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February 2017

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Take a breath

Have you seen this post, in which Kelly Fineman discusses the importance of "fallow hours?"

In talking about the times when writers (temporarily) stop writing: "There was a time when I worried about them. Perhaps I'd lost my mojo. Or my imagination. Or my interest in writing. Invariably, I'd start to worry about what was going on, and what it meant, and whether I'd ever write again. And that actually made the situation worse .... These days, I don't worry so much. I recognize these fallow hours as what they are: a temporary break. Turns out that just as one can only drive so far on a tankful of gas before running out ..."

It reminded me of a post I wrote a couple of years ago called "Do Nothing," in which I described an important day on which I did nothing. Years later, it remains a cherished memory, probably because it was the only day on which I did nothing during my entire time in graduate school. (I was working full time as well. Yes, I was young and ambitious and slightly insane.)

And today Natalie Whipple posted about burning out, in a post called "Overdoing It." An excerpt: "I am fried, guys. I've spent too much time fixing book problems. ... Too much time stressing over getting things right. Friday night my brain essentially exploded."

I'm taking these as messages reinforcing something I've put into practice within the last couple of weeks: carving out a little more breathing space, indulging in some slow moments, long walks and quiet reading times and, most of all, times during which I don't do much of anything. My brain needs time to digest events, to gather itself for the next effort. It's as much a part of writing as the time spent in front of the keyboard. And more importantly, it makes for a happier life.

I've had to say no to some things, and put other things off a bit, and face the fact that I can't do everything all the time. Nobody can. I'm spending more time on things I truly enjoy and less time on things that were really not nourishing me. (As it happens, the things I enjoy do include keyboard time, because I'm excited about my current work in progress. But I'm letting this project flow naturally instead of trying to push it.)

So I invite you to sit back, relax, and put up your feet. And breathe. Unless maybe you happen to be in one of those joyful busy, productive periods ... in which case we'll have a cup of tea and wait for you. No hurry.


I am in one of those times when I don't have a productive period maybe because the translating and revision of my book is very stressful and I needed a break. I was scared in the beginning but now I know that was what I needed, just relax and breathe.
It can be scary at first. I always seem to worry that I'll never write again--and then the day comes when I can't stop writing!
It can be scary at first. I'm always scared that I'll never write again, and then there comes the day that I can't stop writing!
Ah, thanks for this post. I'm the kind of person who puts waaay to much pressure on herself and I forget that it's not only acceptable but necessary to just do nothing sometimes.
Once I managed to write a complete manuscript, I thought every idea would come in the same manic rush and I would have no problem putting something on paper from start to finish, and voila my writing career would be born and I could quit my day job and not have to worry about fitting in writing between a full time job and the upkeep of a home and marriage. So wrong... but it's comforting to know that those who have succeeded at getting agents/getting published feel the same pressures. Being a workaholic is overrated... and unhealthy!
I haven't yet found the magic line that, once one crosses it, all one's writing is golden and things come easily. ;-)
I think I'm going through one of those important 'breather' times. I've finished revisions, line edits, crafting synopses for submissions and now...there's nothing. Now I wait. I have other WIPs to work on, but I think it's important just to chill a bit.

Yes, especially after accomplishing so much! I think the brain needs to let go of old projects before taking on new ones.
It's so weird that you wrote this because today I was thinking to myself, "I haven't written a lot lately; does that mean I'm not a real writer?"

Thank you for this :)
Ha! There's a difference between rest and procrastination. We need rest.
Mmm...I think my problem is that I tend to sit back and relax a little too much, rather than getting on with my work! I'm far too easily distracted, that's the problem. Having said that, taking time away from the computer does help my productivity when I return, so I must be doing something right!
It's hard to know when procrastination is due to some inner need for a little more time to think or prepare, and when it's due to fear or laziness or something else. I usually can tell by a few minutes' worth on the manuscript--if I feel stale and uninspired and bored, I need more rest.
It's such an important lesson to learn - and learn, and re-learn.

Hope you're enjoying your Fallow Hours.
I usually do--something I forget when I'm fighting the impulse to rest!
I found myself in much the same position at the turn of the year. I have a hard time saying no to people, especially those who have supported me and cheered me on during my "Crazy Year of All Things Finder."

I was overwhelmed with requests to "look over" manuscripts. Some of them I had been looking forward to reading. THOSE were the ones I wanted to be doing--but they just kept coming in, and I felt bad saying no, and it got to the point that I was totally fried out on editing. Thankfully, it didn't affect my own writing. Whew!

I had to start saying no. I even made a public resolution on LJ! The requests still come in, and I won't say no to everyone, but I DO say I can't do it when I just can't do it, instead of squeezing in just one more.
"No" can be a very useful word. It's hard to accept that we can't do everything we would like to do; there isn't enough time in the day!
Yep. I'm a big believer in "refill the well" time. Staring out the window at "nothing" can work wonders.

Glad you're in that place, too. See you in the daydreams! :)
As Kelly said, you can only drive so far before the tank runs out!
"And more importantly, it makes for a happier life."

This is what I've come to learn. The down time is important for so many reasons, but mostly I think, because of this.
Yes! We have little enough time; I need to be able to savor it.
I spend my fallow hours playing Medieval Total War. I justify it as "research."
The great thing about writing is, anything can be research if you're planning to write about it sometime!
Thank you for this post. It makes me feel a little better. I haven't written anything this month. Well, journaling, but nothing creative. I have been reading a lot though and thinking about things. Hopefully I'll get through this stage soon and start writing a story.
Somehow, we usually feel better when we're putting new words on the screen, but that isn't the only part of writing.
Thank you for drawing my attention to Kelly's post--I missed it somehow in the flurry of last week. I love the phrase "fallow hours." I think I'm becoming more and more a shrinking violet, but I find it increasingly necessary to have daydreaming time and reading time, even if that means that occasionally I take a break from writing to refill the well.
Yes. Burned-out writing is not fun, to write or to read!


It's good to know...

...when you're not the only one. Often times I think I'm the only writer that gets mentally exhausted and has to put it away for a while and do nothing. At the end of nothing is always something spectacular!

Re: It's good to know...

You're far from the only one! And I wish something spectacular for all of us. :-)