In one of my last posts on this blog – ages ago, it seems – I wrote about shouldering on during times of self-doubt. Today, I want to propose the exact opposite. Permission to stop. During this busy holiday season, taking a breath is particularly relevant, whether that means a hiatus from writing or baking only eight different types of cookies instead of ten.
I’ve been absent from this space for so long because I’ve had one of those writing phases that we all dream about – head down, productivity up, plunging through pages with the muse at my elbow. In October, I spent all of my writing time (a mere 30 minutes a day, given my work and family schedules) barreling through the first draft of my WIP, a middle grade novel whose coy plot finally presented itself to me, whole and free of tangles. Then, in November, while everyone else was immersed in NaNo, I set to editing. On the last day of that month, I emerged – exhausted and giddy – with a completed second draft.
I printed it out (oh, the delightful warm heft of a printed draft!) and stuck it in a drawer. Even though my fingers have been itching for it ever since, I’m resolved to leave it there until January. Because I need a break, even if I must force myself to take one.
As is well documented, publishing moves at a glacial pace, and that can create an ironic sense of urgency. Knowing that a story is going to be trapped in purgatory for months or years compels the writer to get it out there sooner, because why add to that excruciating wait time? And then there are those on Twitter and elsewhere who urge you to write every day, to get your butt in the seat, to start the next book already. All good and well-meaning advice – up to a point. The flip side is less often discussed: walk away, close the laptop, binge watch TV, experience the stuff that will later color your writing. Those head-down moments of inspiration and productivity are thrilling, but also consuming. Sometimes, you need to raise your eyes. And if you’re inclined, bake eight different types of cookies.
And when you come back to your story, your characters, and the world you’ve built, hopefully it will greet you as though you’d never left. And if not, well, you know what to do.