Breaks are a necessary part of life. For the professional fiction writer, they might be even more necessary. I suppose it all depends on how you define “break.”
I have more than enough days when I don’t write any fiction. There are days when life intervenes with chores that have stacked up or shopping trips to the next town over or minor emergencies. You know, like coating the roof of the camping trailer because a major storm is supposed to move in tomorrow.
Or doctor appointments that entail more than you initially thought they would.
Or waiting for a repairman to show up.
Things like that.
And there are days when my buddy and I want to go camping. Or when my wife and I just want to get away, take a drive to visit a child and their children or drive back to visit a hometown. Or… or… or. You get the idea.
But the necessary breaks I referred to in the title are a little different. They aren’t necessary because they will get you away from the writing, but because they will bolster it.
Over the past few years, I’ve had several of those. I’ve watched and listened to over two dozen genre-specific and non-genre specific online workshops and lectures. All of those were delivered by Dean Wesley Smith and/or his wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Never heard of them? Dean is the successful long-term USA Today best-selling writer who has around 200 novels well over 1000 short stories in print around the world.
Kris also is a successful long-term writer. I have no idea how many books and short stories she has in print, but I know it numbers well into the hundreds. She is also the only writer ever to win the same major award as both a writer and an editor.
Over the past few years I’ve also read dozens of mysteries, thrillers, westerns and psychological suspense (think Horror, but no slash and gash).
Some of those were on my Kindle e-reader, some were paperbacks, and some were hardbacks. I read each one for pleasure as long as the writer held my attention. When one blew me out of my chair, I read it again to learn how the author did that. And wow, did I learn a lot.
And finally, over the past few years I’ve cheated a little, mixing time off for the sake of time off with time off for learning.
When I go camping, I study the cliff faces and the arroyos and the river itself if there’s a river nearby. I imagine where I would establish gun emplacement (M-60 or M-2 machine guns) to defend the approach to the area.
I “see” the good guy in an on-the-spot story attacking (or escaping) through trees or down the river or along a cliff face.
I “see” the bad guys going about their business as the attack is imminent or pursuing their attacker as he makes good his escape.
On drives, when I see bales of hay or stray rolled or baled in a field, I think of the stones in a cemetery or odd buildings on another planet or any of a dozen other ways to describe bales of hay or straw.
When my bare arms feel cool in a breeze, did the breeze “wash” over my skin or “waft” over it? What scents were on the air (there are always scents)? What distant sounds come through that I might not notice if I weren’t focused on listening?
I’ve slipped/slid down shale-covered hills in sneakers and leather-soled boots. I’ve smelled cacti and other plants in the desert up close when it hasn’t rained for months, and during a rain, and after a rain. Touched the skin of a fish-hook barrel cactus, touched a petal from a bloom on the same thing, peered deeply into a dandelion ball.
I’ve experimented with my senses. I know how things look, smell, taste, feel and sound to an old retired Marine. How would those same things look, smell, taste, feel and sound to a character, male or female, who doesn’t have an area of shared experience with me?
When you write, it’s as important to understand the motivations of the bad guys as it is to understand the motivations of your hero. Jack Higgins is great at this, as are Ian Fleming and most other successful long-term fiction writers. The reader doesn’t have to side with the bad guy, but it’s important that he or she understands the bad guy’s point of view.
And that’s just one of several reasons it’s necessary to take a break—a necessary break—from your writing from time to time. You have to keep learning, keep expanding your realizations, keep exploring your understanding.
My intention when I got up this morning (as I write this blog post back in February) was to start writing a new novel. When I do, it will be my 29th. By the time you read this in mid-April, I hope to be working on the 3oth or 31st.
But around mid-morning, I decided today will be a necessary break. Which means I’m going to read a novel. This one is The Doomsday Key by James Rollins, in paperback. Before I was 20 pages in, I was glad it’s a 540-page novel. I want it to last that long because it’s just that good.
Maybe if I take enough of these necessary breaks another reader down the line will be saying the same about my own books.
‘Til next time, happy writing!
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