The Writing Life: How to Take a Day Off
Probably the biggest hurdle an aspiring writer faces is forming the habit of writing seriously, aggressively, and as productively as possible every single day. But once you’re over it, you start to build momentum, and the word count gets easier and easier to grind out. Pretty soon it’s just part of the routine.
So, with Memorial Day weekend coming up and trailers full of stressed, sweating Midwesterners streaming up and down the highways near my house, I thought I might take a look at how to break that habit once in a while. Even writers deserve a day off (but just the one, or two at the most — you’ll lose your momentum if it goes longer than that). The mechanics are easy — just don’t sit down in front of the computer/typewriter/notebook — but a well-trained mind will immediately start feeling fidgety, guilty, and in general not relaxed. So if you’re lying on your beach towel, working on your tan and running through the dialogue for the next scene you’re going to write, consider bringing out some of the big guns of relaxation…
The Idiot Box
I don’t actually own a TV myself, but I have great respect for the mind-numbing power of the soothing, flickering glow. This respect usually translates into advising writers to stay the hell away from television. On a real day off, however, your favorite addictive trash show can be the perfect antidote to thinking about the Work In Progress — DVD collections are great for this, or shows that are available instantly on the internet. Having to figure out how to work a scheduled broadcast into your life isn’t as relaxing, and doesn’t give you the choice of tuning out in front of your very favorite show ever, so why cheat yourself? Splurge on a rental if you have to, and think about nothing except how awesome your most beloved TV personalities are.
Exercise Until You Think You’re Going to Die
…or at least until you’re not thinking of much at all. This doesn’t have to be a brutal grunt-and-sweat session at the gym (although it can be, if that’s your thing); you can wear yourself out pretty thoroughly with just a day-long bike trip or even walk about town. The less intense the exercise, however, the easier it will be for your mind to wander back to the WIP, so judge your needs accordingly. If you’re obsessing, you need to go for the wind sprints, spinning, judo match with a vastly superior opponent — pick your poison, and push your limits. This particular destressor has the added benefit of being good for your body, so you get to feel doubly good, which should relax you even further! Once you’ve had a couple Ibuprofen.
Indulge Another Hobby
Remember the Best Beloved and me becoming gods of rock? We’re not there yet, but it’s some time off when I need it (and unfortunately that’s mostly what my guitar playing is limited to, so it’s not progressing all that quickly into godhood). Things that are not related to written words are pretty much the only safe ground here — reading, while it’s something that I love and think most other writers do frequently as well, is not on this list; even an old favorite will get your mind in the habitual words-on-paper groove, and that leads to thinking about The Work. Crosswords, letter-writing, and other things that I generally support as good for the writing brain fall under the same header, so aim for something very hands-on and physical, rather than creative and verbal.