Writing and the Value of Downtime

I am a regular contributor to Quora.com, the website that answers all your questions and asks you to contribute answers–if you have any. As a decades-long writer and someone who teaches writing, you can guess what I answer questions about.

One of the questions that I get frustrated with are people who continually ask how they can write faster: “How can I write a book in under a month?” “How can I increase my speed up to fifteen pages a day?” etc. You get the drift. It worries me because they are concerned with volume when what they should be concerned about is quality of content.

Currently, Amazon is putting out more than a million new book titles per year. Most of those are self published, as are most of mine. And I am ashamed to say, many of those million titles are dreck. A lot of that is because people still have the mindset that you don’t need to put thought into what you are writing. All you have to do is put a book out there and–presto!–you’re a millionaire!

Well, boys and girls, sorry to disappoint you. It doesn’t work that way. Writing is much more than just coming up with an idea, spending a month or two drafting up some words and then throwing it out for the unwashed masses to consume. It’s hard work.

That’s why I find myself slowing down as I write more books. Less is more. And even though there are those authors who still go to their keyboard each morning and just start typing, assuming that the muse will tell them what to write, I don’t work that way. My time is important, my labor is important. My first novel that I wrote I spent two years wandering through the wilderness (I speak metaphorically, of course), trying to figure out what the book was about. And that taught me something.

Now I take more time to figure out what the book is about before I start writing.

And even after I start writing, I need my downtime. Right now, I am coming to the end of a section, and I know the next chapter is a crucial ending to a time period. I want to get it right, and a lot of that is how I structure my scenes. I can’t just go in and start writing.

So what do I do? Yesterday, I got on my riding lawnmower and mowed about an acre of lawn. My earbuds were on and I was listening to my favorite tunes, but my mind was on my book. And because the logical side of my brain was occupied with mowing, my left, or creative side, of my brain was free to work on the chapter and come up with some solutions.

Today, I followed that up with a dog walk. While Juno, our dachshund-terrier mix was looking for places to do her business, I was taking care of business in my mind.

Over the years, my wife has learned that when I volunteer to wash dishes, fold laundry, rake leaves, mow the lawn or do other mundane tasks, chances are I am trying to work out writing problems in my brain. And it usually works.

Now I need to take those solutions and apply them. Of course, this is how I fix things. You have to figure out what works for you.