About five years ago, I made a commitment to write daily. How many words? It doesn’t matter; the act itself does. Sometimes I put in hours, sometimes only thirty minutes. Now that I’ve retired early from academic work, I look forward to many days as a full-time writer. However, while I was packing, downsizing, moving across the country, unpacking, and doing all the paperwork of setting up in a new place, I only had time to write a paragraph each night before going to bed. So why did I bother?
One, it kept me in touch my work in progress. Even the briefest engagement with it feeds the underground springs, the aquifer of ideas. As long as I make that daily connection with the characters, they stay alive in my mind and show up to join me, in a way, while I’m doing things like walking or running that tend to promote creative free flow.
Skill is the other reason I keep the daily commitment. Like practicing yoga daily, writing keeps my verbal skills flexible and my imagination in shape. In one of my brief writing sessions while on the road, I came up with some lines I love so much I’m afraid they may be darlings I’ll have to kill. Nonetheless, they gave me insight into a character’s thinking about relationships and intimacy, an “aha” moment inside his head.
I take breaks from individual books. I’m working on Book Seven while Book Six is being critiqued, and then I’ll get back to revisions on Book Six while Book Seven rests. The separation from each story helps me see it with fresh eyes, but so far I don’t want a break from writing.
Do you take some days or weeks off between projects or do you write daily?
A day without fiction is like a day without food, sleep or exercise. At times, I may be so busy I can only write for twenty minutes or can only devote fifteen minutes to reading a novel, but I don’t go without. This is requires no self-discipline. It’s like the desire to run that grabs me on a beautiful day or the need to get up from my desk for a yoga break.
My fiction time comes after I empty myself of the day with journaling and meditation. It takes a lot to shut down my community and planetary concerns and my ever-growing to-do list for work and then keep them shut down for the night. These thoughts aren’t unhealthy, but once I’ve talked with others and taken what action I can for the day, I need to shift gears to save my sanity. At a set time in the evening, I turn off everything but my laptop and in perfect silence, I write. Ah. The best time of the day.
There’s only eustress, not distress, in the effort of writing, even when I’m analyzing a stuck plot or revising the antagonist’s motivation again and again until it makes sense. At present I’m working on a “cut revision,” focused solely on eliminating excess verbiage. (And slaughtering darlings as I go.) It makes me happy. So does the first draft; so do the later revisions. Writing is totally absorbing in all its stages. This is what Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi calls flow. Activities that bring about flow create more happiness than those that are easier. Reading is more demanding than watching TV and is thus more likely to produce flow
I have to write at night, and then I have to read before I go to sleep. The harder the day, the more I appreciate my escape into a well-told story. While I’m in engaged-citizen mode or professor mode, I’m trying to make the world a better place, but in its own way fiction does that, too.
My fellow writers, I thank you. You’re doing your part to keep me sane.
Does anyone else depend on fiction this way? Or have I actually gone crazy?