Monday, January 13, 2014

Take a Walk

Sometimes I think that while we're busy exhorting ourselves to work like crazy, there's this idea that taking breaks, or letting anyone know that you take breaks, is a sign of weakness. Like, if you were a "real writer" you'd just power through it, because writing is an act of will and this will-train stops for no one.

And hey, while I'd like to believe that I could keep going for a string of hours long enough to make up a day without breaks because I am just that willful, it's not true.

There's a difference between taking breaks because you can't get motivated and taking breaks because you've tapped all the juice in this well. If you've been there, then you probably know it. It's the difference between "ugh, that prose is gross and I don't want to deal with it yet" and "I am so exhausted coming up with fresh scenes and rewriting the past whatever many pages that I just cannot deal."

In the first case, yeah, that's about time for an act of will: time to put on the big author pants and suck it up. For the second one, though, when you're creatively fatigued, then maybe it's time to give in and do something different.

At one of my elementary schools, there were these kids who would come in after the school day had ended and we'd all gone home and, just like we had our assigned seats, so too were they assigned to desks in our classroom. You never got to see the kid who had your desk in person, but you'd see relics of their passing: an eraser that they left behind, a tennis ball missing from the feet of your chair.

And sometimes their actions would affect you. You could get a cool eraser or rescue a pen they forgot, or you wouldn't be able to erase their desk graffiti fast enough before a teacher checked on you.

It was cool when things were good, but also weird-- thinking that in some inverse world there's another person who sits at your desk at night, plays with the stuff you leave there, rearranges and changes some things, and leaves it there for you to find in the morning. Sometimes I feel like our relationship with the subconscious mind (if, oh God, this doesn't sound too psych class for a Monday morning) works the same way.

Your subconscious is part of the powerhouse generating your ideas. It's a cog in the creative machine, and just like you're taking care of other aspects of yourself, like going to the dentist, doctor, keeping healthy, sometimes you need to make sure the part of you that takes over when the lights go out is okay, too.

I love that we're dedicated and we're willing to work ourselves to death. That grit is what makes you succeed, for sure. But, on this hectic Monday and new week when no one really wants to go back to work, take a little time to recharge creatively.

Maybe it's scrolling through tumblr pictures of fantastic landscapes (or, tumblr pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch, because there's no judgement in the land of creative revitalization) or maybe it's reading a book, watching a few episodes of a TV series you love, knitting, or taking a walk. Do something else. Anything that gets you to stop thinking about whatever you're working on for a while, lets it sift over to the subconscious' side of the desk.

Sometimes when I'm crazy exhausted or have a big decision to make about how plot stuff goes, I go to sleep. And usually, after hours of not thinking about it, I'll figure out how to make things work when I'm in the shower or eating cereal, or trying to figure out how on earth eyeshadow works again. Sometimes it happens after ten hours of grad school, when my brain has been working on totally different stuff.

You've been told enough already that you have to be insanely dedicated to make writing work, and you know that it's still true. This takes a lot of effort. Just don't beat yourself up if you need a break sometimes, because, hey guess what, we all do.

When Alex Yuschik isn't writing her next YA novel, she's working on someone else's as an intern at Entangled Publishing. She writes about lock picks, ghosts, the abandoned places in cities, and how not to strike bargains with stars. Between sneaking in time to game and rocking out to indie music, Alex spends the rest of her free time working towards her PhD in mathematics. You know, as one does.

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5 secret replies:

  1. I like you illustration to the subconscious mind! I think it's in Save the Cat! where Blake Snyder says to resist writing scenes for a new idea until the concept has been fully fleshed out. I don't totally agree with that, but there is something to be said about letting an idea stew for awhile. I tend to make notes on characters and make rough notes of scenes, but I try to get those ideas fully realized before I start writing. Really hard since I'm more of "pantster."

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I'm not sure I agree with it 100% either. ;) I'm one of those people who needs to work with an idea in order to see where it's going. Granted, it means I write a lot of scenes to get to know the characters and those don't always get in the final draft, but I like discovering through writing them.

      Dude, switching between planning and pantsing is hard! I try to plan a lot before I write--my current manuscript is probably the first I've ever pantsed. Much respect, and thanks for comment!

  2. This is so true. I don't think we do ourselves any favors by trying to write when we're mentally exhausted. I think all end up with is crap that will need to be rewritten anyway, so we might as well dive into something else and decompress for a beat.

    I've totally forgotten about those tennis balls on the bottom of elementary school desks. ^_^

    1. I think it's super important to let your brain work on stuff on its own and not to force it sometimes. It's also a great excuse to read or watch TV, so... :D

      And yes! Oh man, I used to get so upset when I only had three tennis balls on my chairs. *lopsided*

  3. That's really the value of routines and inherent power: it keeps us all going along and steady. Like going to the dentist, as you said, which gets criminally underrated, if not misrepresented heh. We should always separate fiction from facts, tendencies from tasks, to get things done.

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