I tend to spend every waking minute thinking about multiple WiPs. After I make my wife her morning coffee, and we make sure our son is awake and ready for school, I start thinking about writing. In my mind, I revisit the words from yesterday and the direction the plot is heading. And as I set up for work, I think about where I will carve out an hour or two to carry on writing.
This started out as a hobby to manage my stress levels and give me an escape from the real world. And it worked. Every time I put pen to paper and the words left my mind, I felt the weight of the world ease off. I could breathe again. And as August–Lost took shape, I found an inner peace that I’d never experienced before.
As my writing journey progressed, I found myself feeling relaxed and present in the moment. Every time I came home from work, I was able to engage with my family and have fun. The nagging voice in the back of my mind was silenced, and I was able to laugh and joke and enjoy the company of my family again. And when my boy went to bed and my better half went to read or watch her T.V shows, I took my seat and fired up the laptop. Thanks to writing, we were all content with our quality family time, and were happy to break off and spend an hour or two in our own company.
Before I took to writing, I was moody, quick-tempered, distracted by difficult situations I faced in work. I would ponder on dark thoughts every night and all through the weekends. I felt like I became a burden at home, and when I’d retreat to my laptop, it was for mindless gaming; almost ignoring my family completely. Needless to say, they resented the sound of my damn thing powering up. But now, when the fans spool up and the lights glow, it’s at the end of the day of a great day and only when we are all ready for a bit of individual quiet time. These days, when I’m hammering away at the keyboard, my son or wife might ask “how’s the book coming along?” which always makes me smile.
Now, as much as enjoy writing and spending time with my two favourite people, there are times when I need to do something else. I find that if I don’t blow off some steam, I begin to fixate on the plots and characters, and that becomes problematic (I tend to dial everything up to eleven). Everything can be working really well within the pages, but if I don’t walk away from time to time, I begin to question myself, and soon, imposter syndrome creeps in.
With all my time dedicated to my family, my job, my writing, and sleeping, I didn’t really do anything else. Well, that’s not true. I also spend a bit of time engaging on social media within a great writing community, but aside from that, I didn’t do much. I used to be a bit of a drinker–I’d meet with friends, hit the town (hard) and waste the following day nursing a hangover. But as I grew older, my hangovers felt as bad as recovering from minor surgery. Needless to say, I lost the taste for it.
Anyway, as much as I love writing, there are plenty of times when I just need to get away from it. There’s no shame in saying this, and you shouldn’t feel any guilt if you have similar thoughts. It’s healthy to give your inner author a few days off. After all, if you have to force yourself to sit and write, or if it becomes a chore, then you will lose your love for it and that will bleed into the words. Too much of a good thing, I suppose.
The older I get, the more I notice the aches and pains when I’ve been sitting for too long. There’s a reason why health experts talk about staying active and moving about. And with that in mind, I try to get at least one hour of exercise a day (though my waistline will contradict this). I will often walk my spotty little friend, I’ll get some active stretching when I’m working from home, and when I’m feeling especially energetic, I’ll drag myself to the gym. But that is just maintenance. What I really love to do is get out on the mountain bike.
I won’t lie–I’m not great on it, and I do look like something from a comic strip when I’m barrelling down a Welsh hillside. But the smile on my face will also tell you that I don’t care what I look like. When I’m riding down a trail, and on those rare moments where I lift off and catch some air, I’m free. It feels great to get the blood pumping.
If you find yourself stuck, go out and get the lungs open to clear your head. Forget about narrative and character development, and forget about the plot. Leave it all behind for an hour or two. Take a bit of time for yourself. Everyone is talking about mental health and I couldn’t agree more in that we should be looking for ways to improve it. But we often neglect our physical wellbeing. I know I have!
Now is the time to reclaim your body and give it what it needs. Go for a walk, a run, a hike. Go to the gym if you feel ready for it, or dust off the bike and use some pedal power. Your writing will thank you for it.
When I return from a few hours of downhill biking, my words flow better (at least I think they do). I don’t know if it’s the oxygenated blood pumping through my veins, or if it’s the time away from the whiteness of the page. But I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I’m just grateful for the boost it gives me when my writing dries up.
Our minds are the tools we use to write. But we neglect bodies at our peril.