“As I’m a writer who always has multiple projects (read: deadlines) on the go, I’m also a writer who needs to refill the well regularly. Unfortunately, I’m also a writer who doesn’t always remember to refill the well.
That’s okay. My body and brain remind me, quite forcibly, when I get past the point of needing a grease and oil change, so to speak. I’ll get very tired; I’ll develop a low-level cold or a high-level headache; I’ll sit at the computer and try to write but nothing will come out, at least nothing good. Eventually (hopefully sooner rather than later) I realise I’ve reached the Buffy Summers “Fire bad, tree pretty” stage of writing – I’ve got nothing left, the creative gears are grinding against each other and producing nothing but nasty creaking sounds.
That’s generally my Ah ha! moment.
The temptation with deadlines, even for someone who’s methodical and organised in their delivery of projects, is to let them overwhelm you – to start to think that they are more important than your well-being. By all means, take them seriously, be a writer editors can rely on, but also remember to take care of yourself. Writing is a skill and a talent and a gift like any other. It needs to be exercised in order to be honed and kept sharp – but overuse will blunt it.
So, when I realise there’s a creaking sound coming from my brain – or even sometimes when I’m especially self-aware and smart* – I will stop. I will grab a book from the TBR pile and take to the couch. I will go outside and sit in the park for a while. I will watch a bad movie, sometimes a good one. I will binge-watch a series on Netflix, sometimes documentaries because they seed ideas into your brain while you’re not really paying attention (it’s kind of cheating when you’re meant to be resting). I bake something – it’s invariably a failure which fills my significant other with dread and results in me being banned from the kitchen for a while, but it does its job of taking my mind off the empty well. I go out and talk to people, catch up with friends, eat donuts. I read and critique other people’s work because although it’s still a creative and writing-related endeavour, it’s not my writing and I don’t have the same investment in it – and it has the added advantage of teaching me new techniques, reminding me of mistakes to avoid, and giving me the joy of seeing something new and amazing created by a friend.
All of these things help replenish the creative well of my brain.
At the moment, I’m in a weird place. Not physically – I’m at the KSP Writers Centre in Perth and it’s decidedly delightful, not weird at all – but in terms of writerly things. I’m not at home. I’m far away. I’m the Established Writer-in-Residence – and yes, it does need to be a capitalised title, like Queen Angela First of Her Name – and I have a very long list of things I need to do before the end of August. Several of these are end-of-project tasks – sending off corrections to a new collection, finalising and sending off the manuscript for another collection, writing three short stories in time for a deadline, critiquing work for several other people, starting the edits on Corpselight, and beginning the plotting on Restoration.
That’s a lot of things – a lot of deadlines. The upside of being at KSP is that there’s a distinct lack of distractions, so I’ve been able to put my head down and power through the to-do list. While I’m here I’ll also be teaching and mentoring, talking a fair bit. When I go home at the end of two weeks, I’ll most definitely need to refill the well.
I’ll need to feed myself on the things that make me think, that make me look at life differently, that make me tell myself stories, the things that give me joy in my chosen profession, that fire my imagination. Writers are not, in spite of what we might wish, cornucopias; we’re not cups or horns of plenty, we don’t remain eternally full and rich. We run down, we run out, we get tired. We need to recognise and accept this fact – there’s no reward for running yourself into the ground – and plan for those times when we’re exhausted. Have a think about it: what refills your creative well? Then do those things.
Nota bene: doesn’t happen that often.”
Angela’s novel Vigil launches soon. Early reviews tell me this book is one not to be missed!