There’s nothing like the common cold to help with perspective. When I perused my new novel pages written pre- and post-illness, I found something surprising. Post-illness–they were (at least from a line-edit standpoint) relatively flawless. But pre-illness, when my brain was tired and stretched to its maximum capacity–it was like Forrest Gump wrote my pages.
This got me thinking. As writers, we are constantly encouraged to keep our butts in those seats and write often as humanly possible. And for the most part, this is correct.
But there is a breaking point. Things constantly pick at our brain every day–work, job, kids, family, traffic, government shutdowns, lions, tigers, bears, oh my. The Internet (and Facebook) are particularly good at this. Each thing takes a piece and doesn’t give back. So by the end of the day, your brain is only running on about 15% capacity–because the other 85% got left behind with all the other stuff.
This post from Kathleen McCleary on Writer Unboxed says it best, and epitomizes the importance of taking long breaks. She had to take three months off from writing before inspiration struck again. Even when she was asked to produce another book right away.
*Gasps* I hear from some of you. “Missed opportunities,” you whisper. I know. Because it wasn’t all that long ago that I would have said exactly the same thing.
But not chasing after every little thing doesn’t equate to lost opportunity. In reality, it’s the opposite. Constantly running around is what really breeds those missed chances–because you’re so worn out and so ragged that you can’t function enough to capitalize on the opportunities that do come your way.
So, relax. Conserve that brain energy. Take that break, especially if your mind and body urge you to. Rest. Play. Live. Experience. Nothing will fall apart. Nothing will blow up. Odds are, things will be all right, as this song from the Barenaked Ladies states so well:
Sure things go wrong, but I’ll take my chances
Odds are long, so why not play?
(full lyrics are found here)
I've burned out so many times doing this while writing my novel! I have to come up with ways to trick my brain into relaxing– like scheduling fun-only weekends and setting ridiculously low daily word-count goals. Hang in there and good luck!