So…I broke one of the 10 Commandments for Taking a Break.
Actually, I broke two, if you really want to split hairs about it, okay?
Not only did I talk about my work (way beyond answering “What do you do?” – this person was already acquainted with what I do), but I also thought about work because, hello, you can’t really talk about it without thinking about it.
That’s right, writers. I sinned big time.
HOWEVER, by doing so, I also received what is probably the best piece of writing advice I’ve ever gotten.
Picture it: Labor Day Weekend, September 2011. I’m sitting around with a bunch of musically inclined friends, listening mostly to original tunes as a couple of them were still riding high on the show they’d played earlier that night, when one of the guitarists (we’ll call him “Chuck”) turned to me and asked how work was going.
Did I have any new projects? Any interesting irons in the fire?
“Oh, you know, same ol’, same ol’. Some Web copy here, a press release there,” I skimmed. “I don’t want to bore you!”
(See? I tried to stay faithful to the Commandments!)
Apparently, though, my vague answers about my writing projects did more to make him think than make him forget (I should’ve seen in coming, though; writers, musicians, artists – we creative types are fairly good at reading one another) and about an hour later he sat his guitar aside and turned to me.
“Are you happy with your work?” he asked.
“Yes. Yeah, yeah, of course. I mean, I love what I do. I love that I make my living doing what I’m passionate about,” I replied.
He stared at me. In earnest.
“I mean, I’d love to have more time for creative writing, you know,” I rambled on. “It’s tough for a lot of working writers, I think. We spend all day writing for someone else, and then when the evening or weekend rolls around, sometimes we just want to take a break, you know? Not write.”
I knew Chuck could relate. After all, he was working on his Master’s in Music Education, taught music lessons, played live shows on the weekends, spends time promoting his current album, and is working on material for his upcoming record. Surely he’d commiserate, right?
Yet, he just stared at me for a few more seconds, nodded, and went back to playing his guitar.
I felt like an idiot, but hoped that since the alcohol was flowing as freely as the music, he’d forget the entire exchange.
I wasn’t so lucky.
Maybe 30 minutes after that, Chuck turned to me again. I smiled the smile I smile when I know what’s coming and that I deserve it.
“So, how often do you work on your own writing? Stuff for yourself, for publication?” he asked.
“Not as often as I’d like,” I admitted. “Every now and then my muse will poke me and I’ll pilfer around in my novel’s chapters. Sometimes I’ll use a writing contest or two to force myself to do some creative writing unrelated to work. But, other than that…I guess I’ve just been shutting it down at the end of the day.
“So, basically, work’s going well but your own writing is suffering because you’re too tired to make time for it?”
“Well…yeah.” I knew how horrible is sounded.
“Are you happy with that?” he pressed.
Chuck leaned forward just a bit, so I leaned forward, too, and he shared with me the best advice for writers I’ve ever received:
“Sounds to me like you just need to suck it up.”
And there it was. I roared a knee-slapping, foot-stomping, roaring laughter and nodded at Chuck with all the energy I had in me. Had it been a Sunday morning I might’ve raised my hands to the sky.
“Just plant your ass back in front of that computer after dinner and write.” Chuck smiled before he turned back to his guitar.
Isn’t that the simplest answer for those of us working writers who spend all day providing words for others only to find ourselves too tired or unwilling to dedicate another hour or so at night to our own words?
Suck it up and write?
Sure, it might not be as easy in practice as it is in theory, but there are ways around everything. Charge a spouse with watching the kids for an hour or two. Choose one or two nights a week when you know you’ll have uninterrupted free time. Turn your phone off.
There are always options.
What kinds of tips for writers have YOU picked up along the way? Are you writing a book and had a veteran author offer novel writing advice? Are you more into poetry and talked with other poets about how to write poem full of imagery and emotion? Maybe a teacher or college professor has given you writing help that’s lasted through the years
Well, don’t be stingy with it: Share that writing advice with the rest of us!