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Too much downtime

I shelved my third novel for a week at Christmas. Why? To recharge batteries and take a well-earned break from the ceaseless toil. The workaholic in me went haywire. To offset the sense of panic, I grabbed a notebook and began hastily penning the screenplay for my first novel, The Butterfly Collector. This would suffice until the New Year, I thought. Then, I’d drag out the unfinished third novel and commence battle until it was finished.

Which begs the question. Is it good to keep working, or should the writer take a break at some point? Having experienced writer’s block on more than one occasion, I can honestly say that a break is often essential. Especially if you wish to save your sanity and the work in question.

However, stopping altogether may not be advisable. Writing a novel is a long, drawn-out process, rarely completed in less than a year. By the time you’re halfway through, you’re already thinking ahead to the next one, and wondering how the hell you’re going to sustain the motivation needed to get you through. Writing every day – even if it’s for ten-minutes, half an hour, gives a sense of accomplishment. You begin to see THE END in sight, a moment of pure rejoicing.

Sometimes you need distance. When you loathe the very thing you’ve spent months creating, and begin to question your own ability, it might be time to desist. Put the said piece away and work on something else for a while. Your novelist’s faculties, far from being eroded by the break, will actually be strengthened. Then, when you return, you’ll be filled with enthusiasm and ready for action.

Chaucer said (although I wasn’t there when he said it), ‘The life so short, the craft so long to learn.’ Writing can sometimes seem like the most pointless, joyless task you could ever set yourself. The rewards are often to be found in retrospect. Reading something that’s been edited to death and finding a glimmer of satisfaction. Having a reader compliment you on the quality of your work. These moments make up for the self-doubt, the drudgery. But you have to keep working. Plough on through the worst of it to reach the other side.

And remember.

Writers write. Everyone else just talks about it.

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