Saturday, April 30, 2005

Writing Tip: Pacing and Taking Breaks

I’ll try to relate pacing and taking breaks in writing to a long distance runner, not that I am a long distance runner, but it suits this topic as a good analogy.

Paul (using my name here) decides that the Boston Marathon is just the thing to do. It’s fun, will be a neat challenge and although there are thousands in the race I know I can do it. Paul may even place in the top ten, make a name for himself, get on the Tonight Show. So, full of verve and confidence Paul decides that first thing in the morning he will begin.

Up early, Paul puts on the newly bought shoes and jogging cloths (looks great in the mirror too) and sets out to train for that marathon, a mere two months away. Paul, who has never run over a long distance before, thinks ‘how hard can it be?’ I mean, he says to himself, I already know how to run and have been doing so since I was two. I mean really, what’s the big deal? So the first day Paul goes out and runs as fast as he can for as long as he can. Panting, aching, soar and out of shape, Paul thinks as he crawls up his steps, I didn’t do too badly today. I ran a full ten miles and that’s almost half way. (Paul is not so old yet that heart attacks and stroke enter his mind during this endeavor) Paul thinks that tomorrow he can do even more.

Next morning, in slightly dirty new shoes and sweat-stained jogging outfit (to tired to wash it the day before) Paul is at it again and determined to go the full twenty six miles. Fourteen grueling miles later and Paul takes a taxi back home because even walking back is not possible. At home, soaking in a hot bath, Paul’s confidence begins to take a beating. This is much harder than it looked, thinks Paul going to bed early and in pain.

The third morning has Paul up and at it again, this time instead of running full out he thinks he will pace himself a little more. That’s all you need to do, isn’t it? Twenty six miles isn’t all that far to run at once. At the two mile mark his leg begins to hurt, at the three mile mark he is hailing a cab again. What the hell is wrong with him? He should be able to do this. Hundreds if not thousands of others do it every year. Why can’t I do it? There must be something wrong with me. I can’t seem to do it because (enter any excuse or combination of excuses you can imagine here. They are all legitimate, aren’t they.)

The fourth day sees Paul sleeping in. When his mind stirs awake he begins thinking about mountain climbing and tells himself that running wasn’t really his thing after all.

Okay, lame-ass little analogy there to writing but even though writing is not the Boston Marathon it has much in common with the approach to doing it. Pacing and taking breaks is important if you want to last in the long haul in writing. When we finally decide to write that novel most of us will dig in at break neck speed thinking all you need to do is plant yourself for many hours a day and it will be done. But believe me that doesn’t really work and before you know it you are telling yourself it’s not worth it and thinking of anything else to do. Too many hours too soon will wear you down and quite possibly turn you off of writing altogether. Make no mistake, writing is very hard work and takes a very long time. The problem may not be that writing is not for you, but rather overdoing it at the start and having unreasonable expectations of yourself is.

So, with all that said, if you are just starting out in writing make sure you pace yourself. And for each person that will be different and the trick is to find out the pace that works for you. Myself, I can handle at the most right now about two hours of writing in one day. Any more and I start to get fatigued and start looking for excuses.. My writing day (weekdays only) lasts from one half to one hour long. And taking breaks is equally as important. Make sure you do (this is key for the long term) and don’t beat yourself up for not writing if you take a day off here and there. Remember, you told yourself you could and it is okay to do so. Find the balance that works for you and then try to stick to it - ah, but that is another posting for another day.

And right now, I’m off with my wife to go for a coffee break and chat. It is the weekend and I am not writing my novel today or tomorrow and I don’t feel one little bit of guilt about it either. Happy writing, and in the words of Terry Brooks, "life is a very long time" so don’t race through it, but remember to pace yourself and take breaks too.

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