I mentioned this in my last post, so I want to expand upon it more. There’s this notion that I see in a lot of aspiring and active writers–including myself–that if you’re not using your free time to write, then you’re wasting your time.
I like to use the metaphor of farming the land for this. If you keep planting crops in the same soil without any break between them, you’re going to exhaust the nutrients, and your crops will die, or not grow at all. You’ve depleted the fertility of the earth, until there was nothing more for it to give to the plants to help them grow and come to fruition.
Writing is exactly like that. You can simply burn out, creatively. You can deplete the fertile creativity of your mind if you don’t give it a break and chance to replenish itself. And yet, that’s a problem that I see a lot of writers beating themselves up over, and thinking that they have to be writing constantly, otherwise they’re not good writers, or, gods forbid, writers in general. I’ve fallen to that pitfall, myself.
I want to rail against the notion that reading, or doing some other hobby or activity, instead of writing is being “lazy”. It’s not. It’s part of being a writer. What’s the old adage? Good writers are good readers. Reading helps your brain reset, it helps your brain relax. It helps your brain think critically about words and sentences and paragraphs you like so you can figure out how to do that yourself. It helps you generate your own ideas for stories to stir emotions in others like your own emotions and thoughts are stirred. Taking time off from actively writing to actively (or leisurely) read is not being lazy when you “should” be writing. It’s part of the process.
It’s really hard to remember this sometimes, especially when we feel like we should be writing. “I have all this free time, I should be writing, but I’m doing X instead.”
It’s really hard to remember this when we have the desire and want to write, but can’t make the words to the Thing we want them to do. It’s okay to jot down what you want to happen and then step back and take a break.
It’s okay to take a break to read, or to do something else entirely. It doesn’t make you less of a writer, it doesn’t mean you’re lazy. It means you needed a break and you’re taking it. An overworked brain functions just as well as any other overworked part of you: that is to say, not well at all.
Take a break. It’s okay.
It’s really hard to let go of the notion that you should be writing every waking free moment. I know. I’ve lived there. Sometimes I still live there. But it’s not healthy. Even professional writers, they keep a schedule, and that includes times where they don’t write. What really got my brain off the “you’re a terrible writer if you read instead of write” (which really creates an almost unending negative spiral) is when I started thinking of the reading as “research”. Not even “research specifically for this thing I’m writing” but “market research”. “Genre research”.
And you know what happened?
A lot of the time, I got way more inspiration and energy to write again after that. After taking a break and allowing myself to take a break without feeling guilty about it.