I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Time to Ponder

"The best time to plan a book is while you're doing the dishes." ~ Agatha Christie

If you absolutely can't get to your computer to write today, no worries. You can still make progress on your manuscript. All you need is to take time to ponder.

A published author told her husband she needed to write, then climbed the stairs to her home office, a computer desk tucked into a corner of her bedroom. Fifteen minutes later, the husband interrupted her at work. But instead of finding her typing away as he'd expected, she was laying on the bed.

The husband frowned. "I thought you were writing."

"I am," she said. "Thinking is a huge part of the writing process."

Face it, those of us with day jobs and busy lives long for time in front of the computer or with pen and paper. But once we get that coveted time, we don't always make the best of it because we haven't utilized enough pre-writing time.

Sometimes, we're so anxious to reach our word count, we don't properly plan ahead what we're going to write. I know that happens to me. I've got a home full of kids, and on most days I'd never consider selling them to a roving band of Gypsies. Of course, the opportunity has never actually presented itself, so I've never been tested. But life is often chaotic. Quiet writing time is as rare as leftover birthday cake--you mean, you have leftovers?--so I've got to plan ahead how to make the most of my time.

Some authors intricately plot out their stories before writing the first word. They'll create scene spreadsheets, compose detailed character worksheets, plan every conflict, and decide the story's ending. Other authors, known affectionately as "pantsters" because they write by the seat-of-their-pants, don't know where the story is going or what will happen next until they've written it.

Whether you're a plotter or a pantster or somewhere in between, you're going to spend a lot of time thinking about your stories. Of course, for a pantster that may happen after you've written yourself into a corner. Regardless of your writing style, how can you maximize pondering time, so the hours you're writing will be more productive?

Previous posts here reveal some of the Ponderers are potters, gardeners and knitters. Others walk dogs or run, and (unfortunately) all of us wash dishes from time to time. But busy hands allow our imaginations the chance to run wild, giving free reign to our creativity. So you can do double duty and perform a chore or indulge in a hobby and still count it as writing time, especially if you channel your thinking toward a specific problem or goal with your work in progress (WIP).

  • Take time to pray. Ask the Author of life to inspire your writing for His glory.
  • Go for a walk or knit or jog or clean house while you ponder.
  • When you're running errands, imagine your character having a conversation on this errand, instead of the overused settings like restaurants/coffee shops/kitchens.
  • While driving around town, look for surprising, new settings for unique and fun dates.
  • Keep a notebook on hand, or when that's not possible . . .
  • Carry a voice-activated recorder to remember a couple of key points.
  • Before falling asleep at night, consider your next scene and daydream about it. But, again, keep a notebook on your nightstand so you don't forget a brilliant idea.

Remember, sometimes ideas just have to percolate.

What are other ways you've found to maximize your writing time?

~Roxanne Sherwood

The Ponderers are having a contest! Check the Contest tab for more details!


  1. Love the Agatha Christie quote, Roxanne. Almost makes me look forward to washing dishes. Almost. Lots of ponder-provoking points in this post.

  2. Great post, Roxanne. I love the subtle humor sprinkled throughout your post, too.

    Cleaning the house helps me work out plot kinks. While cleaning my basement a few years ago, a character told me her daughter was adopted. That out-of-the-blue thought floored me. I've gotten other great ideas while doing dishes, folding laundry, or scrubbing toilets.

    I think we fill our time with so much noise, energy, and busyness that we don't allow ourselves time to ponder in silence. Be still...

  3. Wonderful post, Roxanne. I ponder while on walks with my camera, but often struggled to remember the inspiration that came to me on those walks. Several months ago, I had a "duh" moment when it occurred to me that I could use the video setting on my digital camera to record those thoughts until I could write them down.

  4. I call it "pre-writing." I find the time I spend *pondering* before I even open up the laptop is often my most productive.

    When it comes to " how and where"... I'd say all of the above. While running, while knitting, while making the bed- and often in the shower.. (that may be TMI- but it's also: true- I'm a mom of 3 boys... the shower is my least interrupted time of the day!)

    The challenge has been not losing those thoughts, while I continue on with my activity.

    to avoid loss:

    small moleskine/pen in my purse at all times. *however, my handwriting is so bad I can't always read my handwritten notes... oopsy.

    I keep a separate, larger one for seminars, workshops, church etc.. Lots of ideas in response to thoughts shared by others.

    twitter- I often tweet article ideas- thoughts, it posts to my FB wall and I can find them later. *also it's like crowd sourcing an idea... instant input.

    "notes" app on my iphone and the phone camera- I'm visual, I often get ideas for writing based on something I see. I snap a pic and make a note. Sometimes the note is as simple as a title for the pic.

  5. Great suggestions, Roxanne. Like Tracey some of my best ideas come in the shower...and in those moments just before falling off to sleep. It's a struggle to make myself rouse up enough to get the pad and pencil from my nightstand and jot down the thought. Also, I find that in those ten or fifteen minutes after waking, before you get out of bed, plot problems and solutions often become crystal clear.

  6. Love the idea of tweeting article ideas or commenting on FB for instant feedback or snapping a photo . . . Hadn't thought of those, Tracey!

  7. Very well said. If I sit down at the computer without "living" the scene in advance, chances are the computer screen will stay blank or the scenes will come out flat.

    Some of my best pre-writing happens when I'm driving so I usually keep a voice recorder next to me. The shower's another great place to ponder, as well as bed, and when I'm taking walks.

  8. Roxanne - oh how true. I'm an early riser, but on the weekends I refuse to rush into my day, so I will lay in bed and ponder a scene. It makes it so much easier to write when I've taken the time to get into my characters heads.
    Great post!

  9. The shower is the best place to ponder! Did you know that running water actually helps you find new ideas? Now, if I could just figure out how to bring my computer in there with me.... :) Great post, Rox! (and, what are you doing standing in my kitchen? Seriously - that looks just like mine!)

  10. Roxanne, such great ideas...clearly I need to be more purposeful in my pondering. You have inspired me to pre-write and write today. Thanks!
    And Susie, wouldn't it be even better than the shower if there were power outlets on the rocks of the Lake Superior shoreline? My laptop protests without his juice.

  11. Roxanne, this was fantastic. You inspired me, so I wrote about when I write in my latest blog post (and I referred my few followers back to your post).


    I lean more toward being a pantster, but as good ideas for future books in my current series have come, I've sketched out several great sequels. I don't often write myself into a corner, but when I do, I overcome it by fearlessly facing the delete button (after saving a copy of what I wrote, in case it proves useful later).

    Thanks for some great ideas. Blessings!

  12. Roxanne, after reading your post and commenting, I noticed one of your blog partners is Pat Trainum! She's one of my critique partners and an amazing lady. What a small world!

  13. Roxanne, you're sparking a lot of conversation here today. Lot's of pondering/pre-writers in the writing world. And you and Suz have the same kitchen. Who knew?
    Welcome to Renee, who provided a reason to hum a chorus of "It's a Small World!"

  14. Great post, Roxanne. I have never pondered my story while knitting (because I have never knitted) nor while running (because I run about as well as Jack Sparrow walks). And when I'm in the shower, I'm usually focused on not falling asleep against the wall (morning shower-er here). But I DO like to ponder while taking bubble baths...only problem with that is quite often I get excited about my idea and have to drag my bubble-covered self out of the tub to get to my desk. This is why I always lock my doors...because it's not a rare thing for me to be sitting at my desk wearing only a towel. (TMI?...)

    But my best ideas? Quite often they come during staff meetings at work (don't tell anyone) or when I'm driving the fast-paced highways (by which I mean cornfield-lined gravel roads) of Iowa.

  15. Okay, I seriously wanted to tweet: A Ponderer ponders about pondering, but it was too silly for such a great topic. You have some thought-provoking tips, Roxanne.

    Like most, I almost always hear my characters speak when in the shower. I think we need to come up with a marker that works there. We could write on the shower walls until we can get to the computer.

    I find certain things hinder my pondering too. Like Pat, I find that if I think about my characters as I fall asleep at night, then somehow when I wake up, they real all sorts of secrets.

  16. And I love the gal in the photo!

  17. Teri, I'm pretty sure they do make markers for inside shower walls. I bet they're by baby bath toys in the store. Pretty sure my cousins have 'em...:)

  18. Patricia, Loved your idea to use the video setting on your digital camera. Genius!

    Tracey, Thanks for your tips too. BTW, I'm the mom to five sons. I still don't have privacy from the youngest either.

    Brenda, I write best when I've been able to live the scene too. I don't own a voice recorder--yet. Moving it to the top of my to-be-purchased list.

    Susie, We've got the same kitchen! How funny. If only you wrote all your novels at your kitchen table and some of the SMW magic rubbed off on me. I'm getting new floors next week courtesy of the second mold problem.

    Renee, I'm so honored you referenced this blog! I visited yours and hope others do too. It's great! And you know Pat. It is a small world.

    Alicia, Glad you liked the photo. I didn't want to pose but neither of my daughters was willing to do it.

    Melissa, thanks for the tip about markers for the shower. Now I know what to buy my writer friends.

    Beth, Lisa, Pat, Jennie, Amy and Teri, thanks for your comments and support.

  19. I totally agree with Susie, I think I've had all my best ideas (not to mention the idea that made me decide to start writing) in the shower.
    But I think learning to plot, plan and ponder your WIP in any setting is a great skill--so long as you don't miss have the sermon Sunday morning because something the pastor said made you think of how it could apply to your story's spiritual thread... lol =)
    Excellent post!

  20. Selina, Isn't applying my pastor's sermon to a spiritual thread proof that I am paying attention? :-)

  21. Good application, Roxanne!

  22. Roxanne,

    Thanks so much for practical application in your post! I'm relieved that I am not the only one who finds her mind pondering in the shower! I also find my thoughts pondering when I'm supposed to be sleeping! :) This "pondering thing" is new to me, but I like it! I look forward to using some of your practical tips, Roxanne. Thanks!

  23. Good post, Roxanne. Thank you.
    I find the washing machine particularly inspiring for writing, too. Ruth Bell Graham agreed with you regarding washing dishes and inspiration. She had a sign hung over her kitchen sink that read, "Divine services conducted here three times daily." That makes me ponder...

  24. Good post, Roxanne.
    LOVE the marker in the shower idea. Although I don't get many ideas there, because I'm usually reading. :-)
    I like to ponder while I clean. Since I do cleaning jobs, that works out well. One day I was SO in the brainstorming zone, and I didn't snap out of it until I found myself trying to stuff the kitchen trashcan in the small space between the toilet and the shower stall. Very weird feeling to finally snap out of it and realize I had no idea what I'd actually cleaned into the house up to that point. For the record, I must have done okay because my employer never complained. :-)

  25. Roxanne,

    These are some GREAT suggestions. I am going to cut and paste them into a doc, print them, and hang them on my bulletin board next to the index card Susan May Warren had us make at her Deep Thinkers Retreat(<<shameless plug for SMW and MBT!!) that says "I am a writer and I refuse to quit until I reach The End."

    I also really love all of the suggestions from others on places to ponder! Thanks everyone!

  26. ***CORRECTION: I made my index card at the STORY CRAFTER'S RETREAT.