My Year Off From Writing (And Why I Recommend It)
If you know me (either through my writing or IRL), you know that I call BS on anyone who claims to write every day — EVERY SINGLE DAY — of their lives. (No: texts, tweets and grocery lists do not count.) Because: Even when you’re sick? When you gave birth? Went to a funeral? Travelled internationally? That time you had surgery and were knocked out on drugs for a solid 24? There is no way, no matter how prolific or dedicated a writer is, that anyone can, in fact, write EVERY SINGLE DAY of their existence. So let’s not exaggerate.
But, let’s define “writing”. Is it putting words on a page, or is it mulling over the story, characters and dialogue in your brain? Because, if it’s the mulling, I suspect very few writers ever stop writing. [My best writing happens while brushing my teeth or in the shower. I should have a whiteboard mounted in the bathroom so I can more easily jot down whatever genius gems came to me while sudsy or foaming; instead, there’s a damp trail to the nearest pen and Post-It.] The story is relentless in that way. A writer’s mind is never quiet.
So, if you know me, you also know that I took 2019 off from writing (aside from the mulling). I had released three books in three years (2016-2018), and intended to keep that book-a-year pace going. I know, right? Hysterical! But I have goals, people, and a long TBW list (that’s To Be Written, in case you didn’t guess).
With best laid plans and God laughing, I hit a wall of sorts in late 2018. You see, I’m not the type of creative that can churn it out–something I learned back in my first year of film school when we were expected to create and deliver a new film each week. I just couldn’t, even if they were only one minute long (the mulling is also vital to filmmaking), and I got a little miffed that I was expected to. In response, my next short was about forced creativity wherein I filmed a dripping faucet and asked, “What is art?” then rhetorically posed, “If I shat in a box and called it art, is it art, or just shit in a box?”
You can imagine my teacher’s response, but then we had a long talk about the creative process, the point in pushing ourselves and the point of not. But I still don’t want to create shit in a box. My self-imposed deadlines were making me feel like that first year student. It was silly.
So, when I stood all kissy-face with that wall, I recognized it for what it was and embraced it. I even thanked it. Then, I pressed pause on all creative plans. My author’s ego wasn’t exactly pleased. What do you mean we aren’t writing? it would ask. Writers write! it would remind. But sometimes a sabbatical is necessary. If you keep farming the same soil, you will deplete it and, soon enough, nothing good will grow.
I began 2019 depleted. There was a little health scare (I’m fine) that took six months to get the all-clear on and, during that time, there was a good deal of reflection and re-prioritizing. One priority was enjoying life more. That meant addressing stress, dealing with fatigue and being more in my life than going through it. Time that I normally would have held for writing needed to go to other things (cooking, exercising, socializing) and that wasn’t an easy choice to make. Writers write. Stories are persistent nags. You feel like a terrible parent ignoring your offspring when you aren’t working on your book. But this break was necessary. And soon, I eased into it.
Even though I wasn’t writing, I was still an author. I had four books to talk about, the craft itself to discuss, a society of authors to collaborate with and advocate for, writerly events to attend. The writing itself was on hold, but the mulling…well, there was still a damp trail to the nearest pen and Post-it. By the time the holidays came, I was excited to get typing away again. But with a new perspective.
What that year off gave me was the chance to recharge and reconsider how I wanted my writer’s life to be. And it’s going to be slower, something that an A-type Aries isn’t exactly comfortable with. I’ll give myself an hour each day to write and/or edit and set aside one weekend a month to go deep into that writer’s cave. That leaves me much more time to commit to self-care, such as cooking and exercising and spending time with the people I love in a manner that is not distracted. Finally, I get to have it all.
On the writing front, it’s going quite smoothly. I have a new perspective on Novel 3 that brings me a lot of joy. It’s a bigger story than my first two, and that’s been a little daunting. All of the backstory wanted to get out onto the page and it was a constant battle to pare it down. Now, it’s distilled to its essence–a bonus of the mulling process.
While it may sound like I’m limiting myself as a writer time-wise, it’s actually the opposite. It’s an appointment with myself, time that is to be honored, set as sacred. Surely there will come a point when the book will take over and demand all of my free time. I’ll give in to it then. That’s all part of the birthing process. But now I know the balance I need to enjoy all facets of my life. I like how it all sparkles.
If you, dear fellow writer, feel out of balance, give yourself some time off to rediscover who you are away from the page. It is not time taken away from creation, but a nourishment of your artist’s soul. Rest that soil so it will be prolifically fruitful once more.
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