I have whined on Twitter yesterday that I don't want Friday to be Friday, I want it to be Monday because I hate breaking from writing because I hate getting myself back into writing mode on Monday and I'd rather write without breaks. Somebody wisely pointed out that I HAVE to break to recharge, somebody else wisely pointed out that surely I am a strange weirdo who doesn't enjoy weekends? I mean, what normal person doesn't? Well, I don't. I mean, I do, and I don't at the same time. Somebody also asked why I can't write on the weekends (hence, why all the whining). But, here is the thing. If I wrote on the weekends, my family wouldn't see me at all and I would have no family, so yeah. That's why. I want to see my family, kids, dinners together, fun times, you know. But, I thought this warrants a whole blog post, because I'm one of those avid proponents of writing every day, and yet one day a week I don't write, usually on Sundays, because on Saturdays I usually write blog posts, like this one. But I do wish that I could write my novel every day, non-stop, and only take breaks between drafts. Why?
The longer the break is, the staler the story gets. It's hard to keep a story fresh in your head if you break away from it for more than a week. At least that was my experience. I know there are a lot of people out there who have full time jobs and only write on the weekends. How you guys do it, I have no idea. My hat off to you. I can't. I find that I want to be in my story, and the longer the break is, the more my brain begins to refocus on something new, something shiny, and the harder it is for me to get back into my story. Every Monday I struggle for about 1 to 2 hours just to start writing. I sit in front of my laptop and I can't make myself type anything at all. My brain is all over the place. It takes a huge mental effort to dip back into the story, from all this stuff that happened over the weekend, family things, news, laundry that needed to be done, whatever. There is an incongruity between two states, the non-creative state needed to do chores, and the creative state that allows me to be wild, to feel, to forget about things that need to be done and to dwell on things that are ethereal. It's like a memento, a relic of your past combined with that flighty thing called imagination that clicks, and BAM! you can't stop it, it wants out of you. It happens on its own, and all you have to do is type as fast as you can. It usually hits me in the middle of the week, and by Friday the skeins of my thoughts are so well lubricated, they unspool of their own accord, and I hate hate HATE breaking the flow, because I know that on Monday, when I sit down in front of my laptop again, my writing will look to me like some rigmarole, some topsy-turvy story that makes no sense, and it will make an effort again to feel it, to catch that thread and to unspool it on paper.
We can hold a single story in our minds only for a limited time. I don't know if this is the modern ADD thing or what, but think back to the last time you were able to read a book on the fly, without breaks, or only with a few breaks, and how great it felt to literally swallow it. Now think back to the time when you started reading a book, but something interrupted you, some life event (and life just loves to fucking interrupt us when we least expect it), and then remember what it felt like returning to reading it. You forgot who is who, you missed a few clues because the previous setups have completely slipped your mind, you have to leaf back and find that place to try and remember. Now, with writing a book it's worse. When you read a book, you scrape the surface of an iceberg. It shiny, it's pristine, it's got this bright polished quality to it, so the only thing to hold in your mind is the above the water part, for you as a reader. But for a writer? Oh boy. The writer has to ALSO remember about the entire thing that's underwater, all the backstories and all the characters, the plot, the subplots, the theme, the... on and on and on. Most of the time the writer meanders in the fog like some lost vagrant, but the beautiful thing is, it's from this fog that the writer snatches strands of ideas and weaves them into a story. When you take a break, you step out of that fog, and when you get back into it, you can't remember the precise place where you left off, so you're forced to shamble around in all that balderdash until you find the spot that feels right and start there. In a way, it's like you need to get back to unraveling the mess of the story exactly where you left it. I don't mean the page where you stopped, that's obvious, I mean the fabric of the story itself, the thought process, the inebriation with that certain magic that is storytelling. One way I fight it is with strict routine, but even strict routine is helpless when the break from the story is too long.
Once you're out of the story, the doubt sets in, then anxiety, then panic, then... Then you look at your story, and you go, WHY THE FUCK AM I WRITING THIS, THIS IS SO STUPID! I've been there so many times, I can't tell you. When I'm inside, I don't care what anyone thinks, I just write. But once I'm out, I start thinking about it too much, not about the story itself, but about what other people will think about it, and the more I think it, the more I want to kill it. Instead of feeling like I'm creating a piquant opus that's so delicious, the readers will never want it to end, I start seeing it as a snotrag soiled with phlegm or mucus or some other disgusting substance that's ought to be stomped into dirt, eradicated, forgotten. It's, of course, the omnipresent self-doubt of any creative, but it harkens back to when we were small. Think back to that time when you did a crayon drawing of, I don't know, a ten-headed elephant, and you were so proud, you went and you showed it to your (insert the name of the adult who didn't get it). When you were drawing it, you were so in it, you saw the ten-headed elephant, and you were absolutely and utterly convinced that an elephant like that would be green and its 10 heads would be invisible, because that's how the elephant liked it, so when you showed it to the adult, the adult said, Um, well Sally (Johnny, Mary, Bobby, Kathy, ...), good job! But this doesn't look like an elephant at all, why, it looks like a beheaded crocodile! And, PRESTO, the first seed of your self-doubt has been planted. You were so sure that that's how ten-headed elephants are supposed to look like, and suddenly you weren't so sure anymore. That's why breaking out of your story gives you the same hunger for questioning. You begin to wonder, will they get it? Will they see what I see? Am I saying it right? And on and on and on.
The discipline of writing evolves around this maxim. If you train yourself to be able to break away from your story and get back into it quickly, no matter how long or how short your breaks are, you become a professional writer. By professional I mean a writer who can write about anything, anywhere, at any time. Say, you're traveling. You should be able to write during the 15 minute wait time you have before your plane, or in the 30 minutes you have on the plane before your laptop battery dies, or in the 20 minutes you have while riding a taxi to your hotel. No matter what life throws at you, you have to keep your story alive until you're done with it. Different stories have different creation spans, from several months (Stephen King likes to stick to around 6 month, I think, he talks about it in ON WRITING), to over 10 years (Bulgakov wrote THE MASTER AND MARGARITA from 1928 to 1940), to more, to less, to anything in between. I hope I didn't cause you a fit of apoplexy here. The reason why some authors can take this long is because they believe in their work and even long breaks don't deter them. Not me. I still doubt myself very much, so for now I will stick to suffering through weekend breaks and no longer than 6 months span for finishing the entire novel.