Working for yourself, you have to develop discipline. You’ve got to be able to knuckle down and do what needs to be done, as though there were a boss standing over your shoulder. You’ve got to clock in at work, and spend the day there.
But sometimes the best way to get something done is to walk away from it.
I spent the first three days of this week on the West Coast, doing some educational programmes for schools. The programmes took up the mornings, but by early afternoon, I was done.
Each afternoon, I thought to myself, “Right. I need to get some writing done now. I need to make use of my time.” And each afternoon, I sat at the computer for a few minutes, then went outside for a long walk.
I hardly wrote a word, and yet…
Those long walks were perhaps a more productive use of my time. I was in places I don’t get to go to very frequently, enjoying an environment wildly different from my office. A different part of my brain was being stimulated on those walks—a part that was more thoughtful, perhaps. More open to emotion and suggestion.
That part of my mind started churning with thoughts and ideas about a novel I wrote last year. I hadn’t thought about the story for months. Though I liked the book, its sequel wasn’t going well, and I had set it aside while I wrote something entirely different. Every time I considered working on it, I felt I was up against a wall. Something wasn’t quite right about my main character. I had missed something, and wasn’t sure what it was.
But as I walked the beach, my character walked with me. She told me about her dreams and aspirations. She told me about her childhood, and about what made her become the person she is. She explained to me why she can’t do what I’ve asked her to do in the second book, and why and how she will rebel against my expectations.
I scribbled pages of notes from our ‘conversation’, and I’m looking forward to getting back to her story and finishing it the way it should be finished.
So my ‘wasted’ time was not wasted after all. Had I sat in my hotel room and forced myself to put words on the page, I would never have found the right words for the page.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away.