Thursday, September 25, 2008

Permission Granted: Take the Night Off

My mind has been swimming lately. It's hard for me to go to sleep at night because I've just got too darned much stuff on the brain. Vacation, planning a family reunion, the freelance job, day job, health issues, and last, but not least, the novel.

My poor novel. It has been neglected in favor of other things. There was the heart monitor, and then my dentist appointment the other day (which went very well), and then a bunch of freelance work has made its way into my inbox, and since that pays, it takes precedence over the novel.

So while I've been writing a lot, I haven't been writing on the project dearest to my heart. After my walk last night (and why, oh why, did I experience ten times as many heart flutters when I didn't have the heart monitor on? I barely had any while I wore the dumb thing!), I knew I had plenty of time to get a few pages in.

But after I turned on the laptop and opened my file, I suddenly looked at the words on the screen and had nothing to say. Oh, I wrote a few sentences, but I wasn't in the characters' minds at all. And how can you write when you don't know what they're thinking or feeling?

This has happened before and I attribute it to a few things. One, if my life is beyond busy and going in a bunch of different directions, I have a much harder time slowing my mind down enough so that I can immerse myself in the story. And two, if I've been away from the story for awhile, it takes me a good 30 minutes or so (if I give myself that much time) to dive back into things.

I had that 30 minutes tonight, but I think my mind was rebelling. It didn't want to take the time to refamiliarize myself with my characters, where I was at in this particular scene, and where I was headed next. It just plain didn't care.

And that's ok. Sometimes, I've got to give myself permission not to write. I think we all do. Besides, how much fun is it to write if you guilt yourself into it? Ok, ok, sometimes it's necessary to get us out of a particular slump. But I certainly don't advocate it. We writers know how to inflict enough damage on ourselves without too much help from anybody else.

But I may be changing my tune on this particular subject if I find myself a published author one day and I have a deadline to meet. And some might argue that if that is my goal (which it is), that I should condition myself to write every day no matter how I feel. I guess I would counter that with the notion that not all of us write every day, but go in bursts of creativity, and we still manage to meet our deadlines.

So I'm going to leave this open for debate. What say you? Give yourself permission not to write when the juices aren't flowing or keep on pushing through until they do?


  1. I know. Some of those things have popped into my inbox as well.

  2. But you ARE writing evey day, so it's not like you're being a sloth. You just have different projects going on. Sometimes, switching to long hand will release the creative side of your brain. Making lists helps too. It removes all the whirlwinds of data flying around in your mind, letting you relax and get better sleep.

  3. I agree with Angie, you are writing every day. I'm a great believer in writing every day - in forcing yourself to write. It takes me ages to get back into the characters' heads, too, but I try to write - even if it's rubbish - knowing that, eventually, I'll get back into it.

  4. I find sometimes it's the physical act of getting started that's hard, but once you do start, that zone takes over and you produce. Also, often when you're not writing, you're still writing, in a sense. Looking out that sunset, taking a walk, shopping, those writing thoughts are all stewing and falling into place.

  5. Yes, you do need to allow yourself that. There's almost nothing worse than that feeling of self-loathing we have when we don't "produce".

    One other suggestion -- and it may not work for you -- is a small notebook. The notebook is not for writing long scenes and chapters. It's for writing -- when you don't know what logically comes next on your work. I have a hard time working on my WIP as it is in my laptop unless I know where I'm going. "The notebook" allows me to write down stream of consciousness thoughts that come to me about the theme or the characters or about details that I ought to go back and incorporate into the "real WIP". Often, when I don't know what to do, I pick up the notebook and start jotting things down. Here is a literal transcription of some notes I wrote two days ago:

    -at barely beyond forty, Tracy watched active older people who...
    -go back to ch10 and add in story about downstairs babysitter
    -more secret smoking
    -add days following Rick's death - Tracy's grief
    -change Mason's job to construction, working for Rick
    -have Sidney & Jude at rick's funeral
    ---it was like having a wild animal move in closer and closer
    -mason gets teeth
    -give Tracy a neighbor friend
    ---it's about leaving home, denouncing home, finding home, losing home & then finding it when you didn't know it the first time

    And there's more nonsense -- but, jotting things someplace where they aren't a part of something else seems to help knock things loose and scenes and snippets of scenes have come from these random (psychotic?) thoughts at times.

  6. I've said it a million times -- the only time you have the luxury of writing "when you want to" is when you're not under contract.

    There's nothing wrong with giving yourself a night -- or more -- off. You need to replenish the creative well. I'm even for taking a sabbatical from projects -- not letting yourself write on particular projects until it builds up again.

    But that's something you can do when you're not on deadline. You had to do the freelance projects, so you went ahead and did them, whether you felt like that or not.

    If you REALLY wanted to work on the novel, if it was actually the project of your heart right now, you would have. Unless we're absolutely bound and determined to commit acts of self-sabotage, we work on what's important to us -- and sometimes that changes from day to day.

    If you intend to sustain a career as a writer, you need to write whenever it needs to be done. Bursts of creativity will only get you so far.

    You're in a position where you can work in bursts if you like -- enjoy it now, but know that won't see you through IF you ever intend to make novel writing your full-time gig.

    It's another reason I advocate dumping the day job. Arthur MIller was absolutely correct when he told me I'd never be a full-time writer until I relied on it to pay the bills.

    When it's a choice between not eating if you don't write, or not having a roof over your head if you don't write -- believe me, you'll write.

    Or decide this life isn't for you.

    There's a difference between taking time off to refill the creative well and not writing because you don't feel like it.

  7. Melissa - if you were sitting around all day eating chocolate and doodling, I'd say "Get typing NOW!". BUT you have lots going on right now - it's no wonder your fiction writing has suffered. If you feel guilty, try sketching out a couple of scenes or even doing a touch of editing on what you've already written. That way at least you're doing something with your novel.

    You're writing in your day job, writing in your freelance job - is it any wonder you're all written out? Give yourself a break, hon.

    And did the doc have any answers for you?

  8. Jenna6:45 AM

    Don't feel guilty...we all need a break from the things we love now and then. Often times it is the novels ;) and people we love the most in this world, the stuff that is very near and dear to our hearts, that we need a break from the most.

    We spend so much time tending and caring and fretting over the novel(s) and people we love that once in a great, great while we need a night off :).

    Don't feel guilty. Take a breather. You are still writing. You know you'll come back to your novel new and fresh soon :)!

  9. I know it's best if we write everyday but some days-- I just can't! My mind, like yours was, is floating around somewhere else and it is hard to call it back. You'll get your novel done, page by page, and you'll enjoy the process more if you do it the way that works for you!

  10. Brian - Aren't these projects just FUN FUN? ;-)

    Angie - True. I AM writing every day, and that keeps the writing muscle in shape. And you're right - making lists definitely helps me to get things sorted out in my head. I need to make more of them.

    Shirley - There are times when if I just stick with it, I can get back into it. But other times, I DON'T stick with it and abandon it in favor of a nap. :-)

    Joanne - One of my favorite things to do when I have a particular plot problem is take a long walk. It really helps me work through it.

    Lisa - I have one of those notebooks! :-) It is a wonderful tool to help me jot down notes and things I need to remember. Problem is, I can't remember the last time I used it. I think I see my problem much clearer now...

    Devon - Wise advice as always. :-)

    Tess - Very true. I do have a lot on my plate right now, and my writing is taking a bit of a backseat. I haven't found anything from the doc yet - have an appointment in another week or so to do a follow up.

    Jenna - Thank you for that perspective, that we need a break from the things we love now and then. How true that is!

    Terri - You've hit upon a key aspect of writing, that we have to do what works for us. What works for one may not work for another!

    Thanks, all, for your comments, suggestions, advice, and support. I appreciate you ALL!


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