More on Allowing Yourself Not to Write

Last week, Kelly McCullough and Diana Pharaoh Francis reminded us eloquently that sometimes the tragedies and difficulties we face in life can get in the way of our creativity.  For today’s post, I thought it might be helpful to point out that there is no shortage of mundane interruptions that can have the same effect.  Life can be brilliant and lovely; it can be capricious and cruel.  And it can also be unbelievably annoying and utterly absurd.

Sick kids, vacation days, snow days (I grew up in the North, but I live in the South, where snow is still a frighteningly exotic occurrence; we once had a snow day called because snow was forecast.  It didn’t end up snowing, but the kids got a day off); power outages, problems with the heat, the plumbing, the washer and dryer, the refrigerator (I’m lucky enough to write full-time, and to have a spouse who earns the bulk of the household income, which means that I drop work to keep the house running when things go wrong); preparations for birthday parties, sleepovers, visits from family and friends, trips that we might be taking, etc.  I remember a couple of winters ago, my younger daughter had snow days every week for five or six consecutive weeks.  Seriously.  In that span, she also had the MLK Jr. and Presidents’ Day holidays.  And then my older daughter caught pneumonia and was sick for two weeks (I’m not making this up.) and finally got healthy two days before her school’s winter break.  Which ended right before my younger daughter’s week-long spring break.  I don’t think I wrote anything that entire winter.  I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture.

As I said, I write full-time.  I have enormous respect, bordering on awe, for those in my profession who juggle two jobs — their daytime employment and their writing careers.  If I had to fit that in with everything else I mentioned above, I’d never get anything written.  And then there are those dedicated souls who haven’t yet made their first sale, but still make time each day before or after work, or in between household crises, to get their 1,000 words written.  My admiration for them is beyond measure.

The fact is, writing is hard work.  Life is filled with unexpected setbacks large and small.  The demands of fulfilling professional and familial obligations, of doing those extra things we do each day to lift the burden of a friend or bring a smile to a child’s face, of simply taking care of ourselves and our loved ones so that we get three square meals and seven or eight hours of sleep while living in a reasonably clean home — all of that can be overwhelming.  Add to it the desire to write, to produce something that will satisfy our creative ambitions and entertain others, and you’ve got a recipe for insanity.

My point is this:  Every writer here at SFNovelists will tell you that the best way to improve your craft and increase your chances of being published, is to write.  Write regularly, write as often as possible.  But every one of us will also tell you that sometimes you can’t do it.  Even though writing is my primary professional responsibility, sometimes I can’t do it either.  We all need to time to do other stuff, to grieve, to get healthy, to get others healthy, or, maybe, just to goof off for a day or a week.  Being able to write good stories is a gift, something to be treasured.  Writing should be fun, it should bring joy.  And that means that sometimes writing should be the last priority.

We always say to write as often and as much as you can.  Well, now I’m joining Kelly and Diana in saying something else:  Give yourself permission not to write at all.  Sometimes we need to do other stuff.  That’s okay.  The writing will be there when the other crap goes away.  And you’ll have more stuff to write about.

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  1. 1. LJCohen

    David–you could have written this post for me today. And I thank you for it. In the midst of one of those ‘perfect storm’ times in a life, which culminated in a flooded basement last weekend, with more rain on the way today and tomorrow. Oh, and an emergency appendectomy to spice things up a few weeks before that. . . and. . . and. . .

    You get the picture.

    I am working hard to *not* beat myself up about the writing, while the universe has taken my attention to other things.

    I know the words and the stories will be there and I know all about focus and dedication to the craft. Still, it’s hard not to feel like some kind of loser for not being able to put words on a page.

  2. 2. David B. Coe

    Lisa, first off, I hope that the flooding ends soon, and that you (or your loved one) came through the surgery in good shape. I beat myself up about not writing all the time — I need to take my own advice to heart. I’ve had a series of colds/respiratory infections this winter that I haven’t been able to shake entirely. I’d probably be better off resting for a few days and not working. But I have a deadline looming and I cant make myself take the time off.

    We all struggle with this. I absolutely get down on myself when I don’t write. But there really are more important things in life than work — Family, friends, health, love, laughter…. I could go on.

    Hope the universe gives you a break sometime soon!

  3. 3. John Rea-Hedrick

    David,

    Sometimes I can go days without even those short little snatches of writing time during lunch while at my day job or on the weekends between any number of activities in a home with four children under 13. Not that I would trade any of it, of course. :)

    Thanks again for the encouragement!

  4. 4. NewGuyDave

    David,
    I find that sometimes a short break is what makes me most productive. I usually take Sundays off, though not always. On those Mondays after a Sunday break, my writing is usual crisp and fluid, the words arrive less struggle, and they often need less revisions.

    I’ve often wondered if my quality and productivity would be better if I didn’t write Mon-Sat and instead wrote Mon-Wed and Fri-Sat with breaks on Thursday and Sunday. I know they’ve experimented with a mid-week break in Japan as a way of improving employee productivity (and cutting costs), but I’m not sure how it would work for a new writer who has a long way to go to reach their 1,000,000 words of crap.

    Maybe I’ll experiment with that and let you know how it goes.

    Cheers,
    Dave

  5. 5. David B. Coe

    Dave, I usually take most of Sat and Sun off. I have too much other stuff to do — family, house stuff, etc. — to work all the time. Writing for me is a job, a job I love, to be sure, but a job nevertheless. I need my weekends for me. So yeah, taking time off is an excellent idea.

  6. 6. David B. Coe

    Hi John. Sorry — your comment posted after Dave’s for some reason. Yes, there are those the times when it’s just impossible to fit it all in. And kids should take precedence. Characters stay just as they are while you’re away doing other things. But kids grow up way, way too fast….

  7. 7. Kelly McCullough

    Very wise, David. It’s important to remember the normal impediment as well as the extraordinary ones. Especially since successful writing and good mood is such a one-to-one correlation for most of us.

  8. 8. David B. Coe

    Thanks, Kelly. It’s true: I write more efficiently and more effectively when on an even keel. That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes channel emotional pain and stress into my creativity, but I need a bit of distance before I can do it.

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Author Information

David B. Coe

David B. Coe (http://www.DavidBCoe.com) is the Crawford award-winning author of the LonTobyn Chronicle, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and a number of short stories. Writing as D.B. Jackson (http://www.dbjackson-author.com), he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a blend of urban fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. David is also part of the Magical Words group blog (http://magicalwords.net), and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. In 2010 he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Visit site.

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