Monday, November 21, 2016

Down Time



There are nine days left in National Novel Writing Month, and I'm sure plenty of NaNo'ers are nearly at or already over the 50K finish line. I usually finished with a few days to spare whenever I participated. I remember one writer reporting on the forums that he'd written 50,000 words by the fifth day (which I imagine is possible if you're fast, focused and have servants.)

I'm not here today to nag you about making the most of the next nine days for writing. That would be great, but there's something else that's just as important: down time. Aka taking breaks from writing. On Thursday here in the US we have Thanksgiving, which is a very good day not to write. If you're not into turkey, big family dinners or football, November 24th is also National Sardines Day. Sardine lovers, get out there and crack open some cans and . . . eat them, I guess. Who thinks up these holidays?

Anyway, the benefits of taking a little break from writing are sometimes just as important as reaching your wordcount goals during NaNoWriMo. It holds off mental exhaustion, allows the creative batteries to recharge a bit, and gives the writer time to think about something other than how to get the surly dragon to rescue the clueless hero from the Pit of Eternal Stench. It can also lead to light bulbs appearing out of nowhere.

Here's one of mine: I rewrote a character twice trying to find the right voice on the page. This involved three chapters and god knows how many other revisions throughout the second half of my current project -- and it didn't work either time. The character still sounded and behaved like a clone of another character. I tried everything to get it right: I considered the character's unique background. I made trait lists. I even went through the affected scenes in my head and replaced the character with one of the Three Stooges (weird, I know, but sometimes it works.)

It didn't work this time, though, and I was very unhappy, so I gave myself a day off not to think about it. I sewed, and did housework, and cooked. At one point in my day I thought about what the character might be doing while I wasn't writing or thinking about the project. On a whim I imagined the character doing what I was doing at that moment -- and suddenly the character started talking to me in the right voice. At last, I had it.

I didn't rush back to my manuscript. I didn't take notes. I just let the character talk to me, and I listened for the rest of the night. I went through the scenes and let the character take charge. Together we worked out all the dialogue and action. And then I went to bed, and slept better than I had in a week, and woke up the next day to start writing the third revision. Which was the charm.

Down time from NaNoWriMo is tough, because writers have such little time already to reach their goals, so this won't work for everyone. But even if you can't spare a day, take an hour or two away from your novel whenever possible, do something else, and let things percolate. You might be surprised by how much work you can get done not writing.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:14 PM

    Good point. Usually I've reached 50K on my Nanowrimo novel by the 24th but this year my 'down time' included not pushing myself so hard. I try to never have a total no writing day during Nano as I'd be too tempted to take another one, etc. ...

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