These teeny vacations give you more to offer
It's inspiring to see that the majority of folks I surveyed to ask about the top struggles in their writing lives answered "growing as a writer." (If you're up for it, I'd still love to hear from you!)
How amazing is this? It means we're soldiering on! We've not given up hope! We're cramming in the time to write however and whenever we can!
This deserves a celebration, friends. I hope you're celebrating small wins along the way, whether it's adding two new sentences to that story you're working on, finally settling on a name for your new character (after cycling through Phoebe, Philomena and Phaedra) or adding THE END to your novel's close. We're all fighting the good fight.
Besides reading the work of authors you admire, there are, of course, ways you already know to grow your writing:
- Set clear goals
- Define a consistent writing practice
- Play a role in your creative community
- Own your calling
- Take care of yourself all around
And then there's perhaps my favorite way, the one that seems like a yummy loophole and appeals to procrastinators the world over:
Do anything else.
This isn't a get-out-of-working card (hell, no) but rather a prompt to figure out the hobbies and practices that are self-loving and feed your writing. It's like tossing your food scraps into the compost: You get to lazily dispose of your mess while the pile does the work for you, breaking down the material into a richer substance that can be reused for greater gain. We know that as writers, we're often too detached from our reality, already analyzing the moment and combing it for usable bits.
As Glennon Doyle Melton writes in Love Warrior:
"A writer is a helicopter; she is not as much having a human experience as she is circling above human experience, reporting from a safe distance. Even if she visits the present moment, she's just there to gather material."
I made a list for myself of what I'm "allowed" to do and fully experience without a speck of guilt. (And P.S., I take huge issue with our use of the words allowed, should, ought and supposed to. What say you? Let's work on banishing these, in application to ourselves.) These hobbies nourish both me and my work, as I draw from them constantly to improve my writing. For me, these inspirational breaks are:
- Going for a walk
- Seeing friends
- Going to a new restaurant
- Writing letters
- Playing a game
- Playing piano
- Taking a shower
- Cleaning something
Some of these are obviously necessary (read: showering), but they're also true breaks I allow myself, sans guilt, with the understanding that I'm not procrastinating. I'm building.
Leonardo Da Vinci agreed:
"Every now and then, go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work, your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away, because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance, and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen."
In 2014, I went to an exhibit in Nashville at The Frist Center called "Real/Surreal: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art." It included works from the 1930s, '40s and '50s that had me taking notes like crazy in the little brown Field Notes notebook I carry. The exhibit introduced me to artists like Mabel Dwight and Martin Lewis, expanded my understanding of Surrealism and challenged my long-held tastes. Without it, I wouldn't have the story "Daisies" in my short story collection being published in the fall of 2017. My writing is better because of a long break I took that day.
You might find that stepping back from trying to read all the books ever feels damn good; I know I love/need to take breaks from reading time to time. Sarah Jessica Parker had this to say on The Nerdist about reading fiction as a break from her own creative work:
"You should think of it as the necessary and well-earned teeny vacation so that you can create more. You have to allow yourself the time to not create so that you can observe and see and experience, and then you have more to offer when you're creating."
It's right there: teeny vacations that you've earned make you a better creative. Now, I'm well aware that we have a problem with taking time off in this country, which just boggles my mind; I totally don't identify. Before I began writing full-time, I took care of my used vs. owed time off to take advantage of every minute because I'd earned it. A Project: Time Off report found 55% of American workers left some of their guaranteed vacation time on the table in 2015, totaling 658 million unused vacation days.
You guys. No more.
I like to jump into one of the above listed inspirational breaks when I'm feeling decidedly uninspired, but I also try to make them a part of regular life, too -- because we deserve to feel inspired whenever we damn well please. We've earned it.
I often tell my husband that when I'm working, it might not look like it. He might find me sitting on the front porch, kneeling in the garden or searching for my car keys to meet a friend, but through it all, my mind is churning, thinking of what I feel tactically and emotionally. We're always feeding our creative work, even when it looks like the scraps of life.
What works for you? What are your inspirational breaks?