Susan here, holding down the fort while some of the Wenches are gathering at a national conference. I’m deep in the revisions of two of my backlist books, cleaning up and tightening (I used to be a lot more wordy!) and generally making them better (I hope!) than the originals. Soon I can reveal the gorgeous new covers and new titles for these revised “author’s cut” versions. At the same time, I’m writing another book—so I'm juggling three books at once. The leap from one story to the next, keeping those plates spinning, is an interesting challenge…. Luckily I'm about to finish one, clearing my desk just a bit before diving in again.
In the meantime, it’s summer, people are out there having fun, I need a break too–and the creative well needs time to refill. The time gap between books can be very short before the research, writing, and editing need to start again in earnest. Authors can have incredible stamina for writing long hours, and keeping the pace going, but it catches up eventually. I’m one of those who can burn the candle at both ends and in the middle, too, and without some R&R between book projects, that’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 Tolkein once explained, readers want to enjoy the soup without seeing the bones that went into making it, process vs. story. Writing involves a lot more than research, plotting, writing, revising–and all that won't get far without the fuel of ideas and inspiration. Those can depend on letting the mind rest up for a bit. A vacation is an obvious solution–but that's not always feasible, so what can be done while hanging out at home? Lots of options!
The first urge in my own creative recovery isn’t usually to rest or escape to the beach or the lake. I actually want to clean—the office, well okay the house, which takes a hit during intense writing stages. Cleaning is therapeutic, clearing the chaos and creating a little order, which opens the door to clearer thinking and fresh ideas. I thrive on chaos while writing madly, so when the smoke clears, there’s debris and plenty of clutter (less, thankfully, now that the kids have moved out). And laundry (also less now that there are just two of us, and he does a good bit of that stuff!).
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 reserves I might have left until the energy flows back in again. I might do a little cooking–it's not high on my list of therapeutic activities, though might be for some!
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.
And sooner or later, I will find a wall or a room to paint–I love being up on a ladder, rolling fresh paint on the walls, listening to music, banishing the family (until I need a tall person's help!). Soon, the next story and the solutions it needs 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 too fancy–it's just very soothing to make something pretty, and I've always got something going). I write best when I make time for meditation, reading, keeping up with a favorite TV show with my family. When I'm stuck in the writing, and if it's not due to stress or other situations, then I've let some of these things go–they do feed the creative stream on a regular basis.
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?