There are different kinds of breaks a writer will take – There are what I call “staring at the wall” kinds of break where a writer has to sort out issues to do with plot, characterization, twists and turns, rationalization and logistics (I get these regularly, especially after I’ve managed to paint myself into a corner on some issue with the plot) – Then there is the “barrier” kind of break which is more a I’ve-had-enough-I’ve-lost-the-will-to-live writer’s block experience where ideas and/or motivation have completely deserted you (the nastiest sort – this kind of break is not refreshing at all, quite the opposite).
The former involves thinking exclusively on the plot problem and this will extend for as long as it must in order for the issue or issues to be resolved. The break might last as little as half a day or as long as some months. You cannot do anything else in this time period. You cannot “fill in the time” with anything that takes your mind from it – that means no reading, no blogging, no surfing the Net, nor playing games or watching movies. Those things might happen in the course of the day, but when you’re working on the issues, you find you have to get away from the computer and away from anything else that will distract you, which is why I call it “staring at the wall” or “staring at the sky”.
I’m not sure that one can really be called a break. It is in the sense that actual writing is not taking place, but certainly not in the mentally working sense. It is a progressive thing, but it doesn’t look progressive. You might get some work done at the computer, but whatever that is, it’s going to be peripheral to whatever those issues are and you can’t move on into the heart of the matter until that thinking is done.
The latter kind of break mention in the first paragraph – the writer’s block type – is well known and least liked. It too involves thinking, but there is desperation involved and a whole heap of stress, which I’ve covered before so, hey, let’s not go there!
Recently, though, I experienced a brand new kind of break (to me, anyway), a simple sort of break that involves – strangely – not thinking about writing or plot at all.
If you count my starting efforts as a child, I’ve been writing for near on forty years and this sort of break has never happened to me before. Seriously. It was weird! It was like stepping away completely, not because of problems or burn-out or writer’s block, just a simple experience of being a person who… I don’t know how to put this, so I’ll be blunt about it – who finds that they don’t actually live in a book (even if they think they do)!
Now I know I’m not the only writer to live and breathe a story, I am pretty much in there 24/7 – Every waking moment has plots and characters busily working away in the background as I go through my day. At my computer, they get to really express themselves and I go to whatever depths I need to for them. I love seeing their development and the growth of a manuscript. Away from the computer, I am preparing for my next stint and planning it all out mentally in full detail. That means whether I’m doing the dishes, the laundry, watching a movie or when I wake up in the night, my mind is automatically and constantly on characters and their situations.
Sometimes I’m in more than one book. There is the one I am currently working on, of course, but the future books contain things that ideally should have their roots established in earlier books – meaning here, in the book I am in. So I am mindful of future plots, some of them fully established (for the closer books to come), some of them only vague as yet, but developing (for those books further out). Anything in the story, of course, might branch into something more, so everything I put in might be a seed for further growth down the track.
That’s how the trilogy expanded into four books – Book two (The King’s Sacrifice) was a powerful story that just plain had to be told and second position was the right place for it, but it was not part of the original plan for the series. Ialle (Khekarian) was, but not his heart’s desire, Shalsey (Chiddran).
So, as you can tell, I think about my work. All. The. Time. I’ve been in there for years.
So there I was, when the interesting thing happened, at my desk ready for my day. I had organized a blog post, put it up nice and early and thought, “Great, the whole day is clear now just for writing.” I was about to open up my working files when, unexpectedly, my mind went “Frrpt!”
It was like my subconscious had called Time Out. In the space of a moment, I went from eager for the day to start, to not being able to so much as look at my work. I could not open the files, I could not think about it – not plot, nor characters, nor future anything. I could reflect on them, and even write about them, but not work with them.
From my writer’s viewpoint, it was the strangest day in my life. The whole day went by and I could not shift back into it. What was odd to me what that it did not bother me. It was just strange and somewhat relaxing. I knew, too, that it was temporary and that – oddly – when I came back to it, I would be at it with fresh energy and get a massive amount done. I say “oddly” because as it had never happened before in forty years of writing, how could I know that?
Nevertheless, I let go of my work and ran with it.
Now before anyone panics, let me reiterate, this was not the collapse-I-can’t-go-on sort of break. It was new to me, fresh and actually very enjoyable.
A short while back, I wrote a post about a writer who had lost the creative spark and had fallen into a level of despair every writer will recognize. That was a post called “Your Abandoned Desk” (followed up quickly by “Poignant Reflection” and “No Cause for Alarm” because I made the dang thing too realistic and people inside and outside Blogsville thought it had happened to me and – very kindly – worried).
So, I want to be clear. This was not one of those times either. I did not feel blocked or upset or fearful that it wouldn’t start up again.
Well, I can tell you all now that, aside from blogging, that break away from even thinking about working on the manuscript lasted about four days. I don’t understand what was going on at a deeper level – no doubt I was sorting out something, or just taking what it seemed to be, a genuine break – but when I got back into it, things went exactly as I felt they would. The latest bunch of minor “what-order-should-this-be-in?” and “what-do-I-do-about-THIS?” sorted themselves out effortlessly and I was off at a run.
Things continue smoothly, now, some days further on again.
So… The first type of break I have experienced many times and recognize it as part of the writing process. The second type of break I have experienced not so often, but enough to know it is horrible and is part of the downside to being a writer. This third type, though, I have never experienced before and of the three was the most refreshing.
I’m sure there are many other types of break, too, but if this one happens to land on you – do enjoy it. They seem to be rare. You get to be a person who can think about other things clearly for once without drifting off back into your story.
Have fun, guys. 😀