by Robert Gray
Thou Shall Write Everyday. It’s the commandment cattle-prodded into every young writer’s brain. The advice that eventually breeds that rare species of subhuman known as the Modern American Novelist, which can be identified by their weak eyes, a forming hump, and a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome, and are often spotted lurking in chat rooms, wearing their daily and total word counts on every post like badges of honor.
Now you’re probably saying to yourself, I’m reading an article about writing, and this guy’s telling me I got a hump on my back. Well, I didn’t want to be the one to have to tell you but … No, the point I’m alluding to is that while Thou Shall Write Everyday is good advice, you also need to find a healthy balance between writing and keeping your creative well full.
What do I mean by creative well? Writers have many pet names for their inner eye, you know, that lump of brain matter that brings your subconscious to the page with vivid images. Some writers call it their muse, and it’s that. Some writers call it their creative well, and it’s that, too; however, I prefer to think of my inner eye as a well, because it reminds that it’s something that needs to be replenished.
Many writers compare writing to exercise; that is, you must write often to strengthen your skills just like you must exercise often to strengthen your muscles. I’d like to add to this by saying you also need a rest period in writing, just like you do in physical training. Without a rest period between exercises, your muscles won’t grow, and you’re apt to do damage to your muscles. Without a rest period between writing sessions, your imagination won’t grow, and you’re apt to do damage to your story.
Even that word factory Stephen King understands that writing requires a period of rest in order to flourish. In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King suggests that you should, ”Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”
Neil Gaiman takes King’s advice further by saying to good writers who have nothing to say, “Go get a job somewhere. Go around the world. Do stuff. Go get your heart broken. And then come back and write some more.”
OK, so maybe going around the world doesn’t fit your budget, but there are a number of less expensive things you can do to keep your creative well pumping out the goods. The best way to churn up that creative brain matter is through some good old cardio exercise.
Now Drop And Give Me Twenty, Maggot!
There’s a good reason why so many writers turn to exercise before they begin writing or during those periods without inspiration. By getting your blood flowing, endorphins releasing and synapses firing, you’re oxygenating your brain, which creates, among other things, creative fuel. Joyce Carol Oates wrote her novel Do With Me What You Will entirely while running. The images were so vivid during her runs that she only needed to return to her desk to transcribe the details. Stephen King, having completed nearly 500 single-spaced pages of his masterpiece The Stand, hit a serious roadblock when he couldn’t figure out how to conclude his story. He found through long walks, without so much as a book to keep him company, he was eventually able to clear the blockage.
If you think exercise is better left to the professionals, then there are other ways to help replenish your creative well. Try reading a book completely outside of your preferred genre. Resist putting on your mad scientist lab coat and goggles, and read for pure pleasure. Set up a day for just you. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. Wake up early to watch the sunrise, or stay up late to look at the stars. Visit a graveyard during a storm. The important thing is to step outside of your comfort zone, because sitting around at the same desk everyday is hardly a good way to develop creatively.
If you need to write something, but you don’t think you have anything interesting or compelling to say in your current story, try journal writing. Here you don’t have to worry about mixing up lay and lie, or worry that your modifiers are dangling. It’s no-rules writing, anything you want, and often you’ll find ideas spring up out of nowhere. And for no additional charge, you can learn a valuable lesson: you can write about any subject you want without feeling ashamed.
How much or how little you break from your writing to replenish your well is up to you. If you’ve been writing a long time, then you probably have built of a deep reserve of creativity, which can keep you going much longer than a younger writer. The amount you write also affects the amount of rest you need. If you’re working at your normal pace, then you may only need a small rest period between sessions. If you’ve been putting in an exhaustive amount of time into your writing, then you will need more time to rest.
There is no way to become a successful writer without writing, and if you already have a schedule, I’m not suggesting you change it. The hours you put into your work is what works for you, if it’s a hundred words a day or a novel-length work in a week. What is important, however, is that you constantly replenish your creative well, or else you might find yourself halfway through your novel, when suddenly you run out of gas, stranded in the wrong part of town – that urban slum known as Writer’s Block.