COMBATING INERTIA – Relaxing After a Project
For many writers, it’s difficult to find momentum in their craft. They work in spurts, producing intermittent pieces then not producing anything. They are able to find something that fills in the spaces between the charms of the muse. But what do you do when your work has been more than a spurt? When you have been working on the same thing for years? How do you step back from it when you’re finished? What do you do to relax?
After long projects that have sponged every bit of my energy and attention, I feel an incredible sense of inertia. I liken the sensation to stepping off of a treadmill at the club. I have been walking in place. I stop the machine and walk to the fountain for a drink and in those few moments it appears as though my body is contriving more movement than is accurate. In other words, one step feels like ten, and ten feel like two hundred. It’s inertia.
At the club, I know the sensation will pass before I hit the showers. With writing, I sometimes feel as if my momentum will be lost if I do not maintain the pace. In my case, a novel is the perfect medium to discuss, both because I have written a few and because I know it takes time and energy to combat the need to return to the desk and go over every line again.
I recently finished reading Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing. In the book, King proposes some very simple guidelines to maintain a healthy balance in one’s life. I’ll paraphrase: Begin your story in a locked room. Do not come out until the work is finished, and keep the door closed. Then put the story in a drawer for six weeks and come back to it. This time, leave the door open (to possibilities that could enhance your story). It should take you about one year to write one book – by many artists accounts, this is about right. For others, ten years is appropriate. Don’t feel like you need to climb the mountain at the same speed as someone else.
So, let’s say you’ve been on the writing treadmill for some time. The book is finished. What do you do now? How do you combat the urge to return to the desk?
I know writers who move right into the next project. Typically, it’s something lighter, but they feel like this is a good way to relax. For others it’s reading, or doing research, or going for walks, swimming, cooking. There are countless ways to “relax” after the marathon is over.
In my own life, having recently launched the Cadillac Cicatrix project I was exhausted. I was doing all the reading, all the editing, the design of both the website and the print journal, the marketing, sales … you name it. Like many of you, I also have a full-time job, the importance and enjoyment of which has grown exponentially for me each year.
What is the day job? I am the assistant winemaker for a medium-sized ultra-premium California Winery. I have also launched my own small boutique winery – www.LeojamiWines.com, and I write for www.IntoWine.com. Wine has become a large part of my life. It is my livelihood and the way I relax. I have delved deeply into it, including recent studies with the Court of Master Sommeliers, and continuing studies with the Wine & Spirirt Education Trust.
That being said, passion is passion. I want to do it all. For long stretches of time, I can do everything I want to every day. It involves a very early morning (4 a.m.) – write until 8 a.m., go to work, come home at the end of the day and spend the evening with my family.
Weeks fall into patterns of projects, but inevitably those projects come to a close. Methodology is imperative to good work, I believe. That also includes when you’re not working. Having those go-to things that refresh the mind and invigorate the body are as priceless as the work we do.
In my off-time, I enjoy throwing myself down a mountain on a snowboard, traveling, and spending time with my family. Being able to walk away from something that has consumed so much time hasn’t always come easy – I had to teach myself how to step back and take a breath. Doing the things that make me most happy makes the writing (or any project) more fun. Reading, traveling, adventure – these are all great ways to get away and grow.
Many times it’s in these moments that we come up with our next project. It could be a conversation we have that initiates a note about a character or a scene or a drawing. The only thing we need do as artists is to make ourselves available. The muse comes in many forms, after all. We must not always lock ourselves in a room to be dubbed a writer or an artist.
If you have difficulty creating a space in which to relax, meditation is another great way that I settle my mind. A very simple breathing, while sitting still and clearing your mind can do wonders. My sister enjoys doing yoga, she finds it relaxing and invigorating. (She doesn’t write, but she has a busy life.) Some of my friends have a regular vacation spot where they know they can simply relax.
There is no shortage of things to do if you can just pull yourself away. It’s easy once you do it a couple of times. Just make sure you go back to your project, or start a new one, when you’re done relaxing. No one’s going to do it for you.
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