Last weekend, I took advantage of having President’s Day on Monday off from work and tagged on two vacation days to the three-day weekend for a five-day vacation. This was the first time in a very long time that I’d actually taken vacation days to take a vacation rather than take care of a health concern. I scheduled no big house projects or chores. Instead, I scheduled writing, reading, rest, and relaxation. Any chores were done as breaks from writing, since I did have some weekly chores that needed to be done.
The first day, I spent the morning relaxing, catching up with email and other online tasks. I read for a couple hours midday. Then I settled in for an uninterrupted session of writing on chapter 8 of Perceval’s Game. While writing that first afternoon, I discovered something. The chapter I was working on had a problem and I could neither identify it nor solve it. Has anyone else been in this situation? Something was wrong. I felt like I really couldn’t progress with the actual writing until I solved the problem. This was actually good timing for me to realize there was a problem. I had the time to think about it.
One thing no writing teacher told me about writing, as if it was something I would just know: writers need uninterrupted, relaxed time to think. I do some of my best thinking in the shower. It seemed too much to take a 2-day shower, so I sat on my sofa and stared out the window, listening to music playing softly in the background. Music, specifically classical music, helps to unlock my mind’s house and invite my imagination to come out and play. It begins by getting lost in the silent spaces between the music’s notes as I stare out the window, my eyes unfocused. Almost immediately, I began to get clues to what the problem was with the chapter. As my mind played with each clue, scenes began to emerge into my mind, playful scenarios both wild and serious. I just let those scenarios play out and lead into new ones. By the end of the afternoon, with the sun setting outside and the light fading, I knew what the specific problem was with the chapter.
On Sunday afternoon, I talked with a friend on the phone before returning to thinking about the chapter. Somehow, talking with her emptied my mind of the day’s clutter that clouded my vision. When I put on the music and sat down on the sofa, my mind was open and ready to pick up where I’d left off the day before. I was in the chapter with Evan Quinn and the young man driving him to Chicago, and suddenly I knew what needed to happen to resolve the problem. The scenes gushed out of my imagination with a sense of joy and abandon. But I sat quietly on the sofa, staring out the window, focused on what was happening in my mind.
On Monday, I returned to my desk and computer to write. With the problem identified and solved, the action and dialogue flowed out of me. And so, I wrote 1000 words on Monday and another 1000 on Tuesday, progressing the chapter closer to the end. I felt full of accomplishment. I felt supremely satisfied that I had taken the five-day vacation at crucial time in my work on the novel.
I can’t remember now where I heard or read this, but someone connected to the movie industry once said that the reason there are no movies about writers working is because it would be boring for the viewer to watch a writer write. Anyone who’d been watching me last weekend would have believed that I was doing nothing but sitting on my sofa staring out the window. Obviously, I was lazy. Obviously, I wasn’t doing anything. And it’s certainly not exciting for someone else to watch me when I’m writing at my computer. But…I accomplished a great deal last weekend in writer terms.
I miss having the time to think and daydream about my characters and their lives, their problems, their dreams. Before I went back to work fulltime in an office job, my writing day began with 15-30 minutes of stair exercise listening to classical music on my portable CD player and reading through my notes. I got quite adept at reading and walking up and down stairs at the same time. Then I went to my desk. turned on the computer, and began working for the next six – eight hours. I did that every day, six days a week. I followed a similar routine in 2020 when I was on COVID leave for four months and was able to finish the first draft of Perceval in Love. While working a fulltime job to pay the bills is necessary, it affects my creative life by draining my energy during the work week, consuming my time, and burrowing into my mind with issues and concerns that I wish I could leave at the office. So, I guard my writing time on weekends.
Perceval’s Game progresses but much more slowly than when I have a full six days a week to write. I take whatever time I can get to think and daydream about the characters and their lives because that work time is just as important as the actual writing words on paper (or the screen).
For other benefits of daydreaming, read here.