Writers are not machines. To put it bluntly: shit happens. The trick for artistic people is to know when to cut ourselves slack and when we’re facing issues of discipline, motivation, or resistance.
The best part about creativity is that we crave it and are generally happy to be working on our craft, even when stories aren’t going our way or we are experiencing a high degree of resistance. For that reason, the inability to “work,” in this case write, makes me uncomfortable and feel like a slacker.
I’m the kind of person who brings my laptop to day surgery thinking I’ll get a chapter written while I’m waiting to be released (I didn’t) . I took a 10,000 word short story to the emergency room (and actually got basic revisions completed in the 12 hours we were there). I’m not a machine, but I am driven. I love what I do and I am motivated.
So what do we do when life gets in the way? How do we get work done when the baby is up all night with colic, or we sit in emergency for a day with an ill spouse, or we have a medical procedure that knocks us on our butt?
The short answer is that sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we need to take sick leave from writing and concentrate on getting better or nursing a loved one. Or, if you are like me, at least take time away from “productive” writing. In my world, that’s fiction and revision of fiction.
You might not be able to concentrate for revisions. That’s okay. Work on the back cover blurb or follow up on research. If you’re used to putting out 2k words or more a day, give yourself permission to be happy with 250 words for a little while.
Why is this relevant, Robyn? Sensible people know when they should take time off.
Ah, but creatives are often not sensible in that way. We are driven by our need to create and our love of the process. Taking time away feels like punishment sometimes, and downright failure at others. I am blessed to have writing as my full-time focus at this point, and a missed day feels like I’m letting down all the writers who are squeezing writing time into busy careers and families.
But sometimes even the un-sensible, driven creative person loses the battle. That’s when we need to give ourselves grace. I’m not very good at that, actually. Sometimes I have to ask the Muses to give me the grace I can’t seem to give myself.
And, as one of the Muses pointed out to me recently, taking the break and concentrating on healing means I’ll be back to wordsmithing that much sooner.
As long as you understand the difference between resistance or laziness (we all get that way sometimes) and the true need to take time away, give your writing a rest and take the time you need to deal with life issues.
It’s amazing to me how taking time away from writing (even though it is not my job) makes me feel both guilty and relieved in the same breath. Just the thought messes with my mind. If nothing else, it is comforting to know that fellow creatives are as passionate about their calling. I have always thought there was a delicate balance between writing and living. Too much or too little of one or the other stifles the other. Everything in balance, I keep telling that to myself 😉
It really is a mixed bag, isn’t it? I’ve worked really hard on balance this year (for me it’s been a binge-on-information-and-visual and then purge it on paper thing) and did write even through my normal down times, You’re absolutely right that you need both living and writing. I really get uncomfortable while away from my writing projects for too long, though. 🙂 Maybe I’m obsessive lol.
Funny, but I know several writers that life has been kicking them in the teeth lately (the death of a parent, a teen in rehab for substance abuse, some major health issues). Writers can be either extreme — too lazy, or too hard on themselves. Neither mentality helps our writing. Get well soon.