The Writing You Do Before You Sit Down to Write

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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Charity Singleton Craig

Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, author, and speaker, helping readers grow in their faith and experience true hope in the middle of life’s joys and sorrows. She is the author of My Year in Words: what I learned from choosing one word a week for one year and coauthor of On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.