You Really Should Take it Slow While Recovering
Organizing your Creative Life in Thirteen Weeks -- week 12
One of the things that’s hardest to remember is that you don’t get over illness like switching a light off.
At least it’s one of the hardest things to remember for me. And it’s really hard to remember – or to believe – for any writer how… physically demanding writing can be.
I remember a time, when the kids were still very small, and I was writing a military fantasy novel. It involved a series of battles. I’d spend the morning writing and afterwards I’d be exhausted and so hungry that the only thing I could do was call for pizza. And I don’t like pizza. But there simply was no way I could cook after – as it felt – spending the morning slogging through hip-deep mud, and crossing ravines on suspended ropes.
Of course, in real life I hadn’t been doing any of that, but my body seemed to think I had. And the funny thing is I never gained weight from all those pizzas.
Perhaps there is something to research which seems to indicate that imagining something in extreme detail has the same effect on the muscles. (And yes, I’ve tried to convince myself I can just imagine walking three miles a day, particularly in the middle of winter when imagining it is less likely to give me hypothermia. Unfortunately imagining something with that kind of detail means almost living through it… which pretty much means writing it. And writing a walk of three miles a day might get a little tedious for the reader.)
Time after time, when I’m mentoring writers, I come across this effect. The first time they have a breakthrough in writing action, and write a big fight scene or dangerous slog through the wilderness, they are surprised at how tired it makes them. I tell them it’s perfectly normal.
But I forget it is perfectly normal when it comes to my being able to write for long periods of time, or in a very focused way when I’m just recovering from illness.
Whenever my main symptoms are over I think “I’m all right now, and I need to get back to work.”
My problem this week was not being able to do a full penguin at a time.
All right, that might sound a little funny if you haven’t been following this series of posts, so let me explain: I’ve been working through the Pomodoro technique, using this little penguin timer. (I found him, by the way. I’d somehow wedged him on a bookcase. He looked rather lost.)
The normal stretch is twenty five minutes of work, then five minutes off, with a twenty minute break every four sets. I take longer on the long break, because I use it to walk three miles, and it takes me about an hour. I also make it flexible, because I walk whenever I can convince one of my sons to walk with me.
This week I had to work only about a twelve minute set before I took a break. I simply didn’t have enough strength to pull from.
That said, and before it sounds like the week was a total failure, I did get quite a bit done. Mostly what I got done was realizing what had gone wrong with Through Fire – in case you wonder why I haven’t reported its completion.
One of my fans who is also a writer, talking about what it felt like to write a novel and how you’re not in full control of it, but often the things that escape your control end up objectively better than you could have consciously made them, called the process “Being G-d’s sock puppet.”
I’m not going to claim that I write by divine command, or that my works are divinely inspired, but when writing is working properly, almost every writer I know refers to it as channeling something bigger than himself, and writing the novel as it needs to be written. As it "is" already, somewhere.
It is as though the novel exists somewhere, already, as a fully completed work, and all the writer is doing is setting it down in tangible form. I think this is a process analogous to what sculptors describe as “removing the extra bits of rock to reveal the sculpture.”
Most writers when they hit the right voice and flow for a novel feel like the instrument, receiving transmissions form somewhere.
Well, what I’ve done so far on Through Fire felt like the transmission was ever so slightly out of kilter. This is akin to listening to the radio with the knob (shuddup youngsters. In my day radios had tuning knobs) just slightly to the side of where it should be. You get the music, but you also get a lot of background “fry” and static.
I started fixing that in the first chapter, and suddenly realized the book was wrong from about the middle on. Which means I’ll have to rewrite it, as well as polish the first half.
However, the polishing I did in the first half of this week, still felt slightly off center, like I couldn’t focus clearly enough.
So, it was a week of mixed blessings. While I’m much better than last week, and I actually got some work done, most of the work I did was in realizing and finding out things, and not in the laying down of words.
The laying down of words, which requires concentration and being well enough to do things, only started yesterday.
And I’m trying not to push it too far too fast. Just like writing battle scenes will tire you; just like writing long hikes will make your legs ache; just imagining the story and feeling the emotions can be an arduous process, and when you’re only half recovered from illness, it can make you sick again.
So, I’m trying to take it easy and slower than I’d normally do it. But by next week I should be up to full strength again.
Pictures courtesy of Shutterstock
1- © Miriam Doerr