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Productive Patience

Don't forget to include light lifting days with the heavy ones.

A difficult concept I learned in weightlifting, which applies to writing, is the idea of mixing light days with heavy days in order to boost muscle growth. I remember one day telling my trainer that I had to work hard to lift light. He gave me a funny look because, even though it didn’t sound right, he knew it was. When you take the time to go to the gym, you want to sweat and tear those muscles so you can get bigger, faster. Our brains are not geared to think two big steps forward, one small step, is the fastest way to reach our goals. We want to make every step a long stride. Last week I had one of these moments in my writing, and it felt good to have some light days to recuperate. Mainly, I believe the patience I exhibited in taking a break after I finished my goal allowed me to be more productive.

My lovely mentor, Cathilyn Dyck, sent me her critique on my short story for this quarter two Fridays ago. Before I go on, I’m going to take a short commercial break to support Cathilyn out of my eternal gratitude for her giving of her time and talents. She has a free issue of Scienda Quarterly available by liking the SciendaQ Facebook page. It has new, short stories by authors like Marc Schooley (The Dark Man, Konig’s Fire), as well as breakdowns of scenes to illustrate writing advice. It is only free until Jan. 31, the day of this blog post.

Back to our regularly scheduled program 😉 That Friday, I received her email notes, along with a suggestion to read The Bourne Identity for a primer in psychological intensity, which, as Cat says has a, “Brilliantly clear primary focus on the character rather than the actions. When the stakes are super-high, every move must have tremendous motivation, and that motivation must be present, with the action a secondary symptom of the character work. The general pattern is: gut reaction (thought, burst of emotion, involuntary reflex), physical reaction, spoken reaction.”

I relaxed that weekend by reading The Bourne Identity and left the edits until Monday morning. Cat warned me they were going to be rough, so I didn’t want to get into them until I was refreshed and ready. Writers also need to read to hone our skill, so it wasn’t like I was totally slacking off. Also, we learned just how rough those edits were in my last post, “Personification: When Eyes Have Hands.” In the last few months, I’ve worked hard at breaking down bad writing habits and building better habits. At times, this feels like starting from scratch, and thus requires great mental effort.

Great mental effort indeed. After three days straight, Cat’s notes looked like they were written in Hebrew. I fought through the fatigue by slowing down to make sure I understood before moving to the next point. At one point, she told me about clauses having causes and “there should be a causal relationship between clauses…” I about lost my mind. It may have been at this point that I tweeted:

After I sent the completed draft to my other Team PYP sharkbaits ;), I was drained for the rest of the week. There were lessons Cat illustrated in her comments that I addressed for that story, but probably didn’t soak into my long-term memory because I was running on fumes. I suppose I could have gone home that night and looked for similar mistakes in my other stories, but I needed a break.

We all have our own ways of taking breaks, but the important part is that we take them, or we are not going to be productive when we need to be. Part of that is analyzing when we need to be productive. Going back to the weightlifting analogy, we do not need to kill ourselves all day every day in order to succeed in our goals. In fact, doing so will likely cause major injury, and extended downtime. Worse, it could cause damage to the relationships that matter more than our writing (or insert hobby/career).

So, please, get your rest, and don’t treat this journey like a sprint. You can’t sprint to best-seller status. Work hard during your writing-committed times, but then find the productivity in patience by giving your mind time to recover. Enjoy the time you get with your loved ones, and try and set aside a day of rest. We were built that way for a reason. Lastly, remember that this is the part that is supposed to be fun.

About Timothy C. Ward

Timothy C. Ward is a Hugo nominated producer for Adventures in SciFi Publishing, who has been lost, broke and surfed with sharks on the other side of the world. He now dreams of greater adventures from his keyboard in Des Moines, Iowa. This summer he released two novels: his second Sand Divers book, Scavenger: A.I., where two parents use an ancient technology to fight a reproducing A.I. while trying to resurrect their deceased infant; and Godsknife: Revolt, an apocalyptic battle for godhood in the rift between Iowa and the Abyss.

8 comments on “Productive Patience

  1. […] point where I could barely see straight as I looked at the critique comments (see last NAF post, “Productive Patience”). It’s hard to imagine what Chila has in store, but experience tells me the story, and my […]

  2. I think it’s the last line that gets me the most. On the one hand, writing is something I should do everyday, like an item on my to-do list. On the other hand, writing sometimes becomes ONLY an item on my to-do list–a function of my knowledge of grammar, spelling, plot structures, character profiles, and story matrices–instead of an act of joyful worship to God Almighty. Nice post!

    • Thanks, Janeen, and thanks for making it to the last line 😉 I’ve tried to write everyday, but I have come to accept the need for days off and that sometimes reading and editing is good enough if that is what is most pressing. I too need a reminder that the day to day grind is fun, so I’m glad to provide that for you. Happy writing!

  3. Tim, you poor critter. What a run I’ve given you. 🙂 Yes…the mental rest is so very, very important. You’ve had a major breakthrough in your instinctive process, and it can be weeks or months between such events. But they do keep happening, even when it feels like there’s no forward motion. I am thrilled to see that you really, truly assimilate things instead of relying on conscious technical patterns. That’s the sign of a fantastic writer in the making.

    • Thanks for the encouragement. I’m trying to assimilate all the advice, though I’m afraid I am still pretty confused about paragraph-subject rules and how they work with dialogue. That clauses have causes thing is also still a bit over my head. Even personification has nuances I’m trying to understand so that the verbs I use make sense with their subjects.

      • I’m just not worried about it at all, Wildcat. 🙂 Something’s going to click beneath the layer of conscious assimilation, and it’ll just start happening for you, same as your voice did. In the acceptable time.

  4. Thank you so much, also, for the SciendaQ shoutout. We’re currently working with invited contributors, but I hope to open to general submissions in future…patience, me. I so love to see the creative things people do.

  5. You alluded to the “day of rest” or periods of rest between the productive ones.
    That’s not only wise, but biblical, Tim. Sounds as if you are taking to heart all the good advice you are getting. I find myself mentally blank after completing a good scene to my satisfaction. I could push on, but I’ve learned the break refreshes my mind for the next.
    Just as long as the breaks don’t outnumber the work. And reading other writers is good productive work, too. Stephen King (in On Writing) said that a writer must not only write, write, write, but also read, read, read. So now when my family finds me in my library with feet up and my nose in a book I respond, “I’m working; I’m working!”

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