For most of the time I was drafting Blood’s Force, I was solely focused on that project. All of my brainstorming and creative energy were attuned to where that story was going next, and how it was going to get there.
An impressive feat of focus and discipline, but after a while, all that squinting in one direction strained my creative vision. It took me a while to realize the value of increased sanity breaks away from writing – usually for reading, drawing, and video games. (Oh, and fireflies.)
But then I gradually sneaked writing into my off-time as well – writing that had nothing to do with my main project. My husband and I play a story-building game together, similar to a forum RPG. We keep shared files on Google Docs. He’ll write out his character’s actions, I’ll append my character’s actions, then it’s his turn again. There’s no obligation at all. It’s just fun.
It’s amazing how fast that writing pours out of my head. On my “serious” projects, 1000 new words is a really good day. With my playtime writing, I can churn out 1000 words in the space of an hour or two. I don’t have to think about it, it just happens. The voice that’s normally third-guessing each word goes on vacation. I get a lot of opportunity to flex my creativity muscles, working with a different set of characters, constraints, and problems to solve.
It seems like energy wasted. All that effort for prose that only two people will ever see? But seriously, it’s a really good break from my main project, especially when I’m stuck on something there and need time away from it. The shift to a different genre and set of characters lets my brain go places it wouldn’t normally go if it had to remain in the “main” thought-space. That divergent thinking really helps refresh me upon returning to the main project.
The other benefit to side projects is that they often help me get going on days when I feel like I can’t get anything done. I have the aforementioned story-writing with my husband; I also have this very blog, and articles for The Daily WTF. If I’m feeling too brain-dead to launch straight into my main project, I’ll take 30-60 minutes to draft a blog post or article. One crappy sentence becomes two, then three… who cares, right? It’s drafting. By the time I’m done, I feel a sense of accomplishment, and greater confidence that I’ll achieve something constructive on my main project.
It seems silly to ask someone experiencing writer’s block, “Have you tried writing?” But seriously, taking a break to work on something else might be a great way to power through it.