Three months ago Measuring Time & Other Stories was published, and since its release, this space has been quiet. Other than a handful of social media posts during the initial release phase and promoting my two book-launch events, my social media accounts also have been mostly quiet. Why, exactly?
I didn’t intend to go silent on social media and not to post on my website. Rather, those actions–along with not writing much at all (except for three poems and some dabbling in revising prose pieces)–resulted from a couple of factors.
One, I wanted to read more, and in order to read more, I needed to limit my phone use (which is where I engage with social media). For example, I had decided that this fall semester I would not use any social media from the time I arrived in the office until after I left each day. I thought this “restriction” would be difficult. It hasn’t been at all. Several days I’ve arrived home and not logged on to my social media accounts at all.
Two, related to the idea of reading more, I needed to recharge myself from a writing standpoint, and my best method is reading. Because my phone use drastically declined over the past three months, I’ve had not only more time for reading books but also more mental capacity for reading books (usually 1-2 consecutive hours a day). When I was a heavier smartphone user, reading books (one of the activities I love most in the world!) often felt less like delight and more like work. This realization frightened me.
Three, I’ve needed to take a rest (a sabbatical, perhaps?) from writing, but not because I don’t have ideas or because I don’t have anything to work on. Quite the contrary. There’s the novel draft, another full short-story manuscript, over three-hundred unpublished poems, a book-length memoir, other essays, and another three-dozen unpublished short stories.
Going into my summer break, I didn’t anticipate the amount of mental energy it would take for line edits and two sets of proofs for Measuring Time, and then to follow that period with writing the second draft of a novel, Pallid Faith. I worked on about 100,000 words in a 12-week span. When I typed those numbers just now I realized, that’s why you needed a break from writing.
In the first weeks of my break, I was nervous. I had a new book out, but I felt as though I were a phony, not a real writer. A real writer would keep writing each day, would want to keep writing. (Nonsense, of course, but writers are not always a rational lot.) What’s the next book? What’s the next big project?
I’ve come to accept the break for what it has been. This post is one of my first dips into the waters of writing. It feels good, but I have four books on my bedroom dresser, each of which I’m in a different point at.
When I was a beginning writer, I read an interview with one of my favorite writers, Richard Ford. He said he wrote in longhand using cheap Bic pens. But the other detail I remember is that when he finished a book, he often didn’t write for several months. That fact surprised me. One of my favorite authors was admitting that he took breaks, substantial breaks. I didn’t have any books published then, so I couldn’t relate at all.
Now, here I am, nearly 20 years later, and although my “success” is nothing remotely close to Ford’s, I can actually understand why he needed a break. And remembering that fact has allowed me to grant myself permission to rest from arranging my own words and instead lose myself in the arrangements of others’ words. After all, the latter is the reason I started writing in the first place.