On Writing

Not Writing? Don’t Feel Guilty

So things are a bit rubbish in the real world right now, huh?

I had been planning on writing this blog entry for a while because I think it’s an important for writers and other creatives to take breaks and refill that creative well, but I think we need this discussion now more than ever.

If you’re not currently writing, don’t feel guilty about it.

Don’t feel guilty?

It’s not a new or outrageous concept.

There’s a crazy amount of pressure when it comes to writing, and I imagine all creative professions and communities suffer from the same thing. This capitalistic need to be working constantly. How much writing advice have you come across which states you need to write every day? Maybe write to a certain word count every day? Maybe you feel pressured because your peers are writing more than you, or for longer than you, and you compare your pace to theirs, regardless of whether they have more free time or not.  The problem with creative endeavours is that you’ll always be improving, and so always chasing the next step, the next success. You’ll always be behind someone.

In these trying times of toilet roll shortages and actual things to worry about, I don’t blame you if your anxiety is reaching its peak. Mine is too. Anxiety doesn’t always make for the most productive creative muse. Sure, burying your nose in a book or creative project might help distract you, so use whatever tools work for you, but there’s this expectation that because Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine means you need to be bashing out your magnum opus, too. What, are you lazy or something?

There’s a lot posts on Twitter with advice on how to be your most productive self when self-isolating at home.

Bah to that, I say.

There’s more to life than work. To writing, even. If your life is books, which they certainly are for me, then you still need breaks. Even people working their dream job tire of it from time to time. Here are some reasons why you NEED to take a break and how writing every day could be doing more harm than good:

  • Writing every day could cause you unnecessary stress and burnout.
  • Setting unreasonable goals may be unrealistic.
  • Writers work at their own pace and rushing could lead to lower quality.
  • Comparing your progress with others can lead to stress and anxiety.
  • Taking a break can allow your brain to rest and come back with fresh ideas after thinking/sleeping on them.
  • Indulging other creative mediums such as art can help refill your creative well.
  • You may be neglecting your health; make time for exercise and fresh air.
  • Staring at a computer screen for too long isn’t good.
  • Sitting down for too long isn’t good either!
  • You may be neglecting your social life; make time for community and friends!
  • Contrary to popular belief, artists don’t create their best work when starving or depressed.
  • Dammit, you’re only human, you’re not a machine.

So with that said, how do you switch off?

It may help to create breaks as part of your routine. If you set aside time every day to write, then set aside time to relax. As writers, it’s important we make time for reading, so that could double up as relaxation and research. But, you know, it’s okay to read for the joy of it. That’s what made us writers in the first place.

If you’re working full time or have very little time to write due to commitments, such as children, then the pressure to use every valuable drip of time can be exhausting. Work too much and you think of that break, but when you take a break to do something which isn’t work, you get that nagging voice in the back of your head telling you that watching Netflix or playing video games is a waste of time. You should be writing instead!

When I studied game design at university, we were taught to play games in order to understand games. This is simple, and applies to writing too as I mentioned above. To be a writer you need to be a reader. But, as a young game designer, we were also told this was not enough. The absolute masters of their craft did more than play games. They travelled, they read, they watched classic movies and visited museums. They drew inspiration from multiple sources and this fed into their design. As writers, we too can draw from multiple sources of inspiration. Can you do that by sitting at your desk all day and staring at a blank screen?

TV shows and movies and video games are another story telling medium. There’s no shame in enjoying whatever new ideas or narrative these have to offer.

If the thought of wasting time stresses you when you have so little, schedule it in. Take one night off a week to indulge, like a Friday or Saturday night. Indulge in a variety of things and not just the same content over and over. You’ll expand your mind with variety more than playing Fortnite or watching The Office every week, but if you need these things to de-stress and re-centre your life, then go for it.

We sacrifice so much time to write, but it’s essential to make time to relax and enjoy things too. Let’s stop feeling guilty for living.

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