So you made the brave choice of going on vacation for two weeks. That angry demon called Writer’s Block had been present during all of your recent writing sessions, causing you to assume that perhaps you’d spent too much time with your manuscript. So what better way to get back into the groove of writing than taking a break? I mean, what harm could there possibly be from taking an extended break period?
Oh wait…there are plenty of problems. But hey, it’s not like you can’t work around them or anything. That’s why you pride yourself as a writer, because of your perseverance!
You walk into your house, you rummage through your pockets until you find your keys, and then the door to your home creaks open. You take a whiff of the air, coughing up the dense layer of dust that had built up while you were gone. There’s a bad feeling wedging itself in your heart, but you shrug it off and head down to your room. You see the black case inside of which rests your laptop, untouched by anyone for an ungodly amount of time.
You take a deep breath “All I need to do is sit down…all I need to do is sit down…” you mouth the words to yourself, grasping at whatever traces of comfort they lend to you. But that nausea that you felt when you first whiffed the air of your house is still present. That sense of foreboding that won’t exit your system.
It’s probably nothing. You toss it off as that typical fear you have when you are faced with a blank page and decide to boot up your computer. All you need to do is start working again, right? The word processing software loads, clearing up from a hazy mess of black smudges to legible sentences and paragraphs. You search for the last chapter that you were working on. You don’t remember if it was 15 or 16, so you start poking through your files.
Apparently, there was a great deal that you had written before going on your trip. Mr. Hero killed at least 50 baddies, the girl was saved, the hero’s father died, you introduced a new magical ability, you introduced a cool new weapon, you brought in five new characters, the
villain turned out to be a good guy, the love interest died, and…
You fingers freeze as they just barely graze the keys of the laptop. Your eyes widen while your mind is too busy trying to recall all the information it had processed earlier. You’d felt writer’s block when you’d last written, but at least then you were able to keep up your routine. But now…just touching a key on your computer feels unnatural.
How were you even able to write 2000 words a day!? You can’t even finish half a page! Who are these characters that you’ve created? And why is it so hard to give them personality again!?
You shut the lid on your laptop, as though you’d just been fooled into watching a screamer.You grind your teeth, frustrated at not being able to continue with your masterpiece. Where did it all go wrong? What the hell have you even been writing all this time?
My dear reader, if this anecdote is similar to your experience, then you have no need to fear. No, you have not lost the “spark” and, no, this does not mean that you need another break.
This is only another tragic case of Manuscript Separation Anxiety (MSA)
So if you actually bothered to read my last post, you would know that I was off camping for a whole week. While I enjoyed myself, I was not able to write so much as a short story during my time there. It was a whole week of being separated from my writing, which I’d been able to keep up as a routine for the past few months.
But now I’ve returned (whether you like it or not) and my fingers have been tingling for another session of manic typing. But lo and behold, as fate would have it, I have no idea in which direction my story was going. And perhaps a year ago this would have left me confounded, but in my experience, I can tell that this is not some random event that can easily be fixed by forcing yourself into routine. So let me try and put this into perspective for you.
The old saying goes: “Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.”
Now, in no way do I mean to devalue this statement. In fact, if you’re a novice writer, this is the single best piece of advice that anyone can give you. But sometimes I feel that writers give just a tinge too much credit to the perspiration aspect of writing. Seasoned veterans of writing see inspiration as a little sprinkling of sugar that only comes once a year on a full moon during a midnight writing session.
Which is to say that we think inspiration is good to have, but not something we should rely on. After all, routine forms the bulk of what we write. But is inspiration really as random as it appears?
You do a lot more during your writing sessions than just force yourself to sit down for an hour. Each writing session that you take also increases the inner understanding that you have of your story by tiny increments. For example, tone, inspiration, and style, in my opinion, are not aspects of one’s writing that just appear out of the blue. Most of the time, they are cultivated slowly until you reach what one would call the Muse state. Which is when the words are flowing from your fingers.
The way to cultivate these muses is by forcing yourself to a routine in which you spend more time with your tale. The more you do your routine, the closer you are to the heart of the story. This is because of how much of a consistent, frequent, and determined lot of your time is given to your novel.
A book is much like a person. You can’t read a manual on a human to understand what
they are, you have to spend time with them. You have to grow with them. Sure, at first it’s awkward getting to know the guy, but after a while, it all just comes naturally. There are ups and downs to the relationship you have with the person, but as long as you don’t separate from them, you’ll have a core understanding of how they act.
The same can be said for tone and style. A story’s tone only really begins to set in (f0r most people) when they’ve already gotten a decent chunk of it done through a routine. This is why themes tend to cement themselves into your work later on in the book rather than at the very beginning. And the more consistent time you allot to the book, the more you’ll grasp the tones and themes that you’re aiming for.
But what happens when life decides to send everything crashing down?
Maybe you have to go somewhere with a friend for an extended period of time or maybe you just feel like taking a break. You have your little respite from your story, which can be a good thing, but when you return, something strange happens. It feels like you just came back to square one, despite all the hours of work that you poured into writing before. Well, there’s an easy answer to all this.
When you leave a garden untended, all of your fruits and veggies are going to rot. The quality of your produce is also going to be unsavory. A WIP is much like a garden.
When you take a break from writing, you are also undertaking the risk of alienating yourself from the tone, theme, style, and meaning of your story. This is a good thing for revision but it can be a hassle during the writing process. You’ve spent so much time with your tale that just abandoning it for a week has left you in quite the stump. One’s relationship with another human being is usually more resilient and less prone to rot. It could take a person years to feel alienated from a close friend. But with a story, the numbers tend to be much lower.
What was once intended to be a break now feels like you’d just given up on the novel altogether. And now you’re back to step one when it comes to writing. You find that
you have to readjust your routine, get to know the characters again, have another look at the outline, and do all the things you thought you’d never have to do again once you took off.
But there’s good news, Author. Like the rotting produce of a garden, all that one needs to do is plant new seeds in place of the ones that had gone to waste. Sure, those first few days of getting back to writing are going to be an awful pain, and sometimes they might even last a whole week! But you’ll find that just after a few days of writing, your original vision will start clearing up once again.
Slowly but surely, you’ll begin to ascend the mountains of tone, style, theme, and plot until you get back into your old routine. There will be many scrapes along the way, and you might lose a part of yourself while climbing, but for all you care, that part can be grown back. And before you know it, you’ll be loving that story just like the day you first thought of it.
This has been the QuestingAuthor, announcing his proud return. And as always, keep writing, my friends.