I have spent a lot of time not writing lately. I think it’s partly due to fighting that shut-in feeling which comes with staying at home to avoid COVID-19 but it’s also because I’ve always needed to incorporate “not writing” times into my life in order to get back to wanting to write anything at all. If I spend too much time trying to work on a story relentlessly, I actually become bored. And probably boring. I need lots of little breaks to jog me along.
That’s not to say I can’t handle writing for days or weeks in a row – I can. Ninety or so days if I hit a really motivated stretch, and usually without weekends. But what I can’t do, even during my most productive days, is just sit there all day churning out sentence after sentence until carpel tunnel syndrome kicks in. I know some writers can. I’ve read about them. I’ve even come across one or two in person, and I applaud them. But they are as different from me as night is from day. And that’s fine, by the way, exactly as it’s fine if you’re reading this and thinking what a load of rubbish, that doesn’t resonate with me! Because writers are different and there’s no reason on Earth why your writing habits should resemble mine. However, if you too struggle to focus for more than about twenty minutes at a time, feel connected. We’re the same. And, as you may well already know, there are distinct advantages to our way of being.
For example, I tend to take longer to finish anything. You’re thinking that’s not an advantage, right? But it is. Because the reason I take longer is that I’m constantly working on more than one thing at a time. I’ve learnt that I have to, because when I can’t write any more sentences, I’ve got to have something to switch to. I run two websites. I paint. I’m REALLY good at keeping in touch with friends. Not to mention getting the shopping done ahead of time.
This week, I’ve even managed to revamp an old idea for a little newspaper from Fairyland. It’s nothing special, just an eight page long freebie for parents to print out for their children in the run up to Easter. You can download it free here.
I’ve also read several interesting essays about posthumanism in young adult fiction, (Tarr and White, 2018), which I suspect will feed into the novel I’ve been busy not writing for a bit.
My point is that if it weren’t for my not writing time, my creative, scholarly, emotional and organisational outputs would be considerably diminished. For while it’s true that writing an entire story from beginning to end may take me longer than some, I’ve usually finished not one but several projects once I’m through. So if you suffer from the same need to switch focus, my advice would be learn to embrace it. Line up the things you want to do and have them ready, so that you can shift from one to another at will. It took me years to get the balance right, but having accepted that I’m one of life’s fruit flies in terms of my attention span, I’ve learnt to make that work for me. My guess is you can too.