Susan here, deep in the draft of the new book, editing, revising, and looking forward to proofing and polishing over the next few weeks. Soon I can share more about that, but meanwhile—it’s the height of summer, and I’m stuck inside with the book, the revision notes, the computer, endless cups of tea, and some long days and nights.
As soon as this book is done (yay), even if there’s precious little summertime left in the calendar, I’ll need a break. Even though another book is already forming in my mind on the heels of this one, that creative well needs a little time to refill first. The time gap between finishing a novel and beginning to write a new one can be very short—all too soon the research, drafting, writing, and editing will start again in earnest. An author needs stamina to write for long, long hours, and that pace can catch up to you eventually—and I’m one of those who can easily burn the candle at both ends and the middle too. Without some rest between book projects, it’s not good for the author, the stories, or ultimately the reader.
Over the years I've found some habits and methods that work for me to clear the head, relax body and soul, and spark the creative urge again, resting the overworked writer's brain, and helping to fill the inner well–stirring that story soup. As Tolkien once explained, readers want to enjoy the soup without seeing the bones that went into making it; process vs. story. Writing needs energy, and a book won’t get far without the fuel of ideas and inspiration – and the best thing for creativity, sometimes, is rest. But if a vacation isn’t feasible, what else can be done for basic creative recovery and recuperation?
But my first urge in creative recovery isn’t a vacation. What I really want to do is clean–the madness in the office, the mess in the house (honestly it takes a hit during the deadline stage). Cleaning is therapeutic, clearing the chaos and creating a little order to allow clearer thinking, fresh ideas, a little sense of peace and pretty too. As a mom of three boys, I learned to live with a certain level of chaos, ahem – and now that they're all grown up, I'm just fine with chaos around me while I transform into a Mad Writer. But when the smoke clears, I want some peaceful order again – and so I hop to it, with plenty of debris and clutter to deal with – housework, laundry(although the dear spouse gradually took over the laundry duties, he has a curious blindness for clutter).
Once I can see the top of my desk and the floor of my office again, then I want some freedom. A little shopping works, or meeting friends for lunch, or a local trip somewhere for a day or two–low-key fun activities that won't tap what little energy reserves I might have left. I might even do a little cooking, though that is not high on my list of therapeutic activities—but a little guilt over what the family has gone without so patiently gets me into the kitchen.
A glorious glut of reading is usually next—catching up on books I haven’t had time for, or wouldn’t read until my own work was done (I try not to read in the same genre I’m actively writing). I also try to catch up on movies and TV, all of it good therapy, and it’s not just fun and enjoyable—doing something visual and auditory engages a different part of the brain. The eyes aren’t constantly tracking words to translate into thoughts and images. And films and TV shows can fill the story well with ideas for characters, plot, story elements and story structure. Ideas start to percolate, and I’m starting to think about my own stories…and then it’s on to the next phase.
At this point, I’m often ready for something bigger, something 3D and very different from the 2D, physically limiting writing activity. I crave doing something on a big scale that's fast, physical, has a clear beginning, middle, and end, and gets to a quick result (anything is quicker than writing a book!). For me, it's usually painting or refinishing, or moving furniture around for a new perspective.
Sooner or later, I do need to paint something. I’ll find a wall, a room, a piece of furniture in need of new color. I love painting, love being up on a ladder rolling fresh color on the walls, listening to music (Celtic or rock), and I will banish the family until I need a tall person. While the paint is going on and the music is blaring, that next book will start bubbling.
Then there are the daily activities, all through the writing process, to keep me going and balanced and sane–like tai chi, yoga, an ongoing knitting project (I'm a basic knitter with no desire to get fancy–it's just soothing to make something pretty so I've always got something going). I have discovered over the years that I write better when I take time for some meditation, some peaceful activity, some reading and TV time, and family time. When the writing schedule gets intense, I tend to let these things go, until I remember—these really help, these are essential. These things support the author and feed the creative stream, so they’re not indulgences that can be set aside.
Once the stories and characters start to simmer and pop in my head again, I go out and get fresh notebooks and pens, and whatever lovely, addictive stationery items will inspire—and then I’m writing again.
I’m sure you have some great ways to quickly rest and recuperate before you get back to doing what you love best – what works for you?