We’ve all heard that time-old advice. Write every single day. It sounds good in theory. If you write every day, you’re guaranteed to finish your manuscripts in timely fashion. If you write every day, you’ll improve your skills as a writer every day. “Write every day!” sounds like the perfect advice to give writers, but it isn’t. It’s actually pretty awful advice.
The problem with writing every day is that it’s just not doable. Sure, you can write every day for a long stretch of time, but what about that week vacation you planned in a few months? I doubt you’ll want to be working on your vacation from work. What about those times when a friend shows up at your door for an impromptu visit or the kids all come down with a bout of the flu at the same time or the family pet escapes the house and you end up having to spend hours or even days looking for them? My point is that life gets in the way of writing and if you don’t live your life, you’ll have no material to write about. I used to panic when my friends made plans with me, especially if those plans involved overnight stays somewhere. I was worried about when I would find the time to write and how many words I’d need to write the day I came back in order to make up for the days I wasn’t home. All that worrying about how behind I was going to be stopped me from enjoying the time I have now with the people I care about. I can write when I get home but I can’t get back that valuable time with my friends. It’s irreplaceable. Besides, I always return with new ideas after getting out of the house and experiencing life for a while.
This may not be true for everyone but for me, nothing burns me out and dries up my creativity more than forcing myself to write every day. I would describe my writing process as a series of waves. There’s the initial huge wave of overflowing inspiration and passion for what I do. When those waves hit, I want to do nothing but write and read and daydream, then write and read and daydream some more. I can ride this wave for months at a time and it shows when I’m on one of those waves. I tear through books on Goodreads like a gluttonous toddler gorging on candy. Scrivener can hardly keep up with how fast my fingers are flying across my keyboard. My notebooks are filled with feverish scribbles and inspired ramblings that bleed into the margins for lack of space. It’s a wonderful, productive period of time. The problem? Working in an inspired fever like that for an extended period of time wears me out. Eventually, I crash. Hard. It’s like I left my screen on maximum brightness with two hundred apps running in the background and now my batteries are drained.
When the wave dies, there’s just still water. I float listlessly in it in a state of exhausted apathy. I want to do nothing but indulge in mindless activities like video games and Netflix binges. The idea wellspring has dried up and my creative juices are running on empty. These periods can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months as well. I used to get down on myself when I hit the dead water of creative exhaustion. It used to make me feel like I wasn’t a real writer or a serious writer or a good writer. To combat it, I would force myself to write anyway but all that did was make me resent my work and want to do it even less, which would make me feel even worse about my abilities as a writer and the vicious cycle would repeat itself. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered this “dead period” was just as much a part of the writing process as those glorious months of constant inspiration. I wasn’t giving up on my dream or being lazy. I was just recharging my batteries.
This realisation hit me while I was binge-watching a television series on Netflix. I found myself thinking “Oh that’s a good storyline. I could use that idea somewhere,” and “What intriguing character development. I wonder if I could incorporate something similar into my book.” I was absorbing new ideas during my down time. In other words, I was gathering inspiration again in the everyday activities I do for fun that I previously thought were mindless. As it turns out, I was subconsciously seeking out other forms of inspiration and storing up ideas to ride that next big wave.
Of course, it’s all too easy to fall out of the habit of writing regularly and just stop completely. How do I avoid the temptation to just watch Netflix and play video games for the rest of my life instead of going back to work? This is where I think of a quote by Elizabeth Reyes:
“I write because I must. It’s not a choice or a pastime, it’s an unyielding calling and my passion.”
Sure, making money from my writing is a pretty good motivator. Everyone likes to eat and be able to buy nice things, but it’s something bigger than that. I always know when I’m recharged and ready to go back to work because something inside me wakes up again and roars. It’s when I wake up in the middle of the night with shaking hands and a story screaming to be told. It’s when I scramble out of bed at 3:30am on a weeknight to grab the closest writing device I can reach because I have this urgent feeling that if I don’t write something down right that minute, I will lose my mind. It’s when I start feeling like I have a growing itch inside me that can only be scratched by telling stories. It’s when the imaginary people inside my head scream so loud that they drown everything else out and the only way to silence them is to write down what they want to say.
When I feel like I’m burning up inside with untold tales that are slowly driving me mad, that’s when I know I need to hop onto that wave and ride it until my batteries need another recharge.
I must. I have no choice. If I don’t, I’ll die.
Copyright © 2017 A.A. Frias