Taking a Day Off
On sunny days...
For writers who can only work in snatched half hours here and there.
I'm essentially a selfish creature. Until recently I imagined that I was not alone in this, that most people would go to any lengths of melodramatic overacting to get something they felt they needed. But this is not so. Most people I know are actually completely selfless, and in my opinion need a little education in egocentricity.
What most people do
I believe, though I could be wrong, that most people who are new to writing, and who do not have the luxury of being able to spend all of their days and nights working on their masterpieces, tend to just get by as best they can with the little time they have. Thus, it can take months and years for most novice novelists to come up with anything approaching a book-length piece of writing. This is quite possibly why a large percentage of albeit very talented writers give up and never submit anything (I have no citation for this bit of guesswork, because it is precisely that, guesswork - but I believe that as long as I don't try to pass anything off as fact, I'm alright!). Shame. If only they'd known the secret.
What I do
For the most part, I do as everyone else. I write when my youngest child is at nursery for a couple of hours. I write when I can get up the energy after my children have gone to bed. I make use of half hours, when my offspring can't be bothered with me, to write a little something for a blog or a hub. People who have to work as well certainly find even less time than I do - I'm lucky to have so much free time. But I told you, I'm a selfish being. No time is ever enough time for me. I insist on more. I will pocket as much time as I possibly can, with little regard for the feelings of others who may have to take on my responsibilities while I'm using up that time.
So, I take one Saturday off a month. I recommend this practice to anyone who will listen. It's astonishing, the reactions that this little revelation can have on some people. Whenever I build myself up to revealing my little secret I get a little nervous, because I have had such a variety of responses. Many people grin widely, and laugh largely, and then sigh quite deeply, and say something like 'oh, if only my partner would look after the kids so I could take a day off.' Some people have frowned at me, and have assumed an expression and tone to suggest that they think I am the worst mother they have ever met, and that I should just get home and make sure that my partner's evening meal is hot and on the table the moment he gets home from a hard day of breadwinning! Bless them. But I have never had the kind of positive reaction that I'm earnestly looking for - I have never had anyone follow up the conversation at a later date with these words: 'Linda, I decided to follow your selfish example, and I also now have a day off once a month.' Maybe one day ...
What to do, as a writer, with the gift of the day off
I would certainly not presume to tell anyone what to do with their own free time. But I would say this, that it really should not be squandered. So, here are a few ideas:
- Read - catch up on some reading that you've been meaning to do for research.
- Read - catch up on some reading that you've been meaning to do for fun (because this might be your only opportunity to relax - relaxing is not squandering time).
- People watch - a valuable exercise, and one that is useful for a writer to get into the habit of. Making notes and composing little pieces of flash fiction based on the characters you glimpse, can often help you to come up with ideas for bigger stories.
- Write! Take this chunk of time and just write, write, write. Work on your novel in a very concentrated way, blinkered almost. Put all thoughts of anything else out of your head, be strict with yourself and get a chapter or two written. It can be exhausting, to write for several intensive hours at one time, but it can work well for some writers.
- Think - take yourself to a place that you are able to day dream in, and just keep a pen and paper handy. It can be a quiet place, or a noisy place, it's up to you. And see what happens.
I tend to do any or all of these activities on my day off. I often intend to stick to option 4, but might slide into option 5 without realising. I usually go into town - our town is just that, a town. I might go to a little cafe, and sit for hours, just enjoying the peace and writing as much as I can manage. I usually allow myself to read for fun once I'm satisfied that I've done enough work.
And don't necessarily feel as though you have to go home at tea time. I don't. I used to, but now I stay out all day. I eat at my favourite restaurant alone - to some strange looks sometimes. And then I finish off the day with a late movie - to more strange looks! A day off is a pure tonic (accompanied by gin if you like - but only if you've worked hard first! Don't waste the day by just getting drunk, tut tut.)
I realise that I may mostly be talking to women with children here - but I do intend the 'Day Off' to be used by everyone who needs it. I am considering patenting the idea.
Try it. You'll love it.