I don’t write non fiction with the same literary flourishes, or cheeky-chappyness, that Ink does so this post is going to be a liiiiidle bit different.
There's a nice li'l para under the blog name that says The Alchemy of Writing is a home for three friends who’ve never met. I’m one of those three guys. The quiet one, I guess, as I haven't posted for a while.
Mabe a year.
Okay, so I’d like to broach the subject of breaks in writing. Not the ‘oops, didn’t find time today’ variety, but proper ‘omg, this is driving me nuts!’ writing breakdowns.
The highs and lows of this 'hobby' are so extreme that it can be more like a turbulent love affair: there's amazing nights of little sleep complete with eyes-lidded goofy smiles as the sun comes up, there’s fond caresses (at the keyboard!), real ‘in the zone’ moments, great celebrations of ‘Boo-yakka!’ proportions, and wistful dreamy thoughts while going about everyday life.
Love always comes first, huh? I bet everyone who reads this would rather have a beautiful novel in print than win the lottery. Yes? But this burning passion can have a dark side: insecurity, jealousy, self doubt, petulance, mind games, and exasperation can be regular features of a love like this.
What about when it gets too much?
Do lovers really need a holiday?
When is it okay, if ever, to storm away from writing, slam the door, prize your pen from trembling fingers, hurl it across the room, and drown out the soft clinks of it skimming across the floor with screams of, “I’m leaving you!”
And does writing ever come back, cap-in-hand, and make grovelling apologies for whatever misdemeanour got it into your bad books (f-nak!) in the first place?
I remember reading a forum post by a guy who felt trapped. He’d undergone a lot of authorial improvement, seen the quality of his prose improve, seen his talent getting nice ‘n’ honed. But he felt pressured to keep writing in the belief that any break would cause his ability to immediately start dissolving. So he was running ahead of this dissolving talent thing like a Pamplona runner ahead of bulls. And he’d worked up a feverish sweat! He was such a good writer, pouring his emotion onto the (virtual) page, that his emotional state was unmistakeable: just a few sharp breaths away from screaming!
Most of the responses to his post included variations of this phrase: ‘When the fun goes out of writing, take a break.’
Is that sound advice?
Counter to ‘when the fun goes out, stop doing it’ there’s another phrase: ‘The true test of any vocation is love of the drudgery involved.’
In one of my ‘how to write’ books the author said there were days when he felt fully eager to write, while on other occasions he’d rather drink bleach. He advised keep going, even when it feels awful, just keep writing. He also said that he noticed no difference in the quality of his work between enthusiastic days, and lousy days.
And this is the thing: writing does include drudgery, and some of the psychological obstacles aren’t exactly small. The highs are fantastic, but some of the chores... crikey.
So... keep at it when it’s challenging Vs. when the fun stops, walk away.
Where do we draw the line? And if we step over that line, what awaits on the other side?
I think there are two main fears when it comes to taking a break: 1) that ability will deteriorate, and 2) that not-writing will become a permanent habit.
I’ve just taken a year off, and I don’t think either of those fears has a sound basis. Well, they have as much basis as any other fear I suppose, but I don’t think walking away from writing will produce either of those results. Unless... unless... uless you’re really not a writer.
While I rate practice and keeping your ‘eye in’ and such, I don’t think writing ability can ever deteriorate to inept levels, no matter how long a writer leaves the hard drive festering.
And I think it’s purely the case that a writer will always return. As long as there’s a draw, a passion, even if the passions go dark and wild, if they turn to outright resistance or any other thing that can lead to tantrums and sulking, I think it’s fine to act on those passions.
The intimacy of true love is only attained through supreme self honesty, and I think that’s the nub here - if the original love is inside someone, indeed if the very resistance is borne of the passion to write, then the desire to walk away is the voice of emotional reason.
Crikey, after all that I think I’m saying, ‘Listen to your heart.’
Probably with a little, 'Things'll work themselves out' added in.
And a dash of 'If it's meant, it'll happen.'