If you didn’t already know, March is Iditarod season. Mushers and their dogsled teams are racing right now across Alaska. In order to travel over 1,000 miles of mountain ranges, ice cold water, snow-blown tundra and sea ice, the musher has to plan for a sustainable yet fast run/rest cycle. However long and hard the dogs have run determines how long they need to rest to recover for the next push on down the trail.
I find that the same is true for writing. I have my own patterns of run and rest times. I push through a draft, or revision notes, waking up early before work every day to get in an hour of that great clear-headed first-thing-in-the-morning writing time. But when the draft is off, to beta readers or just sitting in a drawer for a few weeks, I take a much-needed rest. I read books, I watch TV, and I catch up on laundry and exercise.
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I need space from my manuscript. We need time away from each other for ideas to simmer, for problems to rise to the surface, and most importantly, for me to regain objectivity.
But there is another thing that happens when I allow myself to rest. When my active mind has stopped working on the story, my subconscious mind gets going. I’m not sure how to describe what happens next for me . . .
It’s like I’m in a tunnel on a mine cart, sitting comfortably, looking at my lovely story. But then the cart begins to move out of the dark tunnel and into the sunlight. I’m on sensory overload: the sounds and smells, the depth of vision, the contrast of light and dark.
Suddenly, the possibilities for my story have blown right open. The bar has been raised, and a new goal for the project (a goal I wasn’t even aware of being able to reach for before) materializes.
What would happen if I didn’t give myself that rest, if I didn’t take long, intentional steps away? I believe that my stories would be doomed to mediocrity, that I would be severely limiting myself and my work.
It’s hard. It’s really hard to get going again after a rest, once I realize all that needs to be done. I know how difficult that work is going to be, and often I’m not even sure how to go about it.
Just like the mushers, I’d imagine. The trail ahead might have strong headwinds or glare ice, or soft, deep snow that slows the team down. You’re sore from ski-poling and your voice is hoarse from cheering on your dogs through blowing snow (and this year, rain!) But you love the unexpected journey, the rugged trail, or you wouldn’t be out there. So you push through. And when you finally reach the finish line, all that hard work is worth it.
Right now, I’m resting. Soon, my readers will get back to me, and I’ll start running again. But for the next few days at least, I’ll be watching the race up north, cheering on my favorite team, and gathering strength for the next stretch of trail ahead of me.
Melanie Crowder graduated in 2011 with an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of the forthcoming middle grade novel, PARCHED (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2013). A West Coast girl at heart, Melanie now lives and writes in the beautiful (if dry) state of Colorado.
Visit her online at melaniecrowder.net.