And how do you feel about each item on it?

    How can we use these lists to motivate us to write more?


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”






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    Dot Day

    I was actively marketing on Facebook and email my self-published book. Plus, I had a demon inhabiting my computer that repudiated my password attempts to get onto the Apple that would have allowed me to write.In addition, getting serious about new book meant that I needed to rearrange the furniture in the writing room. it is now time to sort papers to file or to use the notes for new book. I did do a great deal of thinking about new book. When I get a good start, i’ll be calling y’all for some quality story coaching. Look at Amazon… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Hi Dot. Thanks for stopping by. Those danged computer demons! I hope that rearranging the furniture may have scared him/her out of his/her hidey-hole.

    We always say that thinking about writing is *almost* as important as writing. So hey, even if you didn’t write, you made some progress on your next book. It’s a start!

    Lisa Marie

    I signed on to be someone’s ‘writing partner,’ and spent time reading and commenting on her work. It’s not a bad thing to interact with other writers, but not at the expense of my own writing. Which I am having a hard time getting going. Is “my writing” something I do in my “free” Time? Yes, and that is a major reason it doesn’t get more attention. By doing so, I keep it in the hobby category.

    David Duhr

    Yes! Maybe it needs to count as something more than a free-time activity. I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot lately. I used to consider exercise something I’d do in my free time. You know, “after work” and “If I had time.” Once I started looking at it as a necessity, not much less of a necessity than food, water, sleep, my entire approach changed for the better. That would probably be the case here, too.

    I guess we’ll find out!

    Barbara Mealer

    I’m editing, but that is part of writing. I’m also tutoring a high school student, working two jobs, and been having tons of problems with my internet. (Currently sitting at Starbucks in Safeway to send this.) As to editing, I didn’t get much done. I fought with my internet to get my email read, to respond to those that needed it and so forth. (I’m changing providers as the company reps were jerks when I called to get if fixed.) I find that if I put a time limit on the games which I love to play, do the email… Read more »

    David Duhr

    You always seem to be reading our blog in the strangest places. Not that a Starbucks in a Safeway is exceedingly strange. But it seems there’s always some story. And yet no matter where you are, you know what you want to do, and you do it. You always seem to be focused. Except for those times when plans go awry, like the internet not working. That’s when we need to be versatile. But you said you can write anywhere, so that can’t be too much of a problem. What book are you reading for review? And hey, did you… Read more »


    I hate to break this to you, but you just wrote. You have a career, blog, family, chores, etc. Why don’t you think you need time to relax? I’m tired of all the pressure to produce all the time. This is one of the reasons people have insomnia. They work all the time, and at the end of the day the brain won’t shut off to allow restful sleep. Maybe you’re avoiding it because it’s just more work. Path of least resistance, right? A couple of years ago, I decided to put in a rose garden. I designed an ambitious… Read more »


    Wow. YES.

    And if ya don’t have fodder,
    ain’t nothin’ ta write.

    Thank you for your response.

    David Duhr

    Two things: 1) How dare you watch any Dr. Doolittle film without alerting me? I thought we had a deal. 2) I’m not saying I don’t need time to relax. I love and treasure my relaxation time. But like I said somewhere in this thing, if I can watch nine hours of TV instead of 10 and use that spare hour to write, I’d be much happier. (The question then becomes, why don’t I? I’m working on that.) I’m not putting myself through the wringer or losing sleep or anything. I’m just not writing as much as I want to.… Read more »


    I am so glad you wrote this blog, I can definitely relate! It’s good to know that I’m not alone when I don’t make time to write. Yes, that’s right, I didn’t say I don’t HAVE the time, because that’s not true, I do have the time, I’ve just occupied that time with other activities. I do feel guilty about it, but not as much now that I’ve read your blog and know I’m not the only one slacking. So let’s see, things I did this week instead of writing: Auditioned to narrate audiobooks (scored a gig out of it,… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Hi Loren. Did it work? Did you start writing as soon as you clicked Send? Thank you for sharing your list. Though I’m pretty sure napping with your dog is just as essential as food and drink. I mean, obviously we can’t live without sleep, but we *shouldn’t* live without taking naps with our dogs. So, no guilt there, please. It’s not that I want to (or think I should) live without TV or whatever; it’s just that I don’t want to live with it at the expense of other things I deem equally, or in this case even more,… Read more »

    Elizabeth Westra

    I know I did lots of unproductive things this week. A few are: I ran errands with my retired husband–he likes to have company. Walked in the mall and lunched with friends, Read a mystery book, watched TV in the evening while my husband used our only computer to watch U-tube-Grrrr! Wrote letters to several people on our computer. Looked at hair styles online, thought about writing. Ran off a bunch of guidelines for publishing companies and agents. Did laundry, went out for lunch with my husband, went to Lake Michigan to photograph the huge waves, did umpteen easy crossword… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Hi Elizabeth. Thank you for sharing your list of unproductive things. Few of which, for what it’s worth, sound unproductive at first blush. Lunching with spouse and friends? Researching agents and editors? Taking in some nature?! (I used to live in Milwaukee. Many a morning I’d walk along Lake Michigan. Or did I only do that once, and my memory has warped it?) It’s hard to find the balance, particularly because it will be different for every single one of us. There’s no right or wrong proportion. All we can do is our best. Or try to do our best?… Read more »


    I surfed the IMDB website. I obsessed over not being able to get my ultrabook to work the way I want when in fact, I have another notebook with my stuff on it which works even better as a writing tool. I went to two movies, one of which I can’t remember, and that was the better one. I thought about whether to continue developing my current career or to quit and write full time, but made no step in either direction. And then there’s the TV. Having read your blog and confused Scream with Scream Queens, I think I… Read more »

    David Duhr

    And *now* I have to watch Scream Queens. Thanks a lot, Teresa.

    I have spent so much time in my life rewatching particular TV shows. It’s a comfort thing, I think. But for some of them it’s to the point of recitation.

    I think you buried the lede: “quit and write full time”? What?!

    Thanks for stopping by. Of course let us know what you think of Scream.

    Glynis Jolly

    My list of non-writing activities for the week:
    Watched Law and Order, Lucy, and The Young Victoria
    Played some idiot computer games
    Read some chapters of Oliver Twist

    Reality is I spent about 21+ hours at the keyboard pounding out outlines and summaries, trying to prepare for the book I want to write. I spent about 18 hours doing research for this WiP. Seeing that this book idea I have has its setting in the 19th century, I do not feel I wasted time watching The Young Victoria or reading Oliver Twist.

    David Duhr

    Hi Glynis. Twenty-one hours of outlines and notes?! My goodness. That should definitely count as a writing activity! So, great work. And even some of your TV served a writing-related purpose. So I’d say you’re doing well. And hey, maybe those computer games were just what you needed to put yourself into an outlining kind of mindset? Maybe Sam Waterston will say something in the next Law & Order you watch that will be *perfect* for one of your characters, or serve as a great chapter title. Huh. Maybe I should write a post called “How to Watch TV as… Read more »

    Jivan Parnell

    That’s a great idea … just saying ;-)


    I woke up next to some guy after a three-day bender, got some hair of the dog, barfed twice, felt better. Got rid of the freak in my bed. Headed to Dirtbag Eddie’s, entered the wet t-shirt contest, won first prize. Got hella drunk on free beer, flashed a cop, cop chased me. Got away on my ex-boyfriend’s hog. Vinnie’s gonna be pissed when he sees what I did to it. I know pieces of it skittered into the canal when I had to lay the bike down.

    Sorry I didn’t write today. Had nothing to write about.

    David Duhr

    Oh no, not another of those “I drove a motorcycle into a canal” stories. Why is it always a canal? I wish people could write about bodies of water other than canals. Why are we so obsessed with canals?

    That’ll be next week’s post: “Against Canals.”


    You are obsessed with canals? Very Freudian.


    SUCH a great post.
    SUCH great responses!

    Pretty obvious that I am not alone in this.

    Thank you Thank you.

    David Duhr

    Hi Brooke, and welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed. Hopefully it helps. And you’re never alone here! Turns out most of us share a lot of the same goals and needs and fears and bad habits. No surprise, I suppose. Thanks for reading!

    Jivan Parnell

    I regard reading as a necessary part of my writing experience, so I don’t begrudge the time I spend buried in a book. I do agree though, some books are just so well written, I wonder if I should give up too! Playing a vintage version of Banjo on a vintage 360 is my biggest time waster, BUT, as it can be so mindless I will be thinking about characters, paragraphs, what happens next and, sometimes, a word I want to use and work out a way to use it. So my rationalization is that it helps me create. I… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Hi Jivan. Thanks for reading and sharing. If those mindless activities of ours do get us thinking about our writing, then they’re not a total waste of time. I don’t think it’s a rationalization — so long as it’s true! I don’t think about *anything* when I look at the TV, but when I play mindless games, volume off, I sometimes will. And sometimes I take my little notebook and go for a two-hour walk and think about life, and writing, and my novel. Even if I don’t write anything in the notebook that day, I don’t consider the walk… Read more »

    […] in large part to our helpful discussion last week, as well as a Monday deadline for my writing group, I have been hard at work this week on my […]

    Carol Bro

    In fairness, I had a good reason not to write. I was vacationing with friends and family– in Belize. Here’s what I did instead of writing: – I ate lots of wonderful food, Belizian and otherwise. Then I ate some more. (What can I say? It’s vacation!) – I met lots of colorful characters – some locals and some tourists, but all rich with possibilities as characters in future writings.. – I slept on the beach. I slept at our pool. I slept in our very strange round bed in the very strange, organic, earth friendly vacation rental (thank you,… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Uh, Carol? You’re supposed to take me along when you go to Belize. I thought we had a deal?

    Yeah, I’d say there’s plenty of material here. A guy walks into the ocean and never walks out? Makes me wonder if he went in there for that reason.

    Also, watching someone read your book while sitting on a beach in Belize? I can’t think of anything much better than that.

    Thanks as always for stopping by and sharing, and welcome home. But also… when do we get to hear this airport story?!?!

    Eleanor Gamarsh

    After reading…scanning all these responses to last weeks blog, I wish I had paid attention to the email David sent. I signed on to this and haven’t used it. My loss. Sitting here alone writing is alright some of the time. But then there are times when that gets under my skin and i need someone to talk with about my writing. Could this be the place? I ask questions and get helpful answers on two Writers members sites but that’s limited. I completed this weeks Poll in the blog. When I read others replies, i find again how more… Read more »

    Dot Day

    hi, Eleanor, All of us could probably say the same as far as education is concerned. We do have to pick and choose what serves our purposes. then we add to our education by the reading, communicating, writing, researching–all of those things mentioned above. I note you have the word “author” beside your name, so you are definitely on your way to educating others. We do need to associate with other writers; i don’t know any of the writers listed above, and have “only” written a family history> But I am inspired at age 68 to continue my education by… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Thank you to both of you for this conversation. Part of our goal here definitely is to give writers a space when, like you say, Eleanor, they “need someone to talk with about [their] writing.” A place to vent, when that’s needed, and just a place to ask simple questions when those arise. Those are my favorite kinds of writing blogs, the ones that aren’t just one-way streams of information, so that’s what we’re trying to do. And, of course, to help other writers get to know each other, if that’s something they desire to do. I like to say… Read more »

    […] didn’t write much this week. It happens. I was even going to do another “Things I Did This Week Instead of Write,” so that those of you who also didn’t write would have a place to safely say so and […]

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