The Power of Walking Away . . . and Ballerinas with Pedometers

Darker PagesLast week, I wrote about the myth of writer’s block, and my mantra for the piece was these three words:

Just. Keep. Writing.

I thought this week I ought to expand on that a bit. Since I’m not an outliner, sometimes I get to a place in the story where I have no clue exactly what’ll happen next. I won’t lie. It can be a little scary.

The thing is, as writers we are lucky to work in such a measurable medium. Do sculptors have the luxury of measuring their output by pounds of clay? Painters by square inches of canvas? Dancers by steps?

Likely not, though I’m wholly tickled by the idea of a ballerina wearing a pedometer.

So, as writers, we are spoiled by our ability to measure our continuing success. But we can’t squander this blessing. Yes, we must make our daily word counts, even when we get stuck in the story. The best approach I’ve found for these moments isn’t to stay in front of the computer and grind out the rest of my daily words. No, I find more success (and less frustration) if I have the courage to walk away.

But wait. Courage? Wouldn’t it take more courage to stay and fight it out?

Not necessarily. The courage comes from having faith in your characters and your story—and having the resolve to come back to the computer after a few minutes of down time. See, I’m a big believer in the power of the subconscious to resolve story issues. If you have a solid story and realistic characters, then your problem will be resolved and your tale will be told. It might just need to simmer a bit in your head.

Sometimes you have to (or at least I have to) walk away for a little. For me, it helps to do something mindless like wash the dishes or even taking a walk. Engaging in these mundane tasks gives my body something to do while my mind chews on the story. I’m thinking about the narrative, but in a much more relaxed way than if I were still planted in front of the laptop. Of course, there’s a fine line between taking a healthy break to mull over a plot point and simply procrastinating.

You can walk away but you have to come back. You have to be committed to writing your daily words, even if it has to happen in a couple sittings. So, maybe a better mantra is:

Just. Keep. Writing. But sometimes stop and walk in a big circle.

Yeah. Not quite as catchy, huh?

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