I tend to be a very focused person. I find a project and that project consumes me. It drives me until I finish it, infuriating and inspiring me in equal parts through the process. Sometimes it leaves me so elated I feel like I’ll never touch solid ground again. Other times, I feel like it’s destroying my life.
Maybe I’m weird like that…
Right now I’m in an odd stage where I don’t feel like devoting myself to something new just yet. Not with my usual level of fervor anyway. I’m tinkering on multiple things. I’m reading again, I’m baking. I’m catching up on time with my kids and I’m even (*gasp*) watching some movies I’ve missed.
I’m taking a creative break.
But what I’m discovering is that far from turning idle, my creativity is going into overdrive. I’ve written before about output and input mode, and how it’s important to embrace both in your life. Well, I seem to have gone into input mode again, taking in stories and characters and letting them simmer into something cohesive in my thoughts. One day I’ll put those ideas to pen (one day soon, knowing me), but right now they’re still busy simmering.
It’s the difference between letting yourself dream for the fun of it and going to a sleep study to analyze your nighttime output, and I’ve come to realize how important this stage is—especially between projects. Think of it like the grape you eat between sips at a wine tasting. Taking some time to ambiently dream cleans your palate, letting you start fresh with ideas that naturally inspire you.
Before my second book, I didn’t give myself the chance. Not really. I mean, it happened anyway because of my writer’s block, but let me tell you that was a much more frustrating ordeal than the organic method. There are a couple things I’ve learned about the process.
It won’t happen until you’re ready
Finishing a project is hard. And I don’t mean the trudge from ‘once upon a time’ to ‘the end’. I mean what happens after ‘the end’. At least for me.
First comes the excitement. Then the fear. Then the denial (no no no it’s all wrong! I need to start again from the beginning). Then rage (What do you mean the first agent I sent it to wasn’t interested?! What the hell do they know anyway?). Then, slowly, acceptance.
Let yourself take this time. Don’t force yourself out of a project until you’re ready. Even once you’ve written ‘the end’, there are a plethora of short stories you can write and world development you can do. You know all those character interactions you really wanted to write but didn’t want to slow down your pacing with? Write them! Write them for you because you’re in love with your characters and you’re not ready to be done with them yet. Enjoy them, spend some quality time with them, and when you’re ready (and you will be), move on to your next inspiration.
Take Time for Yourself
It’s easy to become utterly lost in your world. It creeps into every aspect of your life. This is intoxicating, but on another level can be harmful if you don’t take some time every now and then to climb back out. Reconnect with family who you’ve likely spent less time focusing on than you should. They love you and they understand! You bring worlds to life and live in many dimensions at once. That’s just who you are and they’re okay with that. But take this chance to give them something back.
You have other hobbies as well, so do them! Bake a cake. Go to the beach. Go to the movies. Play a bloody video game ‘cuz they’re fun and can inspire as much creativity as anything else around you. Go camping. Do what you like doing, without the spectres of your characters hanging over your head waiting for their turn to keep moving. (You’re really just going to leave me here rotting in this cell while you go traipsing through the woods? I thought you loved me!).
As an author, or even just a creative person, your thoughts will always run away with you. Watch them and enjoy the show. Even though you might feel like you’re stalling, all you’re doing is letting the sauce simmer. When it comes time to put pen to paper once more—which likely won’t take long, if you’re giving yourself a proper break—you’ll be shocked by how many ideas you already have, and how many character relationships you’ve already developed, without writing a word.
Like anything else, mental focus is draining—even when you love it. For a while it will leave you refreshed and inspired, but there comes a point for everyone where they need to let their mind rest. Some people can go longer than others and need less recuperation. Others need more. And that’s okay.
But don’t be afraid to take the time you need to keep yourself sharp and loving your craft. You’ll be a happier person and a better writer. And your homemade bread is delicious, after all.