We all know that if you aren’t writing, the story doesn’t get written. That unfortunate truth gets reinforced so often that sometimes I fear that it slips to its logical conclusion: If you aren’t writing, the story doesn’t get written, and you’re a bad writer. Hobbies be damned—the novel has to come first.
That particularly insidious mindset is worth exploring in depth, but I’m not going to talk about it today. We’re leaving that can of worms alone. Instead, I’m going to talk about why hobbies—hobbies that aren’t reading or using your deodorant as a pretend microphone while you practice your acceptance speeches in the mirror—can actually enhance your skills.
Since I don’t know what hobbies you have, I’m going to pick three of mine and make an argument for each of them.
Hobby #1: Knitting
That’s right, I’m starting with knitting—arguably the tamest little-old-lady hobby in existence, and not easy to link to writing. But taking the easy way out is for quitters. And I’m not a quitter—I’m a knitter.
(nyuk nyuk nyuk)
- Knitting teaches fastidiousness. All those pretty cables and fancy lace patterns can a n i g h t m a r e to turn out. You need to be super-attentive to details and meticulous with your counting, otherwise your fancy sweater will come out looking like post-postmodern art. Similarly, if you don’t keep track of the little details of your story, the whole thing turns to word salad.
- Knitting helps you to look at something and go, “Yes, I can.” The pattern says that it’s for super-duper advanced ultimate expert-level knitters? But you still want to give it a go? NO ONE CAN STOP YOU. And no one can stop you from tackling a seriously big writing project, either. If you normally write contemporary short stories but you’re totally inspired to try a Game of Thrones-style epic, then by all means, try it.
- Knitting makes you commit to seriously long-term projects. You think writing a trilogy takes a long time? Try knitting a pair of socks with what’s essentially toothpicks and dental floss. It takes a million billion years to knit the first one AND THEN YOU HAVE TO MAKE THE SECOND. If you can stomach going through the whole ordeal twice, then you can totally handle writing more than one book in a series.
Hobby #2: Martial Arts
I’ve practiced martial arts for about two years—mostly aikido, but I’ve recently picked up Shotokan karate as well. The two are pretty dissimilar (aikido is a soft, defensive art with lots of joint locks and throws, whereas karate is a hard art full of punching, kicking, and yelling), but they’ve both been a huge help with my writing.
- Martial arts make it easier to write fight scenes. This is a serious benefit. Fight scenes have always been my #2 weakest point (with my #1 being romance, but that’s for another time). But—and please try to contain your shock—ever since I started fighting people on a regular basis, I’ve gotten a lot more confident when writing fight scenes. Amazing, I know.
- Martial arts get you away from your desk. We’re all guilty of spending too much time in front of our WIPs, and I wrote a whole post about how to stay healthy as a writer a while back. There’s no shortage of science telling us that healthy bodies breed healthy, creative brains.
- Martial arts make you self-disciplined. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s raining. Do you really want to go to the dojo and be kicked in the solar plexus for two hours? No, of course not—but you go anyways, because training is important. And so is writing. On the days when you just don’t feel inspired or motivated, you sit down and make yourself write anyways.
Hobby #3: Drawing
Here’s another hobby that’s not so easy to link to writing—but just like knitting, it has transferrable benefits.
- Drawing can help articulate what you’re writing. Does anyone else have the problem where no matter how hard you look, you can never find a photo of your characters on Pinterest? That’s okay. Just draw them. While you’re at it, draw floorplans for houses and schools, and maps of cities and kingdoms. They’re a great reference.
- Drawing makes you accept that there are good days and bad days. Sometimes, you just aren’t creative. Sometimes, everything you draw looks like crap. Sometimes, the words won’t flow and the characters are being stubborn af. That’s okay. There are good days and bad days. You try today, and then you try again tomorrow.
- Drawing helps you get comfortable with sharing your work. The minute people see that you’re drawing, they want to get a better look. Total strangers will lean over your shoulder, and your friends will straight-up rip your sketchbook out of your hands. The fastest way to get over the fear of sharing your work is to have the choice to share taken away from you.
Things overlap. Things influence each other. And the things that we spend a lot of time on are the things that we become skilled at. Yes, it’s important to write—but it’s also important to recognise that even when you’re not writing, you’re becoming better, and that every skill you have is transferrable to some degree.
What hobbies do you have? Do you think that they help you be a better writer? Do you like the thought that everything in your life can enhance your writing? Or do you like to think of writing as a separate place that you can escape to when the rest of your life becomes too much?