What makes good writing?
I’m seriously asking here. I have no clue what qualifies as “good writing.” I’m not even sure such a thing exists. Even when I think about my own writing, all I can talk about is a feeling; some pieces of writing just feel better than others.
One thing I do know, however, is that, for me to write something “good” (i.e. something I don’t want to rip to shreds and set ablaze), I need to have somewhat of a clear mind. In other words, I believe that what a writer does when she is not writing is almost as important as the act of writing.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 favorite ways to unwind before and after (and sometimes even during) writing.
Table for one! Take yourself on a date. This doesn’t have to be expensive–in fact, it doesn’t have to cost you anything at all if you don’t want it to. For me, this usually means treating myself to a cup of coffee and a cookie at the Barnes & Noble Cafe. Even if I don’t buy any, just being in the company of books feels like a treat. You could do anything from taking yourself on a picnic to making fancy dinner reservations for one. The objective here is to take yourself somewhere new or novel.
Read. You know the old saying: writers read. The tricky part is finding the time, between writing and researching and procrastinating writing and researching, to simply unwind with a book. I try to gift myself a couple of pages before bed every night. Another little trick I like: keep a book in the bathroom instead of a magazine or newspaper. Leave your phone in another room, and enjoy the go (I’m not sponsored by Charmin, I’m just a dork)!
Word games. My personal favorites are word searches and crossword puzzles. The key here is to keep it analog, to give your eyes and brain a break from backlit smartphones and computers. Dollar Tree and Five Below sell entire books of word games for as little as 1$. Alternatively, try finding some free crossword puzzles or word searches online and print them out.
Collaging. Tired of words? If you’re sick of staring at words on a screen, options 2 and 3 might not sound very appealing. Whenever I get like this, I try to focus on images and colors. If you’ve got a stack of old magazines somewhere in your house, skim them for images that catch your eye, cut them up, and work them into a collage. This is a great way to keep the creative momentum going while still giving your brain a little break.
Coloring. There’s a reason therapists keep coloring books and crayons in their waiting rooms. Coloring is a great way to relax and unwind. The adult coloring book phenomenon has grown so much that you can now find themed coloring books for almost every show, movie, and graphic novel you can think of. I’m especially fond of the Harry Potter coloring books.
Soothing smells. Aromatherapy is the real deal, guys. I’m a sucker for a good scented candle! When I was still in college, I went through at least half a dozen sticks of incense a night during finals season. I also have a trusty diffuser by my bed and an assortment of essential oils to choose from–lavender, citrus, and mint are the best for relaxing. I have to mention Five Below again because I’ve seen scented candles, incense, and essential oils in their stores for 5$ or less.
Beautiful noise. This could mean something different for everyone. For me, it means listening to Brandi Carlile or Ben Platt as well as the instrumental piano songs and rain sounds included in my Calm subscription I highly suggest this subscription for any writers who can afford it. It helps me stay grounded and focused while writing, and it relaxes me after a long day of working on my WIP. Whatever you listen to, try to do it mindfully. Lie down, turn off the lights, plug in your headphones, and just concentrate on the music for a few minutes. It might also help to listen to something new or that isn’t on your daily playlists.
Stress toys. The Gen-Z in me (I’m on the Millennial-Gen-Z cusp) is showing, I know. But trust me on this! Squishy toys, slime, and even clay are great ways to unwind. Psychologists agree that engaging with our senses helps soothe and ground us. The good news is that with the increasing interest in “satisfying videos” (type that into the YouTube search bar and enjoy your trip down the rabbit hole!) you can find stress toys almost anywhere. I get my slime at (you guessed it) Five Below, and Dollar Tree has tubs of Play-Doh for 1$.
Use your phone. Just NOT for social media. Social media is the enemy of the modern writer. Admittedly, it is also a great self-marketing tool, but this means that mindless surfing can easily turn into a form of work. Instead, try using your phone to play a game that keeps you engaged. My favorite smartphone game is a hidden-objects game called Seekers Notes. It’s non-competitive, fun, and it features a pretty neat storyline!
Retail therapy on a budget. I promise this is more than just another plug for Dollar Tree and Five Below (how do I look into getting them to sponsor me?). I love the feeling of coming home with a new purchase; it’s like Christmas morning, minus the surprise element and a bit of added guilt. Luckily, there are a couple of ways around that yucky feeling of guilt. Firstly, I get things I will actually use and enjoy. You could lose me in the school supply section of Dollar Tree (a girl can never have too many pens)! Secondly, I hunt for bargains–hence my love of Dollar Tree and Five Below. Thrift stores and the dollar section at Target are great alternatives too. Even if you have just 5$ to spend, you can get yourself something you’ll enjoy at any one of these places. The best part? You made it outside of your house, away from your computer, and probably interacted with other human beings. Go you!
I really enjoyed compiling this list! I hope, Dear Reader, that you can find some use in it!