Take a Break

I write really quickly.

It must be something in the serum.  I used to type really slowly, but these days, there’s almost no time lost between creating a sentence in my mind and putting it on paper.  (Computer keyboards have helped, too.  You have no idea what a pain it is to use a typewriter.)  Since I’m primarily a discovery writer or pantser, I don’t stop and think about whether this sentence is going to help or hurt foreshadowing for a plot twist coming up three chapters later.  Perhaps it’s a flaw, writing so quickly, because editing is an enormous pain-- but I enjoy that speed.

As with anything, however, there is a price to pay.  Using that much creativity in a small amount of time takes a toll on you.  Sometimes I forget to eat as I’m pounding away at the keyboard.  Sometimes my fingers start to hurt, or my eyes start to go wonky at staring at the screen for so long.  Sometimes-- and this is the worst-- I run out of creative juice completely.

It feels terrible.  One moment, I’m whaling away at what I’m convinced is the best story ever.  I just did a killer plot twist, introduced a new conflict, and raised the stakes for my main character-- and all the enthusiasm dies.  I start fishing for things to say to keep my fingers moving while I try to figure out what happens next.  I find myself writing an essay describing the effects of gravity on French toast before I finally realize what happened: no more creativity.  I can’t go on.

This doesn’t just happen to pantsers-- creativity burnout can happen to plotters as well.  But as with anything, it has a fix.  Here’s how to implement it.

Step 1: See the problem and stop.

One moment you’ll be plugging away, the next you’ll have a thesis on plumber migration that you didn’t expect.  Or worse, you’ll sit there staring at your blinking cursor for a good five minutes before you realize you stopped.  At that point, you have a problem.  Don’t keep writing about plumbers.  Don’t keep staring at the cursor.  You’re going to have to stop.

Not forever, of course, although it might feel like you’ll never be able to write again.  It’s not the end of the world.  Promise yourself that you’ll pick this up later-- now is the time to recharge your batteries.  Congratulate yourself on realizing that you have a problem-- that’s always the first step to solving anything.  Now it’s time to fix it.

Step 2: Do something else.

This is very important.  Distance yourself from your work for a while.  Go out and take a walk.  Get yourself some food.  Play with someone younger than you.  At this point, it’s important that you keep from reading, watching movies, or thinking about your story.  Don’t do anything writing-related!  It’s going to be hard, especially after the push you just did, but it will help.  Listen to music.  Go for a drive.  Play dress-up with a kid, or someone childish.

Take an hour.  Take two.  Take as much time as you need to relax.  One of the complications of this problem is the panic-- if you think you’re never going to be a success if you can’t finish one day of writing, you’re wrong.  Breathe, calm down, and do something that isn’t stressful.  It will be worth it.

Step 3: Recharge your creative batteries.

Here comes the fun part.  You get to juice up with creativity, in any way you can.  Watch a movie.  Watch two.  Read a book cover to cover.  Listen to a really good storyteller, or watch a reading by an author you enjoy on the internet.  Ingest a story, with the sole intention of enjoying it.  Have fun.

Remember, this time is for you to absorb creativity-- it isn’t time yet to give it away.  Try and keep from making up stories of your own, or thinking about story ideas.  You’re still distancing yourself from your work, even though you’re preparing to dive back in.

Step 4: Figure out how to proceed.

Even if you’re a pantser, this is important.  Take some time to think about what’s going on in the story and what needs to happen next.  Perhaps you know exactly what happens next, even though you had to stop.  Good for you.  You can dive back in.  If not, take a shower or get a piece of paper and tell it all about the problems you’re having.  An idea will come to you eventually.  Just give it time.

Now is the time to think about the story constantly.  Don’t let it out of your head for a moment, even if you have to do other things.  You’ve regained your creativity, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to slack off.  Keep building toward the next step.

Step 5: Get back to work.

You’ve had your break.  Your creative batteries are recharged and you’ve given that childish side of you a chance to play dress-up.  It’s time to get back to work.  You know what to do.

As events like NaNoWriMo draw on, or as you near the middle of your novel, you’ll find it becomes more of an endurance test than a one-shot sort of thing.  Keep plugging away, but remember to take breaks once in a while.  If you find yourself waxing eloquent about something completely unrelated to your novel, it’s time to step back and recharge your batteries.  Sometimes it’ll take half an hour to recuperate-- other times, it’ll take the rest of the day.  Don’t be afraid of taking a break, but never let the break last too long.  You’ve got a novel to finish.

~Captain America

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