November 11, 2011

Embracing Blow-Off Day

If discipline is the writer’s best friend in any field, it is as crucial in the neo-pulp realm of gaming and genre fiction as a shotgun is during a zombie apocalypse. To make a living on a modest word rate, you can’t let time tick by while you wait for inspiration to strike. You have to sit your butt in the chair and make it happen. If that requires rituals, routines or caffeine to get your brain activity jumpstarted, so be it.

That’s true almost every day. But I’ve found one circumstance where the brain’s demand for a blow-off day must be honored. At the midpoint in any novel, I invariably find that the creative engine goes completely AWOL for a day. I can’t predict exactly when that day will come, except that it will be somewhere around the middle of the first draft. The outlined scene might seem perfectly right and ready to be laid down in prose. I might be riding on the best possible night’s sleep, be in a positive place in my exercise regimen, and otherwise as physically ready as I get. But still the usual uphill battle to get down the first couple of hundred words never leaves the mire. The slogging just gets worse.

I used to try to power through, annoyed by my sudden failure of discipline. Now I realize that the sustained concentration required for a novel demands this rest stop. I have embraced blow-off day. Recognizing it when it comes, and giving my brain the day off, is as much part of the craft and discipline as any other part of the process.

A single-author roleplaying game, like Ashen Stars, is certainly longer than a genre-sized novel. But it entails enough task-switching to keep the creative wheels greased without calling a one-day strike. The starship combat chapter requires different muscles than the GM advice chapter, while the scenario represents yet another change of pace. A long fiction work draws from the same well, day after day.

My blow-off day on my current, unannounced novel came on Friday. I saw that it was coming and headed downtown to check out the delightful new Aki Kaurismaki movie, Le Havre. When I got back to the manuscript on Monday I had my flow back. Also, I saw a great scene that ought to have gone before the one that was stopping me short.

You can’t go lateral as an excuse not to work. But sometimes, in order to work, you have to go lateral.