Saturday, July 25, 2009

Knowing When to Take a Break

Last time I made a Big Point about finishing what you start.

This time I want to stress that it is okay to stop working on a project for a few days (maybe even a few weeks) and do something else. Make no mistake, I am NOT advocating "project hopping." That's when you let your muse lead you around by the nose, starting a million projects and never seeing any of them through to the end. But, in our drive to write every day and finish all our novels, most of us (I include myself here) overlook the fact that writing is work. Enjoyable work most of the time, but still... work.

In most professions we get weekends and holidays off. As writers we are expected (and seem to expect of ourselves) that we go all the time with no breaks or vacations or stopping our forward momentum for any reason.

This is wrong.

Our brains need time to rest. Our creativity needs time to refresh. Our hands need time to recover. In general, taking a break for a day or two every few weeks will not kill your writing discipline nor will it make you any less committed as a writer. I do not want to encourage laziness. Writing is work and should be approached as such. But, since it is work, it can be put aside for a "weekend" or a "vacation" to allow yourself time to breathe and relax and remember why you're so excited about this project in the first place.

I still think that writing every day is important. Setting concrete goals (words per day, pages per day, chapters per week, whatever works for you) is important. Knowing when to take a break is equally so.

Don't write yourself into exhaustion. (Writer's exhaustion is, I believe, the all-too-common cause of so-called "writer's block".) Take a break. Read a book. Take a walk or go on a picnic.

Then come back and write your ass off.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Finish What You Start

There are many skills you will employ as a writer. The most important is finishing what you start.

It doesn't matter how brilliant your prose is or how likeable your characters are. It doesn't mean a thing if your story is the most creative idea ever or your dialogue is stunning. If you don't finish it won't matter.

It sounds simple. It is not. Starting at the beginning of a story and working through to the end (whether you're writing a 5k short or an 80k novel) is hard. Start developing that skill now.

Too many writers get “I-got-a-better-idea-itis”. Been there and done that. I spent over ten years starting various projects, getting stuck and then starting something new. As a writer you have to learn to push through the difficult parts. Sometimes that will mean skipping over something until you figure out why it's not working. (That approach is easier when the project in question is a novel.) Sometimes it will mean sitting and staring at the computer screen (or piece of paper if you prefer to write things long-hand) for hours until the words flow out again.

Finish what you start. It will do wonders.