|Fiona's feet on Cannon Rocks beach, South Africa.|
As you are reading this I am on a beach near my in-laws house in
During this Easter break, apart from visiting my husband’s family, I will
hopefully be getting some rest and perhaps writing a chapter or two of my new
novel. On a two-week holiday a chapter or two is all I think I can and should
manage. I do not want to spend all my time writing, but when I do it will be a
restful kind of writing; the kind of writing that restores rather than depletes
my energy levels. South Africa
When you write for a living the very act of writing can exhaust you. When writing is work, I suppose, it’s almost inevitable. For people who write for a hobby it usually has the opposite effect – to relax and invigorate you. So as a professional writer I try to consciously strike a balance between the two: writing as work and writing as leisure.
I do this by structuring ‘down-time’ into my writing day. I try to get all my admin, social media and marketing work done in the morning, as well as lecture or workshop prep when I’m running courses. But just before lunch I stop and take my dogs for a walk. And unless their nemesis – the neighbour’s cat – is spotted, it is usually a restful time for my body and mind. When I get back I have lunch while watching the news then settle down to do some creative writing in the afternoon. After the down-time between my morning and afternoon work, I find my mind is more rested and I’m able to be more creative. I generally do about two hours writing then have a 20 minute lie-down. If my daughter has an after-school club and will be home late I then try to put in another hour’s work before the family get home. That is my ideal daily rhythm.
However, when I’m approaching a deadline I frequently abandon that rhythm and write and write and write, putting in six - seven hours in a day, with only a short break to grab a sandwich which I eat as I continue writing. Six hours does not seem a lot, but when it is hour after hour of focused thinking, it is exhausting. After a week or two of this, I am near breakdown – but have a finished manuscript! I then need to take a couple of weeks off from all writing before I come back to the project and give it a second read through.
|Fiona writing a chapter of Poppy Denby in South Africa.|
Understanding your creative rhythm and how to build down-time into your schedule is essential for a writer. But we are all different. Some of you may hold down nine-to-five jobs and write in the evening or on weekends. Some of you may have physical or mental health limitations. Others have time-draining family situations. But each of us can and should be able to find something that rests our mind apart from writing. One of my creative writing students ensures he does a 10-mile run every day. Ten miles??????? Another likes to lie down while listening to music. Still another does the dishes (!) and another, yoga. What all of these have in common is that they are ‘mindless’ activities that allow the part of your brain that is involved in writing to switch off and rest. If you don’t have this down-time it will eventually work its way out into your body and your writing. The quality of my writing produced after down-time is far superior I believe to what I produce during my marathon sessions.
And of course, as a person of faith, prayer and time set aside to read the Bible is also essential to my daily rhythm. One might not use the term ‘mindless’ to describe it, but it is certainly soul enriching.
Do you understand your creative rhythm? What is your down-time?
Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and writing tutor, based in
Newcastle upon Tyne. She writes across all media, for
children and adults. Her mystery novel The
Jazz Files, the first
in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series (Lion Fiction) was shortlisted for the
CWA Historical Dagger award in 2016. The second book, The Kill Fee is currently a finalist for the Foreword Review mystery novel of the year, and the third,
The Death Beat, will
be published in October. Her novel Pilate’s
Daughter a historical love story set in Roman
Palestine, is published by Endeavour Press and her literary thriller about
apartheid , The Peace Garden, is self-published under the Crafty
Publishing imprint. Her children’s books The Young David Series and the Young Joseph Series
are published by SPCK. South Africa