Monday, 19 June 2017

Downtime by Sophie Claire

We’re into exam season and my children are studying hard. 

I’m glad. I have a strong work ethic and I firmly believe that hard work pays off in the end. But recently I’ve found myself saying Take a break, have some downtime, and I’m trying to follow this advice in my own writing too.

Because the more books I write, the more I realise that writing isn’t only about getting words on the page (although that is crucial, obviously), meeting targets, or sitting at the computer for long hours. It’s also about getting to know your characters and spending time with them, and you don’t have to be at your desk to do this.

When I begin a new book I find the writing is stilted. My characters are still new to me, I’m not sure how the plot will unfold.

But as the weeks and months pass by and I become increasingly submerged in the story I’m creating, the characters come alive and begin to follow me around. They creep into my life and float around at the edges of my conscious thoughts. When I’m watching television I find myself wondering what would X do in that situation? How would he/she react? In the supermarket I spot a product and think; That’s it! That’s what reminds my heroine of her childhood!

I love it when this happens. When my characters become real to me and the tiny quirky details of their lives and personalities reveal themselves.

But I believe that you need two things for this to happen:

1) To have spent time with those characters already (ie. writing)

2) To relax and take time away from the computer, giving the mind room to wander.

Time off can be really productive. 

It’s when the subconscious gets to work, absorbing and mulling over all the information it’s collected, both real and fictional. It’s when – for me, at least – the best ideas bubble up to the surface and land in my head, as if out of nowhere. It may not feel like work, but I've found that reading and researching are as crucial as writing itself. 

And so is time off. Spending time with friends and family, or indulging in your favourite hobbies feeds the imagination. An emotional conversation with a friend or even a passing comment from a stranger can trigger a new idea, and with any luck, that might develop into a character or a plot for a new book.

So I’ve learned that prioritising time off is as important as working hard. Switching off is actually like switching on.

How about you? When do you have your best ideas?


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