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.