Saturday, March 4, 2017

Breaking Ain't Bad

Scott D. Parker

Sometimes you just need a break.

For the past few years, I’ve committed my writing self to writing streaks. The first one was from late May 2013 to early February 2014, something like 256 days in a row. I had another streak—I think in 2015—where I wrote some sort of fiction every day. But here’s the little secret: not every day was good. Some days will be good—I had an 8,000-word day once!—and some days will suck horribly: a sentence of 10 words? After awhile, keeping the streak alive was more important than what I was writing. The streak became unbearable.

And, more importantly, unsustainable.

I used to think that taking a break in writing was a waste of time. Of course, I told myself, I could keep up my writing day after day. All I had to do, thought I before I embarked on these two streaks, was to swap out what I wrote.

I’ll admit that what I ended up writing was a series of novels. I likely should have thrown in some short stories to lighten the load, but I didn’t. Who knows what could have happened had I done that. Well, I wouldn’t have arrived at my new philosophy.

Starting this year, I set an ambitious writing goal. It was based partly on word count but also on more products. As I wrote in my first column of 2017, the only thing we writers can control is what we produce. I wanted to write a ton of words that formed a ton of products. But more than anything, I wanted to develop a sustainable writing production schedule.

Much to my surprise, that included breaks.

I finished my first book of 2017 on 26 January. That was a Thursday. I told myself that sustainability was key so I gave myself permission not to start the next book until 1 February. That was the following Wednesday. I had nearly a week off from writing.

And it was great. I slept in past my usual 4:30 a.m. weekday alarm, and on those mornings I didn’t, I woke, sipped some coffee, and read. It was fantastic.

February, however, is the short month. I very much wanted to complete the second book—which I started enthusiastically on 1 February—before 28 February. Why? Because I wanted that break. I loved that reward of having accomplished something and the downtime that came with it. I ended up writing over 14,000 words from 24-26 February, but I put “The End” on the Book #2 last Sunday afternoon.

And I had my break. Shorter than January, of course, but still a break. And I started a new book on 1 March.

Two books, each written in 26 days with a full-time job. Both hovering around 62,000 words (they’re westerns so they may actually be a tad long) and both took about 36 hours of actual pounding-the-keyboard writing time. All, frankly, with little major effort except last weekend’s marathon push to get Book #2 completed. (BTW, tentative title for #2: Calvin Carter and the Hell Dragon.) Now, if the pattern holds, then around the last weekend of this month, I should be done with Book #3 and I’ll have earned myself a welcome break.

Is this method sustainable? To date, yes. Is it easy? Mostly. Waking at 4:30 a.m. isn’t always fun, but getting the chance to sit and have an adventure with Calvin Carter is a blast! But I never knew just how important having a break from writing can actually be. It gave me the enthusiasm to get back to a new blank page with and write with gusto!

I’ve learned, and I will be incorporating breaks into my writing life from now on.

What about y’all? Do y’all work in breaks from writing?

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