Having recently proselytized about my monk-like dedication to The Work, blathering on about the wisdom of diligently writing for twenty minutes a day, I think it's only fair that I own up to my own failure: there were a couple of days this week when that didn't happen.
Do I proclaim myself a hypocrite? The typical "do as I say but not as I do" doodoo-head blowhard? Nope. I'm craftier than that, insidious even - I offer you the ultimate rationalization for such aberrant Lazy Fucking Slacker behavior: I know how to write when I'm not writing.
[Insert maniacal laughter] The premise is obvious: all work and no play makes Jack an internet troll or some other brand of bore. The truth of the writing life is yes, you do have to get out of the house now and then. Suggested exercises include walking, breathing, breaking bread with someone, perhaps even breaking things (Know of a good local Smash Room? Highly recommended).
Sometimes the best counterpoint to the monk-like mind-work that comes with The Writer's Way is do as a zen monk does - that is, empty your mind. To simply sit outside and contemplate a cloud can be a highly productive process.
That's because one great aspect to writing every day (most days) is that once you've set it in motion, the work doesn't stop when you pull yourself away from your desk. While the left brain's on a break, the right keeps having at it. Which is why many writers I know often have their best lightbulb moments in the middle of majorly not-writing moments. I do great work in the shower, while biking on the beach. And I'm not alone in this. Can I get a witness?
When you're out in the world, you think about other things while your subconscious is working on whatever the problems are in the script. Once, when I really got stuck on something, I took a weekend off and went to Santa Barbara. I wasn't thinking about it and woke up in the middle of the night suddenly understanding where I had gone wrong and what I had to change. Sometimes, your mind has to be released in order to get past things, like a muscle that knots up so tight, there isn't enough blood going through it. It has to relax in order for the blood to flow again.
-- Amy Holden Jones, in Karl Iglesias's 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters.
And the social aspect of stepping away is nothing to take for granted. Talking to a real live person in real time (about things besides writing) is a good idea, because living in your head for too long a time can put you on a slippery slope.
The solitude of writing is quite frightening. It's quite close sometimes to madness, one just disappears for a day and loses touch. The ordinary action of taking a dress down to the dry cleaner's or spraying some plants infected with greenfly is a very sane and good thing to do. It brings one back, so to speak. It also brings the world back.
-- Nadine Gordimer
It also gives you good material:
If a man who writes feels like going to a zoo, he should by all means go to a zoo. He might even be lucky, as I once was when I paid a call at the Bronx Zoo and found myself attending the birth of twin fawns. It was a fine sight, and I lost no time writing a piece about it.
-- E.B. White
No event is wasted on a writer at work, even when there's no tablet at hand. Ultimately, of course, the real trick here is finding that hard-sought, wonderful thing: a sense of balance. Writing when you're not writing only really works when you're doing it in the context of doing your daily work. Otherwise, speaking of slippery slopes...
There was a period last fall when every time I began to write, I went into a perfect blank-minded euphoria, where I stared out the window and felt a love for and oneness with everything. I sat in this state, sometimes for the whole time I had planned to write. I thought to myself, "Lo and behold, I am becoming enlightened! This is much more important than writing, and besides this is where all writing leads." After this had gone on for quite a while, I asked [Zen teacher] Katagiri Roshi about it. He said,"Oh, it's just laziness. Get to work."
-- Natalie Goldberg