Monday, August 13, 2012

August Theme: Walking Away (Tracy Barrett)

I spent a week earlier this month at the SCBWI Summer Conference, where Newbery-winning author Clare Vanderppool gave a very funny keynote in which she described a typical writing day, which included trying to work while surrounded by all the chaos of a household with four children. She then said something that contradicts the advice that I’ve heard ever since I started to take this writing thing seriously: You don’t have to write every day.

And lately I’ve been hearing other writers say the same thing.

I find this validating. I’ve never been able to take that advice. Some days have just been too full, too busy; some days my creative juice has gone elsewhere; some days I had obligations that absolutely, positively had to be met.

After I took on a heftier volunteer position with SCBWI than I had previously held, I determined not to let my writing go by the wayside. I knew it would be tough; I still had a year to go in my day job, and taking care of all of these responsibilities would be a challenge. It was only when I realized that I was never not working—either writing, dealing with SCBWI issues, trying to keep up with the minimal promotion that I do, or tackling my day job—that I decided to call a halt to it.

So the instant my day job ended (May 11—a date I’ll never forget!) I declared that I would take a writing sabbatical every week. One day a week I would do no work related to writing, promotion, or SCBWI. If my mind wandered and I came up with an interesting plot twist or a solution to a character dilemma, I could write it down as long as it didn’t fill more than one standard-sized Post-it.

Now that it’s been a few months, I can safely say that the advice to write every day, while it might work for some, doesn’t work for me. While taking a day off every week, I did major revisions on not one but two manuscripts, I jotted down the first few chapters of an entirely new kind of story, and I’ve roughed out the basic lines of a project that’s been tumbling around in my head for a long time. It isn’t one-size-fits-all, just like any other advice: writing a crappy first draft and revising it later vs. revising as you go, or outlining vs. not outlining. What works for you on this particular project on this particular day is what you should do.

And what works for me, at least for now, is to walk away one day a week.


  1. It's amazing what you've accomplished by allowing yourself some breathing room, Tracy!

  2. There was a lot pent up in me, Holly! Now that the first explosion is over I imagine I'll slow down to a normal pace, at least for a while.