I’ve been working on a new novel (if you’ve been wondering why my recent posts have been shorter, that’s the reason). It’s my third attempt at a novel, and hopefully I’ll be happy enough with the results to seek publication. Writing 5-6 days/week is difficult, but also extremely rewarding.
So here’s my realization. It had been a couple years since I stopped working on most recent novel before this one, an alternative-biology mystery. I wrote it without an outline or ending in mind (big mistake for a mystery!), and the end result was filled with plot holes and continuity errors. It’s probably fixable, but after a couple rewrites I decided I was better off taking a short break and starting a new novel project (this time with a proper outline).
Well, that short break stretched into two-and-a-half-years. Which is about the same amount of time between my first attempt at a novel (an adventure story that tried to cram every idea I’d ever had into it; after finishing it I realized I had better just start a blog to give myself a proper firehose outlet). And I had the same stupid idea too — give myself a “short break” before starting the next project.
So I figured out why that doesn’t work.
I got out of shape.
The brain is plastic. Skills are plastic. Once, when I started to develop a bone spur on my right clavicle from too much right-handed mouse work, I switched to using my left hand for mousing. Within a week my spoken and written vocabulary took a sudden leap. The increased stimulus to my right brain caused a notable expansion in the number of words I used in daily speech and writing. Words that I knew, but didn’t commonly use, were suddenly sliding off my tongue (or keyboard) with ease.
My point is that the brain changes in response to stimulus, quickly and radically.
When I started this new novel, the first few weeks were like pulling teeth. My brain hurt. I did not meet my quota on most days. I wanted to give up frequently.
Then, things began to get easier. The process of inhabiting the perspective and emotions of my characters got easier. Plot ideas flowed. Writing dialogue and descriptive passages felt less like work and more like play.
I was getting in shape.
So when, the other day, I thought to myself “After I finish this novel, I’ll take a short break and work on something else for awhile,” another part of my mind said “Nope.”
Don’t stop. Don’t take a break. You’ll get out of shape again. Just keep writing every day, and stay in shape. Sometimes you have to put a particular project aside for awhile to gain perspective, but if you stop the activity itself, you’ll get rusty.
So that’s what I’ve decided to do. If it’s something I value, I’m going to work on it every day, or almost every day. Writing fiction, producing music, blogging, I’m in. (And there’s no chance of my database skills getting too rusty; that’s what is paying the bills so I’ll keep working as long as my clients keep calling.)
And if I stop something, I’m not going to kid myself and say I’m “taking a break.” No more ins-and-outs. I let go of DJ’ing and it felt good, I was never fully committed to it or passionate about the craft, it was simply an opportunity that came along that I jumped on for a few years. It’s OK to let go of activities and let them be a part of your past, especially if you have new activities that comprise your new identity.
So here’s to staying in shape and doing it every day.
What have you taken a “short break” from that turned into a long break and getting flabby and slow (metaphorically or literally)? Are you ready to recommit? Or let go and do something else?