Never Put Off Until Tomorrow…

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.

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26 comments on “Never Put Off Until Tomorrow…

    • Some authors claim they do their best mind-wandering in the shower. Even I have the occasional shower on my schedule, but other says, it’s like there’s no room to breathe, much less daydream.

  1. Oh, yes, my mind wanders and always has, whether I want it to or not. My everyday doesn’t call for much creativity, however. And no matter how creative, discipline is required to get ideas out of one’s head and somewhere they can be used. Moreover, a certain amount of skill, practice and talent are requisites for the production of the idea. I am in awe of what I see done, not so much for the idea, but the ability to make something out of it.

    • My mind-wandering time isn’t just about the books, I find. It’s about whether to change insurance companies, whether to accept another book contract, how I want to re-arrange my work space, and that speech I’m giving in April. We all have questions to ponder, even if we don’t have books to write.
      And I have to take a little issue with “the ability to make something of it.” That’s not good enough. There are many well crafted, solid, conventional books out there showing a lot of hard work and follow through.
      They don’t get my attention nearly so well as the ones that have the craft and apply it to a unique idea. Widgets aren’t good enough, as far as I’m concerned, but very few of us are given permission to hold up on the widget production long enough to carve a swan instead.
      We need both–a work ethic, and time to develop art.

  2. I need two twenty minute blocks of time TO MYSELF to get anything accomplished, and I do mean ANYTHING, every day. I need 20 minutes (30 is better) with a cup of black coffee and my newspaper (the physical one you can wrap fish in)in the morning. I need 20 minutes to take a shower, put on some lotions and potions guaranteed to stave off aging, and get dressed. It doesn’t matter which comes first most days, as long as I get them. Woe to those who prevent me from either!

    The most important is the shower and lotions and getting dressed–I CAN manage without the newspaper but I NEED the coffee, even if it’s on the run.

    Both swatches of time give me time to ponder the day, what I need to do or what is scheduled to happen. I get ideas for my weekly blog staring out the kitchen window, watching the birds. I catch up with current events and most days, I try to make the newspaper the first I hear of whatever is happening in the world. I get the updated stuff after I fire up the ol’ laptop soon after but the paper gets me going.

    I did get time to let my mind wander as a kid and young adult when I commuted via public transportation–there’s nothing like sitting on a bus, staring out a window!

    • I think safe, affordable public transportation ought to be a national priority–but that’s just me.
      My sister used to get up an hour early before the morning pandemonium because that was the only time she could find to stare out the window. It meant giving up much needed sleep, but like you, she found everything and everybody suffered if she didn’t get some screen saver time.
      I think in days of yore we had an abundance of that time, but now…? Minesweeper and Snapchat and and and… We’re becoming illiterate in a way I can’t describe.

  3. I’ve got pausing and dreaming during the day off to a fine art.I used to set myself targets for the day when I retired and usually ended up over not achieving set target.I then made myself miserable,what is the point of that I would say to myself.So gradually I let the planning become more random and relaxed.I am content to let it roll out and see what it brings.More difficult for you Grace being a very prolific writer.All your fans eager for your next book.But we all need to visit Dreamland and float about imagining now and again.
    Lady of honour made this week very special,thank you.Oh how love those brothers!!.Winter for me is a long dreary gloomy season that has the ability to drag me down but a good book and a cup of tea and dreams helps.Also the brave yellow daffodils trying to stand tall in the very strong winds we are having at the moment..

    • I do find I get more reading done during the cold, dark months, but I have always felt a sense of glee about going up to bed at the end of the day to tuck in with a book. Right now I’m reading Joanna Bourne’s very first published work, “Her Ladyship’s Companion,” and it is delightful (set on the Cornish coast, complete with raging storms and incomprehensible dialect).
      Here’s to the daffodils blooming like crazy!

  4. I let my mind drift before I made a tough call out or resolve a complicated issue. I might take a walk down the stairs to get water or work on a crossword puzzle. I need to anticipate questions, issues and pushback during the call but, I need to clear my head to focus on the call itself.

    I love to brush my dogs…some people might think it’s boring or a rote task, I find it relaxing. I can focus on the task and connect with my dog. Sometimes, I need a dog to pat when I come home from work…I can take a time time out and relax.

    I think everyone needs to take a break whether it’s a trip to Europe, someplace warm or to your front porch.

    Have a great week.

    • I really miss the companionship of a dog. They are such generous, friendly spirits. I love my cats, but few of them have the companionability that dogs are just born with. Horses are somewhere in between, though they are ever so hug-gable.
      I will be very relieved when you can retire and be the dog lady, and I suspect your pups are looking forward to that day too!

  5. One of the best things about retirement that I love is that lazy
    Joy of sitting on the porch, enjoying the sounds and sights of the outdoors. Or I mix up bread dough and the whole time I’m thinking about a story I’ve finished and I go off in a happy hazy. It’s amazing how your own heart can still and you can be happy.

  6. I have noticed that sometimes what is needed is not to put your mind in drive, but to set it in neutral and let it wander. Some of my breakthroughs in my job have come when I have walked away for a few minutes and stopped mentally chewing on whatever is the current issue.

    I hope your weather improves and you can make your barn trips again. Good for both you and your horse.

  7. I have to have down time regularly or I am not productive at all, I have a low threshold for burnout. I definitely get more done immediately after breaks as well. When I have to power through without time for myself, I am miserable and an absolute trial to be around. For the most effective break, I need something soothing in a sensory way; a cup of tea, a walk in the sunshine, listening to or reading a book, staring at nature, a leisurely meal etc.

  8. So many the digital detox books lately have been talking about that same point. That we need time when we’re not doing anything. No podcast, no phone, no (gasp) book. Just us and our thoughts. I’m becoming more intentional about making that happen in little blocks throughout the day. It’s a challenge, though!

  9. Sometimes, my mind wanders too much…actually, that should probably say “my mind wonders too much”. Usually, it wonders if any of these new aches or pains means the cancer is back. I shouldn’t dwell on it, I know. After all, today is the 4 year anniversary of my last chemo, I’ve been doing well, and my odds improve with every anniversary I pass, but still, it happens.

  10. Hi Grace, I agree, space is absolutely necessary, as is filling the tank from doing completely different things!

    btw, the link to Amazon from the Lady Sophie page goes to the wrong book by a different author, though the one from the “all buy links” is working just fine.

  11. Work days I really don’t have down time, but at home I meander through my chores so I have thinking (and singing and even dancing) time. I miss the childhood days of wandering the neighborhood and finding fun places to plop down with a book.

  12. Love the down time, I value it more and more since my kids are in activities and our lives are a little hectic. Some of the most productive time for me is just sitting and thinking or just being for a bit.

  13. I had a lot of time to wander as a kid; I was an only child. I think that freedom helped foster a lot of creativity.

    As a teacher, I have a lot of my best lesson plan ideas when I’m not trying.

  14. When I was writing, I’d often have to take days off to let my subconscious catch up with my conscious mind and show me the way forward. I couldn’t understand this until I sat in an RWA workshop that described how other writers also used this way of writing. I never could do the long, detailed character charts nor was I a “panster”, but if I had a problem with plot or character, often a day off would see the problem solved, especially if I had slept on it.

  15. Now that I am retired have many times during the day when my mind wanders and down time is wonderful. I also have more time to read, looking forward to your next book.

  16. Lately I’ve taken to writing scene by scene. I’m also taking walks. All by my lonesome and loving that when I come back to sit down I’ve either had that ‘ah-ha’ moment I’ve needed or am very close to it. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in the ‘write that same scene from a different POV’ camp. My down-times have ranged from days, to weeks, to GOOD LORD months…all of them offering a different shift in tone and perspective that I’m hoping editing will pull together. 🙂

  17. Re-reading your post made me remember standing at the sink washing dishes at night and looking out the window. I saw all manner of insects attracted to the light, and lizards and small frogs (probably after the insects). Frogs and lizards have lovely little feet. Unfocused time can also be time to appreciate the small details.

  18. As a mom of three young kids I feel like there is very little time or opportunity to mind-wander. There is this need for me to always stay on task and be on top of everything in the household. The truth of the matter is, it’s my children who would remind me (unintentionally) to mind-wander, whether it’s pulling me aside from the middle of meal preparation to look at an interesting bug, to see a silly dance move, or simply to laugh and just be in the present with them.