Slow And Steady Keeps Pepper Off Your Back

I am the worst when it comes to taking things steadily. I’m sure you’re all well-aware of the temptation of the Shiny New Novel: once you start writing, you just want to write it forever and ever, right? So you drop everything. Academic work, a social life, any other writing commitments you had, and you just write. As much as you can, as fast as you can, without looking back. You have to know what happens in this shiny new novel and you are not going to let it get away from you.

I know how that feels. I get that. With writing; with my suits. With basically anything that can hold my interesting longer than a sandwich (and trust me, a sandwich could hold my interest a lot longer if its lifespan wasn’t about three seconds as soon as it got into my hand, because it’s hard to be interested in the contents of your stomach).

If you’re anything like me, writing can be an escape. A distraction. Recently, I’ve been writing so I don’t end up thinking too much about what happened in New York, and it’s a slow and steady healing process. Right now, it’s still at the stage where typing that meant I needed a minute or two to recover my breath, but I’m getting there.

I start writing and tell myself that it’s just to take a break from everything else, and three days later I find myself in front of a screen with forty thousand words in the document, not having slept for 72 hours. Sometimes I even forget to eat, and if you know me, you know that’s a fairly rare occurrence.

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See, it’s recently become clear to me that this isn’t the way to write a novel.

I’m not just saying this because Pepper yells at me every time she finds me writing at two in the morning without a decent excuse, although that might have contributed. (For the record, a deadline for this blog definitely counts as a decent excuse. Fury complains when I’m late, but to be honest, he’s lucky I’m condescending to do this at all when I have all my genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist stuff to be doing. He knows I only do it ‘cause I don’t want Loki to steal the limelight…)

You see, once or twice in a year you find you need to pull an all-nighter and get a load done for whatever reason. Sometimes a mad dash for a high wordcount goal is just for the fun of it, and that’s fine. But when that’s your life and you’re churning out suits novels on a weekly basis? Something’s wrong.

Writing isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Sometimes you have to take it slower if you want to take it seriously, and I’m guessing most of you are thinking about this with careers in mind. Write everyday, but don’t kill yourself doing it.

Chuck Wendig advocates 350 words a day and weekends off. Obviously, for full-time writers, that’s nothing, so you might have to up it. But notice the weekends off. Time away from your writing is important.

Other people go for a steady 750; more ambitious writers might tackle 1000 words or follow the NaNoWriMo principle of 1667, resulting in 50k each month. I’m not about to warn you against writing more, if you’ve got a bunch of time to write in or you type fast. You have to find a groove and settle into it. But I’m fairly sure nobody with a day job or academic commitments of some sort has a groove of 10,000 words a day on a regular basis … no, not even my alter-ego, though trust me, she tries. Pepper tends to watch in dismay (but I swear there’s some awe in there too).

You see, if you do that long enough, you get creatively exhausted. You reach the end of your book and that’s it: your inspiration is gone. You don’t have the energy left to write another one, and maybe even reading through that one is out of the question. Those everyday writing tasks like blogging? They’re exhausting. You don’t know what to write.

Right now, Pepper is watching me from across the room, because she’s refusing to go away until I leave JARVIS and go and have something to eat and get some sleep. Like Thor said, you have to take breaks sometimes. Writing is important, writing everyday is important … but writing to the point where you get ill and you have no brainpower left? That’s not that important.

Nor is making suits until you’re on the verge of collapse because you can’t sleep and you don’t want your girlfriend to know. Nor is doing anything beyond the point of reason.

I’ve learned this to my cost. Does the blog post seem shorter than usual? Yeah. Creatively exhausted, just like I said.

So for once I’m going to follow my own advice (and Pepper’s) and dial it back a little. Just for a bit. The suits will still get built, the novels still written … but there’s actually no rush.

-- Iron Man.

2 comments:

  1. I know what you mean. I was sick with a cold this weekend,ran out of books to read, and just to get my mind off my agony, I stared at my computer screen and didn't stop typing for two days straight. (Well almost two days straight) Didn't help my sickness speed away, but it felt good to get a lot of writing done that I had put off due to exams and other anoying things that pop up in my life. But in the summer my Dad threatens to take my lap top away if I don't get some sleep. That's okay, I still got my flash light and note book!

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  2. For a while, I wrote steadily every day because I was on a writing challenge, but I've just had about a month off. I'm kind of... irregular. I lose my train of thought if I stop in the middle of the chapter, so I'll write about 1,700 one day and then take three days off. I am so glad there's no rush in writing. Sometimes it's exhausting just THINKING about writing. :)

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