Saturday, October 15, 2011

Give me a Break: Recess is Not Procrastination

My third and fourth graders have an incredible arsenal of work avoidance tactics. Finding a pencil. Sharpening a pencil. Getting a drink of water. Going to the bathroom. Not having the paper, book or other supply they need. Finding the perfect place to sit. Setting up a screen to block out distractions. Taking the long way back to their desk and visiting friends en route. Helping a buddy in need. Working on another assignment first.

Sound familiar? Writers are just as good at these tactics. We call it procrastination. And sometimes that's exactly what it is. But sometimes, a break is necessary. Sometimes, the brain returns refreshed and renewed. We humans are not designed to work nonstop 8 hours a day.

As a writer, I'm terrified that if I take a break from a piece, I might never finish it. If I deviate from my routine, I might never get back to it. It takes courage to trust myself enough to step away and take a breather. When I do, I often have a breakthrough. I come back with a new perspective. I can see the value in the things I thought were hopeless crap. I can let go of unnecessary scenes to which I clung for old times' sake. Structural solutions that had been mired in the swamp reveal themselves with absolute clarity.

I took two years away from my current project. I actually never intended to come back to it. I finished a second project and started a third one. Then, I needed a break from that third one and found myself looking back at this piece, THE SPARROW'S SECRET HEART. I saw it with new eyes and realized I didn't want to let it go and that I could, in fact, fix what I thought was unfixable.

Everybody needs recess. Even writers. Sleep in. Work on a different story. Read a new kind of book. Go for a walk. Work out. Spend time with a friend or loved one. Go to a movie. Take a nap. Step away from the work for 10 minutes, an afternoon, a day, even a week. You may be surprised at what you find when you return.

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