The Importance of Being Idle

There are a lot of demands in writing, but there is not enough emphasis on resting.

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It’s 2018, with 2019 quickly approaching. I’m sinking beneath a wave of deadlines and demands that purge me of all my energy to write. I’ve got Imposter Syndrome and it’s playing havoc in my head.

‘Just write,’ all the writing advice blogs say. ‘One sentence at a time. That’s all you need.’

This is incorrect. I need words to build a sentence, and before that I need some semblance of what words I need. Or an idea of what it is I want to write about. I’ll be entirely honest, I had this exact issue with this essay.

How could I write an essay on writing if I—apparently an author—cannot write?

The advice is to write and to read, continuously; to be constantly digesting information to be later re-used in your fiction. Reverse engineer sentences of your favourite authors, of your least favourite. Write notes. Carry a journal. Do daily word prompts. Submit to any and every competition you can find. Submit to publishers and magazines. Process rejections. Communicate within your writer groups and with your audience on social media. Attend workshops or conventions. The list seems inexhaustive.

I won’t lie. I’ve said this before, on this very site, and failed to write something on the importance on taking a break. Surely taking a break is implied in these essays? Well, maybe, but don’t be surprised to find writers who feel like they can’t relax. This is their income, or maybe they have a fear that if they stop their manuscript will never be finished. That they’ll lay down the pen and never pick it up again—a fear I’ve had many times.

It’s all based in rational thought, but the output is often an irrational burst of energy. It results in temperamental spats with oneself, flares of anger the moment you stop to suck in air. It can lead to the aforementioned Imposter Syndrome.

A writer’s greatest tool is their mind, and like any tool it can be weakened from continued strenuous use. Sharpen the mind with knowledge, yes, but even a freshly made sword needs time to cool down before use, and they’re not used continuously. There’s a sheath for a reason.

Physical and mental health are important, and they are so intrinsic to a writer that I cannot stress it enough. Your best writing will undoubtedly be produced when you have the clearest mind, and this includes editing. Do whatever it is that you need to do to remove yourself from writing every once in a while. Sure, write, but not at the expense of your health. It isn’t worth it.

In my latest experience, I was too tired to read, to write, or to even enjoy a film. It’s gotten better since then (I’ve written this, haven’t I?), but at the time I couldn’t quite picture myself ever writing again. I couldn’t muster to enthusiasm to consider it, and so I removed myself from writing almost completely. I finished a short story somehow for my last deadline—an experience not unlike skinning bone—and slept. I didn’t look at the books on my shelf or the half-written manuscripts on my laptop, nor did I tease out single lines on Twitter. I unfollowed writing groups that I follow, and book groups too, just to quieten the noise in my head and the screams of ‘failure!’ that were haunting me.

I did other things, things that I enjoy. I went for walks and listened to music and daydreamed about something other than the stories that I want to write but always fail to. Then, one day, whilst I was staring at a map on the wall of a bar, an entire prologue and plot unravelled in my mind, word for word. Since then I’ve been upright, alert and excited.

I’m rested now. The sun has risen on my writing again and illuminated the pages I’m bound to write. While I don’t know how long this writing sun will last, I’ve learnt now that when it sets again I won’t fight it, I’ll sleep and wait for a new dawn.

Sometimes she writes. Sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to be doing.

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