In my personal opinion, writing is more of a mental game than any other art.
For some art forms, the craft is in the skill of the delivery as much as if not more than the actual content. For others, it is more of a mix, but one can practice the skills of delivery without having to think too much about the content. In writing, the only skill of delivery is typing or penmanship, both of which are fairly rote and simple skills, and neither of which (perhaps with the exception of calligraphy) can be taken as skills of their own apart from content.
I know there are those who disagree with me, who believe that writing should be routinely practiced and polished like any other art form. To a certain extent, I get that. Writing every day, studying the craft of sentences and words, can improve the shape and style of the delivery.
But there’s really no easy way to practice the content—the story and characters, the plot and pacing—without having to master the mental game.
Fanfiction is actually incredibly useful for this purpose, because you don’t have to invent the characters and if you write in line with canon, you can “piggyback” off of the events and plot and setting already there. Then you can just work on dialogue and style and maybe pacing. That’s not to say that fanfiction can’t be exceedingly artful or difficult in its own right; merely that its pre-established elements as well as its instant emotional connections for both writer and reader make it a safe and fun training ground.
However, at some point if you are so inclined, you have to invent a story and characters for yourself—long or short, literary or commercial, plot or character-driven—and that’s when it’s all about the mental game. No matter how good you are with sentences or typing, you have to think your way to a story…
And ultimately this whole post is my argument when people question how “laying around listening to music” can somehow be writing. Because you can sit and type, and you can learn vocabulary and grammar, and you can be a good writer—but if you can’t think of a story, you can’t write anything. And for me personally, I have to have a lot more than the initial idea in mind before I have a story.
For me, thinking is writing.
As my dad would say, “I thought I smelled something burning.”