Does Refreshing Ourselves Keep Our Writing Fresh?

Do writers ever need a vacation from writing?

As you know, I recently turned in my rewrites on The Doctor’s Lady (my second book). After many, many months of laboring over it—both with the writing and editing—I was really worn out when I finally sent it to my publisher.

I took a week completely off from my writing and caught up on all of the household jobs I’d neglected. I washed dirty sheets, examined the bare cupboards and made a grocery list, and filled up the long-neglected soap dispensers.

After a week of getting my house back in order, I took another week to shop. I bought deodorant for my son, new jeans for my fast-growing daughter, fall sweaters for myself, and a variety of other household items that we desperately needed.

After a couple weeks “off,” I finally started to think about my next book. I’d already sent my editor a couple different synopses earlier in the fall. And now I was ready to figure out what direction I should take the book. So, I planned a phone meeting with my editor, and we talked through the different ideas. He told me what to steer clear of, brainstormed with me, and together we came up with a plan.

When I hung up the phone, my mind was whirling with new excitement. And ever since then, I’ve been researching and plotting my next novel. Yes, I allocate time for reading those brittle, musty, old books. In fact, I spent six hours at the library on Saturday in the genealogy room, reading all the books that are too old and precious to check out.

But during this research and plotting phase, I also allow my brain some down-time. I don’t rush the plotting. In fact, I go in slow motion, mulling over everything I read, sifting through material, filling up notebooks with research, brainstorming lists of ideas (half of which I’ll never use).

It’s almost like I have an enormous feast before me, and while I’m tempted to rush in and gulp down everything in my eagerness, I don’t. Instead I linger over each dish, dipping my finger in and tasting the sweetness, feeling the textures against my tongue, taking deep breaths of the variety of scents. I stand utterly still, close my eyes, and enjoy the pure pleasure of each bite.

Author Roxane Salonen recently wrote a post titled “Let the Tortoise Have His Way.” She mentioned that often we let the hare part of our brains run at full speed. But there are times when we need to let the slower tortoise part of the brain have his turn. It’s during those “slow” times that our brain can store up images, sift through the mountains of information, find the nuggets, and organize them into stories we can use.

So, even though I’ve been researching and plotting my newest novel, I’ve been operating out of the “tortoise” part of my brain. During this process, I’m preparing myself for when I start the actual writing.

Here are a few of the ways I’ve rejuvenated my mind lately:

Listen to inspiring music. I’ve been blaring Handel’s Messiah and letting the incredibly complex cacophony of instruments and voices surge through my blood. There’s something about beautiful music that restores beauty to our souls.

Take time to focus on sensory details. A gently floating snowflake, the lustrous velvety fur of my kitty, the creaking of the branches outside my window, the rich aroma of the garlic and sage in the spaghetti sauce. How can we write sensory details in our stories if we don’t stop and experience them for ourselves?

Read writing craft books. Over the past couple weeks I’ve read two: The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman (an easy read with very practical ideas for improving plot); and The Moral Premise by Stanley Williams (not an easy read and geared for screenwriters, but a thorough introduction on how to implement the crucial element of a story premise). Both have given me fresh ideas and renewed my excitement for starting a first draft.

Meditate on classic writing. I like reading the writing of “oldtimers.” I love the wisdom and the ability to find timeless truths. These are the kinds of truths that I like to make my characters struggle through. When we take the time to wrestle with deeper issues, then we're better able to weave them into our stories.

Study other great books. Currently, I’m reading Where the Red Fern Grows to my children. And as I’m reading it, I’m taking lots of notes. It’s very well-written, and I’m studying the characterization, plot development, and the beautiful usage of similes and metaphors.

So there you have it. Those are some of the ways that I’ve been refreshing myself lately. Now I’d love to hear what you do. What are the ways that you refresh yourself so that you can keep your writing fresh?

P.S. Need a Christmas present? I'm giving away TWO autographed copies of The Preacher's Bride (signed and sent to the person of your choice!) For rules and to enter the drawing, click here.

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