by | Oct 15, 2021 | Tracy Clark, On writing | 4 comments

By Tracy Clark

What do writers do when they’re not writing? Beats me. The truth is, we kind of almost always are. If we’re breathing, we’re either writing-writing at a desk in a chair, or mind-writing out in the wild. You can spot us by that faraway look in our eyes as we absent-mindedly step off a sidewalk against the light or bump into a mailbox we didn’t notice was there. We’re writing, you see, distracted, our brains on that character we haven’t quite fleshed out, the one who is lying dead on our pages as stiff as a weathered old fencepost.

We worry the problem. We chew on it. Agonize. We mind-write. Mind-writing is the writing we do while we’re standing in line at the dry cleaners or watching the bagger put our carton of eggs underneath a half-gallon of rocky road at the Whole Foods. We’re there in the cleaners, in the store, standing in line, eyes wide open, but our mind is on our work in progress, it’s on the next scene, that next bit of tricky dialogue, it’s on that messy middle we have no idea how to fix.

Mind-writing is what we do when we’re searching for an idea and find it at the next table at Burger King where some woman named Chickie is breaking up with her boyfriend Vince because he’s cheap and never takes her anywhere nice.

But don’t discount mind-writing, don’t sluff it off because it’s not done with a pen or a computer. I’ve written myself out of I don’t know how many dead ends pulling creative lifelines out of thin air. The key to mind-writing, though, is execution. Ideas are cheap. Daydreams don’t hit that word count. Mind-writing ideas that never make it to the page is just you passing time while the guy in front of you at Zippy’s cleaners asks for no starch in his collars. It’s the execution that’s important. Execution is everything.

But first you have to think stuff up, be completely open to letting in everything–emotion, sights, sounds, scents. Use the world. The solution to your story problem is out there in those streets, I swear. Look around, listen, be a person, get all up in Chickie’s business … from a safe distance.

“If you wait for inspiration to write,” writer Dan Poynter is quoted as saying, “you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.”

Don’t be a waiter.

Mind-write anywhere and everywhere. No laptop, n/o pen and paper, not a problem. All you need is that mind of yours. My work in progress, my characters, my janky dialogue and wonky plot holes are always with me, flying around in my head like gauzy ghosts swirling around a creepy mansion at the witching hour. By mind-writing, I can absolutely nail all that down. I can absolutely mind-write a creepy serial killer who dresses like one of the characters in “The Squid Games” while sorting my laundry.

I have a scene in my head today that I mind-wrote more than twenty years ago. After four and a half books, I have yet to find a place for it, but when I do, boy, oh boy, it’s going to be EPIC.

Here’s the point. I had one when I started, I swear. Writers like you and moi are always writing and cannot wait around for all the stars to align because they never will. There’s never going to be that perfect, quiet little spot in which to write, the one next to a roaring fire and a snoring basset hound, so you mind-write until you can write-write.

All of it counts.

The solution to your story problem doesn’t always come while you’re sitting at your writing desk, sometimes it hits you in the frozen food aisle or at your cousin’s third church wedding.

Mind-writing’s legit. Even the great Agatha Christie had something to say about it. “The best time to plan a book,” she said, “is while you’re doing the dishes.”

True dat, Dame Christie, true dat.

Where do you mind-write?

Don’t Miss a Thing!



  1. Rogue Women Writers

    You are so right about “mind-writing.” I find myself often getting new ideas about a story line, a twist or piece of dialogue when I’m swimming my daily laps in the pool – which resents a rather unique problem since I don’t have a pad and paper out there, and notes would get wet anyway. I just keep swimming and hoping I remember those (sometimes crazy) ideas when I climb out. Thanks for a very “thoughtful” blog! …. Karna Small Bodman

  2. Lisa Black

    I swear I get my best ideas while waiting to fall asleep. I write gorgeous paragraphs in my head while it’s on the pillow, but unlike many writers I’m too lazy to get up and scribble them down. I just have to hope that most of it stays there until morning.
    But I’m also a huge believer in letting your brain work on a story at its own pace, even if it takes months, until you’re ready to begin writing. If you have problems and dead ends and inconsistencies, don’t panic. Let your mind work on it. It will eventually come up with a solution.

  3. l. D. Barnes

    I love to drive alone, no radio on, let my mind wander into places that have bothered me. I use my phone to record the solutions I garner. Then, I turn the radio back on! LOL

  4. Gayle Lynds

    I love your term mind-write, Tracy! And you’re so right, that we never stop writing wherever we are or whatever we’re doing. Who hasn’t survived a mind-numbing meeting by working on their next chapter, eyes wide open, apparently attentive to what’s going on in the boring boring room! The other thing I like is the hypnagogic state, where one is close to sleep and in the never-never land of the unknown. Apparently Edison liked it, too. He had a sofa in his lab, and would go lie down when he had a problem to work on. He put ball bearings in his cupped hand, and let the hand dangle over the side of the sofa so that when he went from hypnagogic to sleep, his hand would relax, the ball bearings would clang on the floor, and he’d wake up so he could begin the practice all over again. Nirvana!