Where I live, winter still has some teeth. Nothing like the winters we got twenty years ago, with two feet of snow at once, single-digit days, and more snow on top of the snow already on the ground. Instead we get mud, rain, freezing rain, ice, wind, and more mud. This is not exactly good horseback riding weather.
So my trips to the barn lately have been fewer, and I’ve noticed that this has put a stutter in my writing. I get a good scene done most days, but those three-scene days have gone on hiatus. Then I recalled why I resumed the riding lessons in the first place.
I needed the drive to the barn and back. It’s about an hour each way, most of it on back roads, all of it very familiar. The distance is great enough that I get to mind-wandering as I tootle along. Yes, I wrote an OK meet scene, but there’s no contradictory emotion suggested by the subtext. What’s going on there? Why isn’t anything going on there? Stephen Wentworth, I’m looking at YOU.
Once I’m at the barn, if it’s not pouring down rain, I try to hand-graze Darling Pony for at least fifteen minutes. This is No Time At All according to Santiago, but to just stand there watching a horse chew grass… I get to mind-wandering again: Maybe I should write that meet in the heroine’s point of view, not the hero’s. How would that change things? Go away, Stephen, I am not talking to you now. I said, Go Away….
In short, I need to set aside my creative effort from time to time, to make myself wait, watch, and cogitate. On occasion, when I blitz through a book, the result is exactly as I’d wish it to be (Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish was written in about 40 Messiah-soaked days (and nights)). But for most books, periodic pauses, breaks, days off, even weeks off, help surface the better story line and the more credible character motivations.
The usual name for this process, putting off until tomorrow what could be written today, is procrastination. There’s little respect for it in a productivity-driven culture. The early bird catches the worm! Early to bed and early to rise! The harder I work, the luckier I get! Nobody ever says: Go ride your horse if you want to write better books. Try not to go past 2500 words a day… And the data is, people who nosh and pause, think, and re-think, and tortoise along often aren’t particularly productive.
But they are creative. The result of tortoise-ing, backtracking, and driving to the barn is more insight, more original thinking, more seeing with fresh eyes, and that might not make for the most books, but it makes for better books. I will thus leave the worms to all those early birds, while I have another chat with Lord Stephen.
Does your day give you time to mind-wander? Did you have this as a kid? Could you benefit from more pauses and down times? To one commenter, I’ll send a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card.