On the Necessity of Writing Sabbaticals

restIf you’re, like me, an obsessive-compulsive writer who gets stressed out by not finishing things, taking a break can be difficult. This is especially true during November, or as most of you know it, NaNoWriMo. I have never participated in this insane push to write a novel from start to finish in one month, partially because the past six years of my life have been stressful enough without trying to write a whole book in such a condensed period of time, but also because the pressure I put on myself is enough to make me crack without additional external pressure. I seriously hate taking a longer than anticipated time to finish my projects; it’s stressing me beyond belief right now that I haven’t done much with my novel in two months, despite the fact that said lack of progress is due to moving to another continent and taking up a new job. Y’know, normal adult stuff that is naturally going to get in the way of side tasks in general. But something I’m learning right now is the benefit of taking a break from my writing. Not just one project, mind you. I’m talking all of my non-RPG projects. As of today, I’m on a complete writing break for a week. I find that when I’m having trouble writing and am unable to put words to paper, taking time off for a bit, even if it’s just a day or two, helps me re-exert control over the process. Suddenly it’s not that I *can’t* write at that time; I’m *choosing* not to write. That simple act of controlling the situation actually helps me with the writer’s block when I return to my work because then I’m in the mindset of “I chose to rest; now I can go back.” This only works if I take a sabbatical from writing altogether. No idea why, but that’s the tru9h of it. It also relaxes me by taking my brain out of freak-out mode and allows me to redirect my creative energies elsewhere, such as into dancing or learning Polish. If I try writing another project during a mental freak out, I end up just stressing out about how much I should be working on the other project and how annoying it is that I can’t progress any further. Sometimes, you really do just need to take a break. It’s okay to take time off (though maybe not this week, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo). Just make sure that you set parameters for yourself: how long the sabbatical will last, what other hobbies/projects you’ll work on during that time, and what you’ll start work on when the break is over. If you’re exhausted and haven’t gotten much writing done lately, take a break. Have a Kit-Kat. Listen to a Dalek Relaxation Tape. Your stories will thank you for it.

 

Holiday Special: Have your characters celebrate

November and December is an exciting time of year to me. There are a lot of celebrations in a very short period of time. For teaching, it was the promised land of the school year, followed by the drought of no days off until Easter. There are also so many fun festivities to enjoy. Surely you have two or three at the very least between Halloween and now. If you don’t practice them, no doubt you can name them. Many of the holidays evolved, as well. Winter Solstice is arguably one of the first, if not the first in the season. Christmas stemmed from it so the pagans had a reason to convert in northern Europe to Christianity. Don’t deprive a society of a good party or things get ugly.

In your own world you have your mythologies and legends. You have celebrations and holidays. It becomes very easy to leave these in the background and never utilize them when it’s such a story rich point in time. Festivals reveal a great deal about the culture and characters. For culture, there could be human sacrifice. The Mayans had a ballgame where the winner was sacrificed to the gods. There could be a lot of sex. Thank Saturn for those long and exhausting nights. Perhaps people get drunk and play horrible music, while laughing, singing, and dancing. Create a celebration in your world that would compliment the belief structures and cultural norms you already have in place.

Sometimes celebration is a dude wearing a tie, running a spoon up and down a washboard. There was a lot of alcohol involved.
This tells you a lot about both character and setting!

How your characters react also says a lot. An individual who plays very hard at the ballgame believes in the gods and rewards in the afterlife. A character struggling between his wife and the gods may throw the game, desiring to see the birth of his son. During the orgy of Saturn, perhaps a boy has fallen madly in love with one particular girl and has no desire to make love to anyone else. Meanwhile, he catches her being passed from one man to the other, declaring she refuses to ever settle down with a man when such fun is readily at hand. How will he respond? In the drunken celebration, does your character play the washboard like an idiot, or does he scowl and go off in the corner? I picked the route of the joyful idiot. Choose a few characters from your story. Come up with a brief idea of how they react to your festival, along with how they might act with each other at the festival.

Now add some depth to your event. The ballgame was originally entertainment. There was no grand meaning to it, there were no gods watching the game and waiting for their snack. However, a volcano erupted and killed thousands. The shaman said they needed to sacrifice, and a team said the winner of the game should have the honor to feed the gods to save the many. Ever since then, the volcano has been dormant. Obviously it’s working.

Originally the festival of fertility was between man and wife. The goddess was different, along with the religion. When a decadent conqueror saw the ritual, they turned it to their own desires and it became a celebration of unbridled lust. A corporation wanted to figure out how to make a lot of money, so they convinced people to pay in order to watch a musical, drink, eat, and play instruments from the old days. Ultimately, the locals rarely take part in the festival, but the tourists show up in droves. A strange mouse-like creature also appears from time to time. Look at your own cultural celebration. Come up with a history for it, what the original purpose was, how it changed, and why it changed. Remember that history is also written by the victors. Chances are the orgy would be pinned on the “uncivilized” conquered culture and a few generations later no one would be the wiser.

This will give you a few good scenes, something to build up to, and a better understanding of cultures and characters. I hope it helped. If you have other ways you try to incorporate culture into your stories, post it below!