Take a Hike! (Or Why Sometimes Writing Isn’t the Right Answer)

Cherry blossom viewMy life has changed quite a bit in the last six months. Even though financially, I took a big hit, what I’ve regained in peace of mind, sanity, and creativity seems worth it to me.

Oh sure, things are tight. Very tight. And I’m facing some rather heartbreaking decisions as a result. But the path I’d been on was killing me, there’s no doubt of that. It wasn’t sustainable, and yet it is *exactly* what the American workforce system requires of the middle-class American. Run yourself into the ground working 60+ hours a week, all for the ephemeral hope that you, too, will succeed in the American Dream.

The Road AheadWell, that Dream was turning into a nightmare for me. And like Marley’s Ghost, I am still dragging the chains of that former life around behind me, trapping me with debt and a house I cannot sell. Oh well. What I have rediscovered, however, in these last six months, is my love for everything that is important to me. My boyfriend. My dog. My horse. My writing.


Who I am as a person when I am not working myself to the bone.

It took a few months of this new lifestyle for my creativity to return. Thankfully, it was like a dormant seed in the winter, and all it took was a little time, warmth, and patience for it to sprout and blossom again. I’ve written more in the last six months than I’ve written in the last two years, and that feels right to me.

Bradford PearsThis past weekend, I had several long blocks of time in which I could write but I didn’t. I chose to take advantage of the gorgeous spring day instead. I’m not especially heat tolerant, so there is only a narrow window of time during the spring where being outside is a sheer delight for me. I have always maintained that spending a certain amount of time outdoors was fundamentally necessary to my well-being, and that I could tell when I hadn’t been in the forest in far too long. So Sunday, instead of working on the sequel to Walk a Mile (to be released by Dreamspinner Press sometime this fall) or even the fanfic I’m doing for a fest on Live Journal, I took the dog out for a run in the national forest and then headed out to the barn to ride my horse. It was a productive day of a different sort. πŸ™‚

Kenya & Pear TreesI’ve also always maintained that I do my best brainstorming for novels when I am doing some sort of mindless task, such as driving long distances, or mucking out stalls. Brainstorming while walking the dog is one of my favorite activities (though it got me into trouble recently as a jogger came upon us without warning and I wasn’t paying enough attention to keep the dog from planting muddy feet on him. *redface*)

Turns out thereΒ  is a perfectly good reason for all of this. I ran across this article today on creativity and dopamine levels: and why brainstorming works in the situations I described and why it is incredibly difficult to write when stressed or depressed. It also explains why writing is so addictive to those of us who do it. The article is called Why We Have Our Best Ideas in the Shower: The Science of Creativity. Let me tell you, it explains a LOT. πŸ™‚

So my advice? When you’re stuck at the keyboard staring at a blinking cursor, considering getting up and moving. Go outside and feel the warm caress of the sun on your face. Do some gardening. Mow the lawn. Take the dog for a walk. Do something you enjoy. Activate those dopamine receptors and let your subconscious work on the problem stalling you in that story. You can always come back to it later. But don’t spend the entire day at the keyboard, bouncing from one social media site to the next because you can’t figure out a thorny plot problem. You’re going about the solution all wrong.





12 thoughts on “Take a Hike! (Or Why Sometimes Writing Isn’t the Right Answer)

  1. Sarah, this is such an inspiring post. As you probably know I’ve also had a few months when life just seems to kick you at you every turn. It’s only my writing that’s kept me sane, and the walks with the dog, and going down to the beach at the crack of dawn on a Sunday with hubby when he wants to take early morning photographs. I’m trying to stay positive in the face of adversity -I really am. It’s hard and it takes strength and courage. And knowing someone out there is going through the same thing is heartening. I might have lost my job and an income. I might be facing hard times ahead. But on the positive side I’ve got ahead of my publishing contract deadlines and started writing new stuff again when I was worried I couldn’t do it. I still falter and doubt myself, then I read a post like this one and feel better πŸ™‚

    • Oh Susan, I feel for you, I really do. But talk about someone who has taken tremendous advantage of the opportunity presented to you! Your writing output (with each story rising to best-seller status, by the way!) is something to be admired. You may not be able to live off your sales yet, but you have significantly shortened the time in which you can because your backlist is impressive for someone who’s only been writing professionally since 2012! I’m in awe, I really am! πŸ™‚

      I don’t seem to be able to write on that kind of schedule, however. I’ve accepted the fact that my own writing will probably never rise to the levels of sales that it would take to get me out of my current hole. For a long time I was *counting* on my stories to do just that, and it placed an unwarranted burden on the writing–which was not healthy for production either. By allowing my stories to be what they are–a light way for someone to spend and afternoon and hopefully distract someone from their own worries for a while (and something that occasionally pays the mortgage for me), I’ve been able to embrace writing again. That’s just me, though. I have a nasty way of sabotaging myself whenever I think I might succeed at something. (I’ve been working on *that* problem my whole life now)

      The thing is, I was killing myself to stay in the race and it wasn’t working. I’m finding floating for a while until I regain my breath to start swimming again is the better option for me. And I don’t need to win the race–I just need to cross the finish line. So you hang in there because you’re going to cross that finish line long before me! πŸ™‚
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Take a Hike! (Or Why Sometimes Writing Isn’t the Right Answer)My Profile

  2. Well, that probably explains why I wrote so little this winter. The polar vortex kept me inside for weeks on end, and I could barely work, much less write. I kept getting stuck on plot issues and was unable to resolve them. Even my usual solution–lying in bed half-awake and considering it–didn’t work. I am doubly glad of my upcoming move to a far more outside-friendly environment; I need the sun and warmth every day, not just a couple months a year.

    We still don’t have spring! This morning, it is again below freezing. πŸ™
    Theo Fenraven recently posted..Another Silver Rant and an UpdateMy Profile

    • I can understand that completely, Theo. Having seen your lovely photographs, I know how much you appreciate the outdoors. And truthfully, even though my knee-jerk reaction to your announcement you are moving to FL was “Ack! Hell, no!”, I realize that living in a far more temperate part of the country, I have the luxury of saying I’d prefer the cold over the heat. The hard facts are that I would probably not deal with either extreme well.

      I used to say my comfort zone was about 35 to 75 degrees. Now I realize it’s about 62 plus or minus two. πŸ˜‰ I hope your move from the frigid Mid-West is everything you hope it will be! And I’m looking forward to your photos!
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Take a Hike! (Or Why Sometimes Writing Isn’t the Right Answer)My Profile

  3. Awesome post, Sarah – and you are so right to strive to find a balance with what you want to achieve with your writing.

    What I need to deal with is the guilt feelings I get : guilt that today I’m spending my time on fannish things in a catch up there; guilt that I need to take time out to walk the dog; guilt that I spent the morning reading Harry Potter and snoozing; guilt that I’m snoozing a *lot* and I’m too lazy to go to the doctor to get my thyroid checked out the way I should do; guilt that I leave my mother alone too long each day. And **massive** guilt that I am not writing enough, that I intended to finish Gilded Scarab at Christmas, that I haven’t published anything for months and months. Yes, I’m waiting on publishers re Shield, but given its nature, I don’t think the publisher will take it. I’ll probably end up self-publishing it, but after another six month delay. More guilt…

    Really, I should stop with all that and not feel that every single minute of the day should be spent at the keyboard. I need to work on that.
    Anna Butler recently posted..The Dog Who Swallows MillionsMy Profile

    • Well, you know what I went through with the complete stall of any writing while waiting to hear from the publisher on Walk a Mile. It’s a horrible feeling, especially when you know the smart thing to do is keep working so you’ll be that much closer to the next production. But I sat on my hands for nearly two months and I can’t get that time back now.

      The publisher will either take Shield or they won’t. Either way, it *will* get published. And it will find its home in the hearts of so many sci-fi fans it’s not funny. πŸ™‚

      What I’m trying to do these days is cut myself some slack. No, I didn’t walk the dog today. A cold rain is falling and everything in my body hurts (I foresee a blog post about *that* in the not too distant future) but I got him out on Sunday and it was a good walk. Today he is happily chewing on a bone while I type.

      No, I didn’t ride the horse today–ditto cold rain/pain. But I rode on Sunday and it was a lovely day for it. I *must* stop mourning things before I lose them and stop making myself feel bad over what I’m not doing before it sucks all the joy out of what I *am* doing. Life isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon and we need to pace ourselves–not just as writers, but with everything we do.

      You know why I still write fanfic? Because I enjoy it. The day it ceases to be fun will be the day I stop. It feels like a palette cleanser to me as well, allowing me to have some fun and stretch my wings without pressure–and ultimately, I think that’s good for the original fiction as well.

      Ditto reading Harry Potter. πŸ™‚ How can you feel guilty for that? Seriously, reading good books makes you understand storytelling better. While I often get demoralized by reading awesome stories when in the throes of a WIP, I recognize when I’m off-tract with my own storytelling when I see an example of it being done correctly. You have to read good stories to write good stories. I firmly believe that.

      Naps are good, too, but snoozing too much can definitely be a sign of something out of whack. Do go see your doctor. Don’t feel guilty about it, though, just make an appointment!

      I jokingly say, “Of course my mother can push my buttons–she installed them!” but the truth of the matter is long after the parental unit is singing a different tune, we still press our own buttons because that’s what feels normal to us. I think of guilt like inflammation. A little inflammation is absolutely crucial to healing–all of the chemical markers that trigger healing stem from that first initial response to trauma. However, uncontrolled inflammation leads to permanent damage and scarring. I think guilt works very much the same. πŸ™‚
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Take a Hike! (Or Why Sometimes Writing Isn’t the Right Answer)My Profile

  4. I have the greatest admiration for your determination to take the positives from such a difficult situation – and what positives they’re turning out to be. I’m so glad.

    I found the article you linked to fascinating. I can’t tell you the number of times a thorny plot issue has worked itself out in the shower for me. Apart from that, I tend to find just lying down (I have to be lying, not sitting) and letting my brain wander where it will usually results in the next scene to be written arriving in my head.
    Sarah Granger recently posted..When a rubber duck isn’t just a rubber duckMy Profile

    • Aw, that’s very nice of you to say! I’ll have to remind myself of that when I’m whining about how tough things are at some future date! Trust me, I have to give myself pep talks all the time!

      Wasn’t that a cool article? I love getting scientific proof for something I’ve observed. The shower thing makes complete sense because I can’t think of anything more relaxing than a long hot shower!

      I have a book on writing (somewhere around here among many of the same) and if I can think of the author’s name and title I’ll post it here, but one of the things the author talks about is that state you get into when you’re not quite asleep but you’re not really awake, either. It has something to do with theta waves in the brain. Anyway, she says that this is the state your brain goes into when you’re in the shower or at the end of a long relaxing walk–and that we as writers need to spend a certain amount of time there and make use of that mindset. πŸ™‚
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Take a Hike! (Or Why Sometimes Writing Isn’t the Right Answer)My Profile

  5. It’s hard to take a negative and turn it into a positive but you seemed to have surely done that. I”m facing job insecurity of my own, but am too close to the magic word of retirement to give it up now. So I write when I can and where I can, and try to make it work.
    A great post. I’ve only recently discovered your website and love it. I’ve always discovered my best ideas while walking in my neighborhood or even taking a shower (Makes for difficult note taking though!)

    • Felice, I hardly know anyone who *isn’t* facing job insecurity right now–and so many people holding on to the hope of making it until they can retire. We all seem to be in the same leaky boat, bailing out the water as fast we can just to stay afloat. Forget about making it to shore!

      I know a lot of people who are counting on the writing to fill in the income gaps, and while I do think that’s possible for some, in my case it placed too much pressure on the writing to succeed. It sucked all the joy out of the writing, too. Other people feel differently and embrace the pressure to write on a schedule–I just don’t seem to be able to do my best work under those conditions. πŸ™ But like you, I’m going to keep plugging away at it, telling the stories I like to tell and hoping to make someone else’s life a bit brighter for it.

      I’m so pleased you like the website! I had some very specific things in mind when I created it–I wanted it to be ‘clean’ in terms of finding things and easy to navigate as well. Light in color and pleasing to the eye. It’s so nice to hear that it works for you!

      And I’m learning to master the whole ‘remember that really cool thing you thought of in the shower” bit myself–nothing more frustrating than to realize you’ve forgotten the brilliant thing you thought of earlier! πŸ™‚
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Take a Hike! (Or Why Sometimes Writing Isn’t the Right Answer)My Profile

  6. Sarah, thanks for a great post! I agree about the ‘work’ world middle class America is meant to espouse–it’s unnatural, to say the least, to live a life that has nothing to do with seasons or life stages. I too stopped my day job this year, though not completely by choice as I did in order to provide care for my father. I too am stuck economically, and disaster looms ahead, I love writing and editing and do them “full time”, and then some, and drive myself to do more partly because of money worries. But, I achieve less and am less happy and more worried if I don’t take some time for recreation (re-creation, if you will). And yes, mindfulness is all well and good, but those walks and showers are hella productive if you let your writer’s mind wander over the territory!
    Lou Sylvre recently posted..Gay Romance University 102: How to have a solid romance with a ghostly lover (Haunted, Brynn Stein)My Profile

    • But, I achieve less and am less happy and more worried if I don’t take some time for recreation (re-creation, if you will).

      Thank you! I think that’s a very good way of putting it here–that recharging your batteries is about recharging your creativity too.:-)

      And yes, I think there has to be more to life than work, work, work. It’s one of the reasons why, when I lost a huge chunk of my income, I decided against trying to find part-time work to fill the gap. I wasn’t making it as it was–might as well at least take a breather and regroup before jumping back on the treadmill again. πŸ˜‰
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Take a Hike! (Or Why Sometimes Writing Isn’t the Right Answer)My Profile

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