Last updated on June 7, 2016
Everyone needs a little down time–time for the mind to play, for the experimental, for the not-so-linearly focused. If, in dreams, you are a House, then your down-time is the swing set in the backyard. For most people, that swing set is pretty secure–mom or dad or whoever installed it made sure to mix up half a bag of quickcrete and dump it in a hole around the support poles to make sure your swinging didn’t tip the whole thing over. For writers, our backyard jungle gyms are not so stable. We cobble them together out of old cars, the frame of a broken-down shed, and salvage from wherever we can find it in the landscape of our pasts. We steal sheets out of the linen closet to fort up and make private spaces, and do things with clothesline that the packaging clearly states will not support the weight of doing. “Hey, y’all, watch this!” is a regular mantra in our mental backyards, and the results are pretty much as expected.
May is always a crazy month. School ends, the weather gets warm, and the schedule explodes with spring and summer sports for my kids, and we’re all exhausted from the end of the school year and the pollen count going into the stratosphere. It’s hard enough to keep your eyes open when you’re tired, let alone when the gunk in the air is gluing them together. It’s also one of those times of the year where I feel the most pressure to write fast, because the one thing that’s thicker than the ragweed is the ideas.
I’m not complaining, mind you–who doesn’t love the ideas–but like my over-active immune system, my sense of timing can work against me. A little time-crunch is motivation. A lot of time crunch induces counter-productive panic. On the upside, I’m loving the ideas sleeting through my brain. When I get hit with new ideas, I know not all of them are viable for a full-length novel, or even a short story. And the fun is in the testing. I get to try out these ideas for a few thousand or ten thousand words and see if they’re workable. But then I have to settle down and figure out which ideas are still too young to mature, and which ones are viable candidates for moving forward. I’m fortunate in that my career (thus far) has not placed me into a position where I have to measure those ideas against a solely financial measuring stick. I’m not supporting my family on my writing income (and I know I’m terribly fortunate not to have to).
It’s not the easiest thing in the world when you’re in your mental backyard, swinging upside-down from a structure not meant to support human weight, and enjoying the head-rush, only to be called in for dinner (or to make dinner, because adulting). It’s harder still when you have to look at that structure you built out of dead trees, salvage, and stuff that probably breaks HOA rules (and maybe municipal safety codes, too), and figure out what isn’t working for you anymore. Brain-play ought to have no rules, and for a time, it doesn’t. But at some point, the rope-swing’s lopsidedness will interfere with your ability to put in the twisty slide, and it’s worth it to step back from the playground and give it a good whisking, so the toys in it remain the ones that are truly fun. But if you’re in the same position as I am, where your career is still maturing, enjoy the flexibility. Change up the playground. Hop genres, vary your story length, experiment with how and what you create.