I haven’t posted anything on here for a couple of weeks – so I thought now might be a good opportunity to talk about writers’ productivity, and the importance of taking a break.
We live in a capitalist society. It’s a society that’s largely focussed on production: on making things (physical or digital) that can have a monetary value. It’s a system that’s been coming under a lot of scrutiny recently, for environmental reasons.
But this isn’t a post about that. It’s about how it translates to creativity – although maybe the two aren’t all that disconnected.
WRITING: THE NEED TO BE PRODUCTIVE:
As anyone who’s written a book can tell you: you need to be productive. There are far more people with ideas for books, than there are people who’ve actually written them. Like anything, it’s about putting the work in. You need to sit down and produce the words – otherwise you’re just daydreaming, and the book will never materialise.
WHAT IS WRITERS’ BLOCK (AND HOW DO I CURE IT)?
And let’s be honest, most books contain a lot of words. Whether you treat it as a 9-5 job, or cram the writing in to any spare moment between other parts of life, the need for productivity remains.
Think of it like farming a field. If you don’t get up early to plow and sow and reap, then the field is going to remain barren. (Actually, it’s probably going to become a wild meadow, which is great in terms of the environment, but in terms of the book analogy, doesn’t really work, because it’s all jumbled up and uncurated. It’s the equivalent of those packs of fridge magnets with words on them.)
WRITING: THE NEED TO BE UNPRODUCTIVE:
But if you’re farming a field, then you need to think about all kinds of other factors – things like weather and seasons and soil quality.
(Is this metaphor breaking down yet?)
If you keep planting the same field year on year, then you’re going to diminish the soil quality. The crop will gradually leach the nutrients from the ground, and what you’ll be left with will be an inferior ground from which to grow your crop.
In agricultural terms, I guess we’d call this soil depletion. In writing terms, we’d call it creative burnout.
In other words, if you never take a break, you run the risk of draining your creative resources and exhausting those parts of your brain, till what you produce is either thin and straggly and unnourishing, or just non-existent.
BUT A CHANGE IS AS GOOD AS A REST?
Sometimes, though, we can bypass resting altogether. I write both fiction and poetry. Sometimes, when I need a break from one, I find it helpful to switch to the other.
In my slightly crumbly metaphor, this is the same as crop rotation: switching up the fields so they’re producing different crops each year, and therefore have different demands on their soil. But even with crop rotation, there’s a fallow year sooner or later. The need to take a break is written into the land.
SO WHAT DOES TAKING A BREAK LOOK LIKE?
This can be different for each writer, and different at different stages of writing. A literal holiday is, of course, a tried and tested method. Going somewhere sunny for a couple of weeks and drinking daiquiris. But there’s also something to be said for replenishing the nutrients in the soil. Taking some time to read (and read for pleasure, not just for work); to go on walks; to do research that may or may not lead to anything; to think.
For me, at the moment, taking a break looks a lot like this. A bit of reading. A bit of soaking up the sun in the garden (whenever the sporadic summer allows). And a bit (but only a little bit) of writing.