Why Walk Away From Your Writing?

Finding My Muse in Montego Bay.

Sometimes the only way you can make progress as a writer is to walk away from it.

Like many authors, I’ve joked about tying myself to my office chair in order to finish a story. After all, like my dear father tried to drum into my head while I was growing up, perseverance is essential to the completion of any project. Isn’t it?

Well … yes.

However, sometimes the determination to never leave your chair can hinder your progress.

The reason for that conundrum lies in how ideas come about.

When you’re stuck in the middle of a manuscript, looking for inspiration, remember the two essential elements for receiving a “light bulb” moment.

1. You Need to Have Done the Work
Your mind needs to have been immersed in the subject, so all the relevant details are already spinning around in your head, and;

2. You Need to Have Walked Away
Relaxing your mind and moving your focus elsewhere allows these swirling possibilities to gradually crystallize into an idea.

Think back to some of your best ideas. Did they happen:

    * While you were in the shower?
    * During a walk?
    * Dozing in church?
    * On your way to work?
    * Just before bed?

What Do These Situations Have in Common?
For one thing, you’re not in front of your computer staring at a blank page. They’re moments when your mind was distracted by other things.

Meanwhile, in your subconscious, elements you may never have consciously associated with one another coalesce to form the solution to your problem.

Naturally, you can’t spend all your time wandering about the house or standing in the shower, hoping every element of your story will magically appear in your head.

So when should you walk away from your writing and when should you stay? Try this handy checklist:

Our fear of the blank page often stops us from writing, even if the words are ready to come. Freewriting, or stream-of-consciousness writing, forces you to get words out just to get your flow started. The key is not to get caught up in perfectionism. Try literally forcing the words out, even if they’re rubbish.

Stay On Track
Sometimes a writing block is caused by an earlier wrong turn we’ve taken … perhaps a spot where we forced a character to do or say something that just didn’t fit. Read back over your manuscript to see if there was a point where your prose became labored. If you find it, try starting fresh from that point.

Character Profiling
If the words aren’t coming easily, perhaps it’s because the world of your story, or the characters who inhabit that world, are not yet well defined. Instead of trying to add to your word count, spend your writing session trying to better describe your world or interviewing a character.

Limit the Time You Stare at a Blank Page
Past a certain point, perhaps 30 minutes, simply gluing your butt to the chair just doesn’t cut it anymore. If you’ve been doing all of the above and you’re still no further along, trust me, you’re ready to walk away.

How Long Should You Leave?
Sometimes a few minutes will provide enough release to bring the rush of ideas. You might be surprised how quickly the words return.

If that doesn’t work, you may need to leave your writing for more than that … even for a day or two. I did just that, thanks to a generous invitation from my son and his family to join them in Jamaica for a week.

You may remember I’ve talked about my REICHOLD STREET sequel being stalled now for more than a month. My “thousand words a day” mantra had become hopelessly bogged down. Ideas just wouldn’t come. I tried stimulating my brain with every hackneyed piece of writing advice I’d ever heard.

Nothing worked.

So, when that generous invitation came from my son, I walked away from my writing. I even did the unthinkable: I left my laptop at home in Michigan (the craving only lasted about a day).

Great Advice
One of the surprises, at least for me, of finishing my first novel was discovering just how many of the most hackneyed pieces of writing advice actually turn out to be true.

For example: nearly every author interview will include some reference to how important it is to just sit down in the chair … meaning, the best way to get writing done is simply to sit down and get it done (Hemingway famously said “There’s nothing to writing … you simply sit down at the typewriter and bleed.”)

And then there’s the best piece of writing advice I’ve actually ever received (even better than Anton Chekov’s “Show, don’t tell”). You’ve probably heard it before:

Write the book you want to read.

I know what you’re thinking … of course, that makes sense, but why bring it up? Because it’s easy to confuse this advice with a very similar, and very bad, piece of advice: Write the book you want to write.

Here’s the Important Distinction:
The book you want to write is the book that, in your fantasies, you’re autographing at your overcrowded book signings and seeing projected across the back of the stage when you win every literary prize available. That’s the book you want to write.

The book you want to read, by contrast, is the book you’d curl up with if you knew you’d be spending time in, say, some tropical island somewhere … like Jamaica. It’s the book you can lose yourself in … then stash on the shelf, dog-eared and half-destroyed, only to pull out every year to read all over again. That’s the book you want to read.

And the latter is really the book you should be striving to write. Write to entertain. Forget the awards. If your book is worthy, they’ll come. But I’d much rather have a host of happy readers.

I walked away from my writing … completely … for more than a week. Now that I’m home again, I’m delighted to also be writing again. Another 6,000 words. Good ones … all of them keepers … in the last five days.

I found the muse again by walking away, and when I’m done with One Way Street, I know it will be a book I, and hopefully others, will want to read.

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7 Responses to “Why Walk Away From Your Writing?”

  1. Sheepdog Mentality and The Unimportance of Inspiration | Larry Crane Says:

    […] Why Walk Away From Your Writing?      Getting to Writing Again […]


  2. kaitlyndeann Says:

    Reblogged this on Kaitlyn Deann and commented:
    Ron really hits the nail on the head with this post. Go check it out, writers! Also, have a great April Fools Day!


  3. Jeff Bushman Says:

    Thanks for the tips! I don’t know that I’ve progressed to being stuck because I usually just give up on the story altogether. Except for this new one. I read an article one day and I got a bad case of the what ifs. I just started writing and so far so good. It is just in the beginning stages but for what it’s worth I am really enjoying it. It is that book that I want to read and that is what makes it so much fun. Even I don’t know where it’s going and that is half the fun albeit sometimes frustrating as I am so anxious to get to the end and see what happens and I’m the one writing the story! LOL
    I have the first couple pages of each chapter posted to my blog if your interested. Sorta like mini-trailers for the story. I probably won’t post much more to the blog because it gets a bit distracting for me. They are scattered throughout the last few months. 6 in total.

    Thanks again for all the tips you post!
    -Jeff Bushman


    • Ron Herron Says:

      Jeff –
      Read some of your stuff. I like it. Keep it up and you’re going to have one hell of a story!

      By the way, if you’re enjoying it, half the battle is won. 😉

      I have a retired senior friend who said he had fun every day while he was working. I told him if he had fun every day, he didn’t “work” a day in his life.

      Keep going, my friend.


  4. Ron Herron Says:

    Jeri –
    I’ve used Scrivener, but the way I write … rapid and chaotic, letting my characters tell me where the storyline is going (often changing where I thought it was headed) … doesn’t seem to work well in its structure. I’m sure it’s just me.

    Thanks for the comment. I appreciate them all. How’s “Lost Girl Road” coming?


  5. Jeri Walker-Bickett (@JeriWB) Says:

    I recently switched to Scrivener to revise the third draft of my novel. It’s really intuitive and I know I will end up liking it better than Word for working with long documents.


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