Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Power of Doing Nothing

I finished Faye with a smear of mixed emotions and underwhelming ennui. After a sprint that lasted ten months rather than the predicted two, I was numb. The book ballooned beyond control to over 850 pages—a length no editor wants in a debut and a length that far exceeded what was necessary for the story. I'd self-indulged in plot paths and ill-fated decisions regarding point of view and character exploration. Ahead of me was a massive edit and rewrite, if I could muster the energy.

Meanwhile, two other stories, both seeming infinitely more interesting and marketable, build in the back of my mind, spilling over to cover the hallway-length whiteboard and splatter the walls on colorful sticky notes.

I looked at it all and I felt a great desire to do everything. I wanted to get the novel of Faye edited down to something worthy of a critique. I wanted to blast through the short story I've been toying with. I wanted to jump to the next novel and not look back. Instead, I laid down on the front room floor and watched the fan move in lazy circles above me.

Thinking of Stephen King's advice in On Writing, I finally decided to pursue the short story first, like a pallet refresher for my muse. I began halfhearted research and plot development. I spent a lot of time on the couch, "thinking," with my eyes closed.

I was saved by happenstance from my own spiraling burnout. My husband had a week of vacation to use, and having the freedom in my work schedule, I took the break with him. I didn't write. I didn't plot. I didn't edit.

It was heaven. Guilt-free, I ignored my office and the whiteboard. I let my muse rest. I slept in, took naps, and (gasp!) went outside. I had sorbet and cupcakes and grouper cooked to perfection. I read three books. I watched movies and TV shows. I played Call of Duty: Black Ops and Lego: Indiana Jones. I played with my cats. I rearranged the front room.

Yesterday, I came back to work and writing refreshed. Surprisingly, during that carefree week, when I wasn't really thinking about it and without setting any goals, I still managed to work on my short story the same amount of time I would have had I not taken the week off, just at different times of day. Given the freedom to not write, not research, not plot actually freed my creativity to do just that.

I often forget, now that I have a job I love and get to write as much as I do, that I still need vacations. They're no longer the escape to recoup my sanity, but a break in routine to refresh. From my new perspective, editing Faye sounds worthwhile, plotting this short story is exciting, and the ideas that keep building for the next novel are a constant, guiding inspiration.

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