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Gimme A Break

November 25, 2012

I feel bad when I’m not working on my new novel, “The Coffin Haulers.” When I’m doing something else–cleaning, making dinner, replying to emails, even reading–I think to myself: Why aren’t you writing?

But I got no work done on Thanksgiving (dinner with friends) or Friday or Saturday (too much college football to watch). I needed a break, and I deserved it. I was stuck on a couple of plot points and I couldn’t figure out how to solve the problem. Normally I would have just written anything at all and then fixed it later, as I did while writing “The Champagne Ladies,” but this time around I was really in a hole. The damned thoughts just wouldn’t come. I paced, looked out the window, got a drink of water to stimulate my subconscious. Nothing worked.

Then I remembered what Ernest Hemingway said about the writing process. After a day’s work, never think about what happens next. The thoughts will come when you least expect them. And so I decided to take a break and not think about my plot problems.

It worked. Last night the thoughts came, and more of them than I had counted on. I wrote notes that allow me to advance the story in keeping with the personalities of the characters I created and incidents that occur during the first fifty pages of the book.

Taking a break helped. I’d been working hard every day since Oct. 1, when I started the novel, and I was just worn out. At first I felt guilty about not working, but my laziness or reluctance or fear to write paid off. If you’re having trouble with your own work, never feel guilty by putting the work aside for a day or two and relax with whatever makes you happy or content. Watching football works for me.

A caveat: It’s always hard to get back to the story after a few days off, so always, always follow another bit of advice from Hemingway. When you stop working for the day, know what will happen next.  That’s how I always end the day. I may not know what will happen twenty pages from where I left off (my plot problem this time around) but I know what happens next in the scene I’m writing.

And thanks to my break, I now know what will happen twenty pages later.

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