Why Taking Breaks Can Be Good For Writers

Today’s post is inspired by the all-too-familiar phrase, “If you don’t write every day, you’re not a real writer.”

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Would we ever tell a teacher, “If you don’t teach every day, you’re not a real teacher.”?Would we tell this kind of thing to a lawyer? A doctor? A cook? A janitor? Take your pick of any profession out there. Which fits into the “If you don’t do X every every, you’re not a real X?

If we truly believe that to be a “real” something, then why don’t we make everyone work seven days a week? Why don’t we tell them they must work 365 days a year, except in the case of leap year. In that case, it’s 366.

Do you see how absurd this sounds? Why is it writers are held to this standard? There’s no reasonable explanation for it.

Here’s the truth: a real writer is one who writes.

Writing is the only thing a writer must do to be a real writer. It doesn’t matter how often they write. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow they write. It doesn’t matter if they write by daily word counts or by a certain number of scenes or chapters that day. It doesn’t matter if they write only one book at a time or work on multiple books at the same time. It doesn’t matter if they write first thing in the morning, in the afternoon, or in the evening. It doesn’t matter if they write in 15 minute chunks at a time or if they reserve two hours of nonstop writing at the keyboard. (Now, it might benefit a writer to step away from the computer to avoid eye strain, something I deal with, or to avoid hurting your wrist or back. But that has nothing to do with whether or not you’re a real writer.)

You know what does matter?

The quality of the story.

I realize this isn’t popular thinking. We’re led to believe that if we take days off or go on vacations (while leaving all writing behind), we’re lazy. Because if we truly loved writing–if it was our real passion–we would have to do it every single day. I’ve read the “write every day” advice in blog posts and books. I’ve seen it in videos and heard it in podcasts. It seems to be everywhere. I’m not saying that every single writer says this. But a lot do. And quite frankly, I’m sick of hearing it.

I think it’s time to change the mindset on this one. Breaks are good for the health and wellbeing of the writer. They allow the creative mind a chance to simmer over what’s going on in the story. They offer us a chance to spend time with friends and family. They offer us a chance to pursue something else that will help us grow as individuals. They give us freedom to be a more well-rounded person. And I think they will actually make us better writers.

I used to think that if I took the weekends off, I would lose momentum in writing. My daily word count goal is 3,000 words. I used to think, “I’ll lose 6,000 words if I don’t write on Saturday and Sunday.” But something funny happened. I noticed my daily word count went from an average of 3,000 words to about 1,500 when I pushed myself to write every day. No matter how hard I tried, I kept getting blocked because I hit a point in the story where I didn’t know what to do next. So I had to force myself to stop and give myself time to get the creativity flowing again. You know what happened? When I came back to the story, the ideas returned. The words came a lot easier. And I think I ended up telling a better story because I could see the characters moving around and hear what they were saying as if I was watching a movie. My average word count on days I wrote went from 1,5000 to 3,000 again. I’m able to get more done on writing days again. I owe that all to the breaks.

Breaks are great. Breaks allow writers to work smarter, not harder. I think breaks help buffer writers from burnout. I understand you’ll often make more money if you publish more often, but sooner or later, you’ll only be able to publish so much. We’re not robots.

We’re human beings. Human beings need rest. All writing every single day is going to get you is the sensation that you’re a hamster in a wheel that just spins around and around. It depletes you of your energy, and it takes time away from other things that are also important. Yes, writing is important, but it’s NOT the only thing that’s important. Next time someone tries to make you feel like you’re not a real writer because you don’t write every day, politely smile and leave them to their hamster wheel. Just because they want to run around in it, it doesn’t mean you have to.

Saying Good-Bye

         We all have those years we want to put behind us, and this year is one of those for me.

It began with a series of deaths starting with my sister-in-law; my husband’s brother (who was married to the sister-in-law mentioned above); to the death of a colleague reporter I worked with years ago and ended with the cancer death of a woman who did a lot for Special Olympics.

She left behind a husband and two adult daughters – one has Down Syndrome. I remember this mother opening up her home to serve supper for the special education students before they went to the high school prom. My youngest autistic son so enjoyed this. I recall that night and Andrew’s excitement, exclaiming how beautiful the girls looked in their Cinderella gowns.

However, the good-byes do not end there. Another shoe dropped. My writing partner and wonderful and dear friend is moving far away. We have done so much together, not only writing but also other things together. I will miss her so much, such as going to Spaghetti Works and her ordering peppers and mushrooms to add to her spaghetti sauce.

Life brings changes and writing does the same, such as learning how to write a fiction novel by attending a writers critique group. I also learned a lot from writing conferences, editing and promotional techniques as well as what a writer’s life really involves.

After attending my first conference, I was shocked to find out when an author receives an “advance” from a publishing house if that book does not sell out that “advanced” money, the author must return the sum for those not sold. Is that not sad?

I thought once your book was out there you were on easy street. You are not. In my mind, I pictured authors sitting at their desks typing out their stories and sipping their cups of coffees. I also never thought they had to promote their own work. I believed someone else did that and in some cases that still can happen. However, in today’s world, most authors can say bye, bye to that one.

Several years ago my first book, Seasons of the Soul, was released. I had a book signing at the local library. I envisioned lines around the library waiting for them to buy my book. I had a good book signing, but it sure did not measure up to what I had predicted.

I also had several book signings at Barnes and Noble, and the customer service representative was anxious to have me return time after time. She let me stay as long as I wanted. However, those days are gone because when my historical romance, Lockets and Lanterns, was released in 2010 she actually asked me to leave after a few hours. Why the difference? The e-book revolution took its toll on Barnes and Noble’s profits. Thus again, life serves up a lot of good-byes.

I will miss my dear friend. She, though, needs to go where God leads her family, and we still will converse by phone, e-mail, write anthologies together and attend conferences. However, it will never be the same. So enjoy your time with others for nothing lasts forever and let go and let God do the rest. He will sustain you (if you believe in Him) through these good-byes.

Remember I may say good-bye to this post, but another, God willing, will appear next month. And, as always, I will end with a God bless.

Does Writing More Really Improve Your Writing? Guest Post by Terry Compton

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photo by Joleene Naylor

I see this advice tossed around on a lot of blogs.  Write more and improve your craft.  But does it really work?  I think it does up to a point.  For me at any rate, writing more makes it easier to write.  Getting ideas from my head to computer file does come easier but…

Just because it is easier to get your words into a file doesn’t always mean that they are better.  If you are striving to improve, your storytelling will advance.  Scene timing will get better but I’m not sure how much writing you would have to do to reach a professional level.

What is the answer then?  How about getting help?  Your editor is one step.  They can help find repeat words.  For instance, for me, some days certain words get used a lot.  A good editor will catch these and suggest you find an alternative.

One good source I found to improve my writing is the local authors’ group.  Our group here, Authors of the Flathead, has a wide spectrum of talent and experience.  One of the members gives a lecture once a month.  He wrote as a screen writer for Hollywood for years.  His credits include McGiver, Airwolf and several other top TV series.  His hints about character development, world building, etc. have been invaluable in my improvement.

Another is a published author from the Authors of the Flathead who pointed out the use of ‘was’.  At open readings, he used a red pen to circle that word on my pages.  He also noted phrases used over and over.  When he handed my first selections back, they looked pretty bloody.  But, going back and correcting his red circles made each story a little more vivid.  Concentrating on not using ‘was’ forced my writing to pace a little faster and descriptions to become brighter.  The story flowed better.

Other speakers pointed out point of view.  Think of it as a camera focused by the character.  If you jump to another character’s point of view, hand the camera to them.  Do something to let the reader know the camera has been handed off.

The authors’ group also offered a critique group.  This group helped with show, don’t tell.  They also pointed out when I would tell what would happen and then go ahead a sentence or two later to show it.

Can you run into problems with an organization like this?  Yes, I had one person who focused on minutiae.  I read one story at an open reading about the travails of a small town mayor faced by government bureaucrats of the EPA.  The EPA was going to levy a large fine.  The person wanted lots of details about the government agency and the exact amount of the fine.  The story didn’t need either one.  The reader can discern that EPA means ‘big government’ and a large fine will vary from person to person.  To some $100 would be large and to others $10,000 would be.

If you run into someone like that, you have to ignore them or switch groups.  If everyone in the group finds the same problem with your writing, is it time to change?  Using their suggestions did help improve my writing.

The biggest key is finding someone with real life writing experience.  Those writers I chose to listen to had years of experience and had all sold screen plays, magazine articles or books.  All of these types of writers had something to help me.  The ones who wanted to discuss minutiae were still working on their first great novel and wanted my writing to fit their ideal.  Most ideas have a kernel of help for your writing but you don’t have to accept them all.

I have found that writing some short stories helped, too.  I could try different techniques and genres without spending weeks on a project.  Some stretched my ability while others just helped polish my storytelling.

My conclusion, yes, writing more does help but it really zooms into the stratosphere if you get quality, experienced critiques and editing.  Avail yourself of opportunities to expand your knowledge and experience.  Keep writing.  Sometimes a little idea will bring big results and turn on the light bulb in your head.  Then each new project becomes a little more professional and enjoyable to read.  Does this mean that my writing is perfect now?  No, but even my editors and critiques agree with me that my stories are improving with each one.

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Terry Compton author of Sci-Fi, fantasy, westerns, political satire and other stories that don’t really have a genre but fit in several.

http://www.terrysbooks.com/

What Readers want….Are you sure?

Not sure why, but there seems to be this idea that readers want a certain type of book. That if a writer pulls away from the pack to write the story they have passion for, that it will be hated and not sell. I’m going to throw down the bullshite flag on this. It’s a myth. A writing myth. (Of which there seems to be a bushel full.)

Once upon time, when the only way to be published (yeah, I know there is more to that story) was go through a publisher, writers were forced to follow certain rules for the type of books that were acceptable by the publishers. As with anything, this grew into a fact of life that is mere mythology now.

If you are reading this blog then you are either self-published or you think of it. Self-publishers don’t have to follow this rule of the industry. They aren’t publishing for anyone else besides themselves, and possibly readers. This doesn’t mean you can’t follow the rules of storytelling, or have it edited for typos. You want to put out the best book that you can.

What you can do it experiment. You can try out new ideas. You can mix genres. You can write the strangest story ever.

There are readers out there for every type of book. Trust me, if you write the book and market it to the audience who wants it, it will sell. It might not sell like blockbusters, but it will sell and you will be happier for it.