In the final installment of this three-part column, Eva Recinos explores how taking time away from writing is an important part of the process
Make Your Art No Matter What
Make Your Art No Matter What
As a writer, I’ve often thought, If I take time away or rest, maybe I’ll miss an opportunity, or even, I won’t be good enough later; I need to write this idea down now. It’s so hard to talk back to that voice of self-doubt and ask, Can I please just have this day, or this hour, or this evening off? I’m almost done with the latest season of The Great Pottery Throw Down (another competition show, oops); would it be so terrible if I stepped away from that essay for the night?
“To take one small step, identify one day (or a half day if you’re truly feeling stuck) that you block off from your paid jobs and everything connected to your art,” says Pickens. “You can do anything else during this day except that. Keeping a regular boundary with the world of work (and striving to earn) gives that part of yourself a chance to recover and recuperate.”
We can trust that we will come back when it feels right.
When I was a child, I imagined writers hunched over their desks for hours, writing and writing until their wrists hurt. But there are so many different ways to arrive at writing a piece we love. In discussing The Book of Delights, Ross Gay talked to Writer’s Digest about the idea of delight and his process.
“I drafted these essays in half an hour,” he said. “There was something very pleasant about that—to have a little exercise. It’s not like you’re trying to write the best thing in the world.”
Walking was important to his process; so was observing. The time you sit in your writing space isn’t the only time you spend creating (although that’s necessary, of course). If you’re a writer, you are a writer during all your time, whether you spend those hours looking for inspiration, hoping you might glean something from the world, or just being a person.
I often like to “trick” myself into inspiration. Sometimes that book or that walk around the block will inadvertently help me solve a creative block—even, and especially, when I least suspect it. If I sit there waiting for my inspiration to appear, I only feel more frustrated.
If you’re a writer, you are a writer during all your time.
But what about when my self-doubt begins to nag and says, Less walking, more writing, you loser? Pickens has some tips:
“My favorite tool for dealing with self-doubt is the first thought, second thought, first action method, which I learned about in 12-Step spaces,” said Pickens. “It goes like this: You’re not responsible for your first thought. Instead, you’re responsible for your second thought and your first action . . . When self-doubt comes up, it’s helpful to remember that that is just your first thought and you can discard it.”
Here it is in action, as she generously lays out:
“For example: a burned-out writer wants to take a day off from all paid (and unpaid) writing work.
“First thought: If you lazily take the day off, other people will get ahead and your writing will never get [to] the level you want it to be.
“Second thought: If I rest now, I’ll be more focused and motivated for my work the next day.
“First action: Take the damn day off.”
Take. The damn. Day off.
Of course, all sorts of day-to-day responsibilities can prevent us from doing that so easily. But again, it pays to start small. An evening, a weekend, an hour. Or just step away from a mental space you’ve been occupying for a while—like the self-doubt chatter about your project. Give it a break by pursuing a new idea, giving feedback on someone else’s work, revising another piece you’d forgotten was in your drafts. It might just help you get out of that rut.
I have no doubt that you’ll create something you love when you come back. And if you don’t, there’s always the next blank page.
Eva Recinos is a Los Angeles-based editor and writer. Her profiles, features and reviews have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, GOOD, The Guardian, KCET Artbound, Art21, Bitch, Jezebel and more. Her essays have appeared in Electric Literature, PANK, Blood Orange Review, Catapult, Refinery29 and more. She was a 2019 Idyllwild Writer's Week Nonfiction Fellow and a 2021 Pen America Emerging Voices Fellowship finalist. Eva runs a free monthly newsletter for creatives called Notes from Eva.