“What percentage of your time should you spend thinking about writing, as opposed to the percentage of time you should spend building your word count?”
What’s your opinion on this question as a writer? Which should be greater? Writing or planning? Or is this a chicken and the egg question?
Thinking, day dreaming, reading others’ work and mentally planning are critical parts of the creative process, yet we don’t necessarily count them as productive time. Too often we let activity, goals, self-imposed deadlines and social media “shoulds” hijack our creative lives. Then our joy in writing drains away and we wonder why.
Solitude has always been a necessary part of many writer’s routines. My first introduction to the writing life came from reading “Little Women” as a child. “Her `scribbling suit’ consisted of a black woolen pinafore on which she could wipe her pen at will, and a cap of the same material, adorned with a cheerful red bow, into which she bundled her hair when the decks were cleared for action. This cap was a beacon to the inquiring eyes of her family, who during these periods kept their distance, merely popping in their heads semi-occasionally to ask, with interest, “Does genius burn, Jo?”
To be honest, I don’t welcome those sort of interruptions. When I am writing, studying or reading, I need to be left alone. Having to stop and start a train of thought irritates me. The image of a writer slaving away alone in the attic is much more me. At times, I just need to sit still and think. I am not writing, planning blog posts, Twitter promos, worrying about e-book sagas or any of that. I just need to be. That is when I get back in touch with my true creative self and from that I can produce good work. Staring at the to-do list merely robs me.
If you read the work of creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, you will discover that being alone and being able to get away from the outside world and inside yourself, produces a state of focus and concentration which induces creative flow. We need that flow. It takes the drudge work out of the process and breathes enthusiasm into us. Mihaly talks about a state of ecstasy which we can gain from creativity. To gain that, we must spend some time alone. (If you click on the red link, it will take you to a TED talks video which explores this concept more.)
Getting away from it all is not a new concept. Many world religions encourage pilgrimages and have legendary tales about going into the wilderness to grapple with their issues; then coming out refreshed, inspired and with far more to offer those around them than when they went in.
While setting word goals can be important, never underestimate the power of being inside your own mind, building your characters and experiencing your story as if you were a part of it. Fantasy, asking “what if” questions and playing with ideas are integral to the writing process.
While we need writers communities and initiatives for encouragement; plus the time to promote ourselves through social media; every so often it’s good to be reminded that we don’t have to be constantly in each other’s faces or typing, typing, typing to be achieving! So occasionally, unplug the Internet, get away from all temptations and sit, walk or run away to be by yourself for awhile. Your writing will be far better for it.
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