I had the pleasure of participating on two panels at this past weekend’s Austin SCBWI conference, where one of the questions posed was about writing advice. Very wise tips were shared: Read a lot, write a lot, find critique partners, attend conferences and workshops, be willing to revise, etc. While the mic slowly passed my way, I flashed back to the past couple of crazy-busy years and how the isolation of work, work, work, and school, school, school has taken its toll. All this sitting! All this staring at a computer! All this time away from life! Of course, it will all feel worth it once books are in my hand and I walk across a certain stage in a matter of months. We’re allowed to feel exhausted sometimes, right? My extended crunch time has been filled with so many wonderful things. But, it occurred to me that, though I have stockpiled project ideas the way people stockpile batteries during wartime, even those ideas could be jeopardized by my hyper-focus.
Our best ideas come to us when we are NOT trying to create something. There’s a reason little gifts of wonder hit us when we’re driving, in the shower, at a yoga class, or miles away from our work space. Creativity comes during down time, which happens to be when our brains stockpile sensory, logical, creative, and social memory. How else could we remember the thrill of our favorite childhood games, or the sound of wind through trees, the smell of rain , the velvety touch of a calf’s muzzle, or the thorny stems of the neighbor’s forbidden rose petals? What does it feel like to zip-line down, climb up, run away? What are the emotions of seeing Niagara Falls, or riding a roller coaster, or the heartbreak of teen break-ups? And what about the many ways people act and react with each other? The more life we live, the more energized we will be. And, bonus, those experiences will infuse the stories we write.
My inarticulate advice to the 200-plus conference attendees was actually introspective advice to myself, and I’m determined to take heed:
Step away from that computer!
Experience new things. Allow yourself time to be aimless. Do something silly with your family and friends. Do nothing at all. People-watch. Embrace a new hobby. Get lost!
Give yourself a break, physically, emotionally, and creatively. When you return to the page, you will be more energized and full of the stuff of writing magic.
Donna Janell Bowman is the author of the forthcoming picture book biography, Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Taught the World About Kindness (Lee and Low Books, October 2016), in addition to En Garde! Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words (Peachtree, 2018), and King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara (Peachtree, 2019). You can learn more about her work at http://www.donnajanellbowman.com.