The Importance of Rest

It’s the second week of December, and my fall semester is coming to an end. Yesterday, I also completed the first draft of Carmilla’s Ghost, the second Sam Hain adventure novel. Liam’s Doom took me from November through March to draft, but I managed to draft this book in forty-one days. Part of that was due to NaNoWriMo and the pressure I put on myself to write daily for the badges and to get at least 50,000 words drafted during November. Both these accomplishments bring me to the subject of this week’s blog: the importance of rest.

I know a lot of writers and writing advice blogs swear by the “You must write every day” mantra. Having written a book with that structure as well as one without that structure in place, I can say that writing every day can help a writer produce the first draft quickly – if the writer can avoid burnout. That’s something I’ve seen in several of my friends in grad school to so many people who start writing novels. I saw somewhere (so I don’t know the accuracy) that approximately 3% of people who set out to write a novel actually finish the first draft. That’s a lot of unfinished stories. And while most grad students I know finish, they often take an extra year due to the stress of writing and the burnout that causes them to temporarily walk away.

And that’s where rest comes in. In all things, it’s important to rest. People who lift weights regularly will often say that after a day of targeting a particular muscle group, people should rest that group the next day to give the muscles time to heal and repair. Thanks to unions, we have the weekend to rest after a week of working. Rest helps heal and repair. It helps give perspective. In MMORPGs, a period of rest grants a bonus to experience earned the following day. In D&D, resting allows characters to recover health, energy, and abilities. Rest is important and essential.

The first type of rest I want to discuss is resting while drafting. Look, it is possible to write every day and quickly draft a novel or any other book-length project. I’ve done it. Many famous authors, such as Stephen King, swear by this method. However, it’s easy to become burned out when one pushes constantly but does not rest. Once I start working on my next book-length project, which I probably won’t start until after Liam’s Doom is released on 9 March, my plan (as of now) is to schedule writing time on 4-5 days each week. I know that in moments of hyperfocus, I can write for 8-10 hours straight, but I also know that feeling the pressure to write daily can lead to simply putting words onto a page, which I may have to delete and completely rewrite later. I would rather approach my work fresh and rested so that I have a better chance of writing quality content each session, making my shitty first draft slightly less shitty when I go back to edit it. Plus, I work full time and have a family, so writing every day can become impractical.

The second type of rest I want to talk about is the rest I’m currently imposing upon myself:  the post-draft and pre-revision rest. Sure, you can immediately start revising after you complete a draft of a project. I’ve done it. Lots of people have done it. However, research and experience demonstrate that we revise more effectively and efficiently if we approach the draft with “fresh eyes.” And we get those fresh eyes by resting. My plan, and I may or may not follow it, is to not revise until after Christmas. I want to give myself two weeks where I do not look at the manuscript so that when I do return to it, I will be less likely to read “what I intended to write” instead of reading “what I actually wrote.” And that’s a big help in assessing and revising. It’s easy to gloss over mistakes when the work is fresh in my mind, because “I know what I meant to say, so that’s what I read when I look over it.” Giving myself two weeks between drafting and revision helps me to approach the text after my intentions leave my short-term memory. My eyes are fresh, and I can better assess my work.

So, that’s what I wanted to write about: resting. It’s important that we rest throughout our lives. Resting is an essential component of doing our best work in all things from being part of a family/friend group, to creative endeavors, to even just working a mundane job. Lack of rest can be disastrous. Yet, for some reason, many writers see going without rest as a badge of honor. Rest helps us heal, repair, and function. So, don’t feel guilty about taking a day off regularly to get some sleep or just chill in front of the television. Rest isn’t a privilege; it’s a necessity.

Write on!