The Importance of Holidays, Big and Small, To Writers

Have you ever thought you just needed time off and then everything would be okay?

Your life would slow down and your 3 pages a day would easily get written? You just need time away from all of those daily drudges that suck up your spirit and your time?

This past summer (Is it past already???) I found myself writing in an empty office at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. The very kind receptionist offered me a spot with Internet and a table while I waited for my son’s meeting to end before we moved on to the next place on his agenda. I was a Mom that day, tripping around Alberta while he met presidents and vice-presidents at colleges and universities across the province, all connected to his day job.

This was supposed to be a holiday for me but I found myself working. Oh, I left my computer and my manuscript behind to simmer in the background of my home office but I took my iPad. To check email, I said to myself, but email begets contacts and contacts beget issues and issues beget replies and replies beget and beget and beget.

Writers need to write, I know, but sometimes they need a holiday. And they need to escape from the terrors of the clacking keyboard.

We people who sit typing in solitary spaces or crowded coffee houses need, every once in a while, to push the “Off” switch. We need to step away from the keyboard. Away from the periodic email notifications which every five minutes float up from the lower right of the screen in a cloudy, filmy insubstantial ephemera as though they won’t interrupt us.

But they do interrupt. And they take us out of our constructive creative moments as surely as the ring-ringing of the telephone when you’re in flagrante delicto under the sheets with your sweetie.

And we need to let our thoughts float free, driven wherever they might go by whatever brushing wind they find.

Letting go is hard. Deadlines whether self-imposed or pushed on us from outside stick themselves on our internal memo boards. And even if we step away, they don’t. Those responsibilities are still there.

Besides which, we get so interconnected with our work we’re laced up as tightly as our jogging shoes when we try to escape.

This happens to me and I’m sure you’ve experience it a time or two as well.

Research has shown that workers are more productive when they take periodic breaks. When we get up and get a glass of water and sit on the porch in the sun to drink it, our thoughts have a chance to relax, to lie on the couch, and to coalesce in imaginative new ways.

A few years ago my husband and I, pseudo do-it-yourselfers at best, decided to install crown molding in our large family room. We had a mitre saw, two brains instead of one, and lots of confidence.

It soon waned. Figuring out just how to measure and insert the wood into the saw so the angle would actually work once we got the piece up to the ceiling, well…you get the picture. It was hard. Actually darn near impossible.

The only way we could succeed was to figure out one piece, cut it, install it, and measure the next. MAYBE the next would work as well. After that we had to walk away for an hour or so. And when we came back, aha! The brain worked again. The ceiling took several days.

This, then, is how I approach all of my difficult work. Intense thinking and long, uninterrupted periods of focus, followed by time to ease off. I go for a walk. I put dinner in the crock pot, chop a few carrots, clean the bathrooms, anything physical that needs doing. When I come back, as often as not,  I am Archimedes–“Eureka!”

Have you experienced like moments when the answer or a lovely new problem-solving thought occurred after a break? Consider leaving a comment to tell about it.

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25 thoughts on “The Importance of Holidays, Big and Small, To Writers

  1. I have sometimes had to take a whole day where I don’t even turn the computer on. I find I need that longer break as much as I need shorter breaks for a nap, to read a chapter of the book I’m currently reading, to watch a few minutes of a movie, or perhaps call a friend.

    I have one more of 3 magazine articles to finish and tomorrow is my deadline. The other two plus one I submitted a few weeks ago almost wrote themselves. But this last one, after the first half, came to a standstill. I just couldn’t think of anything more to say though I knew there was much to say on the subject. I left it for a few days and still no inspiration. On Monday two of us from church took one of the young adults for counseling and deliverance in Brantford. Before we left to come home I asked the counselor a question concerning my subject. The answer he gave me was something I already knew but hadn’t connected with what I was writing. So last night I started writing again and have almost finished the article. Sometimes you just need some input from outside – even just a tiny input – to get you going again.

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    • Hope you made your deadline, Diame. sounds like you have the whole process well in hand. Sometimes I have ideas floating in my head for this blog but when it comes time to write it they just float away. I’ll look at my list and wonder what I was ever thinking. Then in the middle of the night crystal clarity seeps into my brain and I have that tiny sprout in the morning. Lovely when that happens!

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      • I did meet my deadline, Elaine. And reading Gloria’s comment “I plan to build a little getaway house for myself”, I remembered something my mother told me years ago. Evidently someone in one of my grandparent’s family (can’t remember now if it was my Grandma’ or Granddad’s parents) knew Charles Dickens slightly. He evidently had a large piano case in his yard that he turned into a little sanctuary where he did his writing when at home.

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  2. I always take the weekends off. Often don’t turn the computer on even to check e-mail. It gives me time to share with my hubby and a break for my ever-busy mind. I started doing it during NaNoWriMo last year and found I actually got more written by not being driven.

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    • Oh, I was thinking of NaNOWriMo this year but think not as I’m in a musical in November The Music Man. I’ll be in the chorus but a lot of music for an old girl to memorize! Maybe I should think of doing what you did and just do what I can. The push would be great!

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      • Good luck with The Music Man. One of my favourite musicals. But yes, if you can do any writing at all, even a bit, during NaNoWriMo, go for it.

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  3. Unfortunately, lately I seem to have ah ha moments when I’m driving along a rural country road. I have to write it down. I think maybe I need to get one of those little recorders, so I can just hit a button and say whatever is on my mind. I do understand the break thing and am pretty good about it. I learned years ago when my husband began having serious health problems to make time for what mattered. I do know some people in my life though that I hope learn how to take time to breathe one day. They are too wrapped up in work, deadlines, and attached to the cell phone as if it was a family member.

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    • We’ve done that! My husband and I seem to do our best thinking in the car so we got a recorder years ago and used it well. Of course then that list of things we wanted to do becomes a have to list. Not so much fun. I also have a moleskin book with staff lines on it that my daughter gave me for writing out music that popped into my head. Perhaps my next form will be with recording devices attached right to my body. Oh, I see some sci-fi writing in my future!

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  4. On the topic of “taking a break,” Elaine, I went on a four week (extended to six week) road trip this summer to clear my head, regain serenity. and write. Yes. Of course, I thought I would write, write, write every day. No. I didn’t write every day or even most days. I needed that break from writer me to nourish “me” me. It was a gift I don’t regret giving myself.

    On the topic of “AHA” moments, I have those all the time — anywhere. In the car, in the shower, when I’m dozing off, when I take a break, when I steam clean the bathroom floors…

    The key (for me) is the timing. Most of these happen when I’ve had recent attention focused on my WIP, but have mentally “walked away” from it. I rarely have them when my brain silently issues a “think, think, think” command.

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    • Love that nice long trip, Gloria, and I think part of the relaxation was getting away from write, write, write every day. Have you ever gone on a writing retreat, such as to Pierre Berton House in the Klondike and just wrote for a long time? I think that would have its pluses and minuses, don’t you?

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      • O-o-o-h. Off to Google Pierre Berton House in the Kondike.

        No. Wait. I plan to build a little getaway house for myself back in Pennsylvania — at the tap root of my wonky tree. [Shhhhh. Haven’t yet told The Hubster — or, saved the money — to make that reality.]

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  5. I’m conflicted about totally taking a holiday. I find that short breaks do wonders. (And yes, I too clean the bathroom between sprints!) But taking a few days off makes my writing drag. It’s like exercise for me, if I miss a day, I’m okay, but miss a few more and the exercise becomes difficult. My writing muscles need constant application or I become a turtle at the keyboard.

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  6. Elaine, thanks for this post. I have just returned from a 16 day holiday. Yes, SIXTEEN DAYS! I took my laptop but had no proper internet access – only expensive 3G link up. This was good. I checked emails and FB, I uploaded a few blog articles. Otherwise I chilled and had fun creating things for my upcoming book launch. I would never have expected to survive – but survive I did, and I have a whole lot of enthusiasm for getting back to work.

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    • Welcome, Shirl! So glad you shared with us and congratulations on your upcoming launch! You have me wondering just what ‘things’ you created for your launch. All best withes for that and your other endeavors!

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  7. Walking often allows me to drop the clutter along the way and provides breathing room for the interesting ideas to appear. I keep a digital recorder with me almost constantly to record those ideas so that I can neatly and confidently set them aside. Doing so takes them out of my mind, allowing room for more. If I can’t or don’t want to take the time to walk, I will also sometimes just get up from the computer and do a little housework, laundry, anything to break out of my doldrums.

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