Some days, you have to choose between writing a blog post and writing another paragraph on your novel. Or between writing a blog post and working out. Or, on the really rough days, between writing a blog post and taking a shower. The past few days have been like that for me. Blog posts got scrapped for more novel writing, an hour-long walk with the dog along the nearby Cheasty Trail, a shower, and even a little Fallout. This is the trade-off you make, every day between now and the day you die. Every day, small decisions. Do I write? Do I spend time with loved ones? Do I take a nap? Every day, words that you give up in lieu of other things. There’s no right or wrong. There’s only today and choices. Tomorrow and choices. Until all of your choices are behind you. That’s how stories work too, I think. The character makes a choice every scene, and those choices inform the next scene, and on and on until someone (the writer, in this case) says, “Okay, you’re done. You’re out of choices. How do you feel about your life?”
In general, I don’t take much time off. It’s the danger of being driven, of hearing death’s pen coming for me, of owning and running a fairly small, fairly new business where people (both fans and employees) are counting on you, of thinking you can do it all. But on Friday, I checked everything off my to-do list for the day (a rare accomplishment), played some Numenera with the Monte Cook Games team, and then took the rest of the day off. I needed it. My creative sponge was wrung dry, and there was nothing else to get out of it.
I thought I’d jump back into the book on Saturday morning, raring to go. Let me tell you, that was not to be. I was like a school kid who’d gotten the taste of playing hooky in my mouth and who never wanted to go back. “Snow day!” I cried (even though it wasn’t snowing). “But I’m sick…” (even though I wasn’t). “I just don’t feel like it.” (that one, at least, was true). Most of the time, tight deadlines don’t allow me to listen to that whining little voice. I have to wrestle it into submission, lock it in a cage, and refuse to let it out until I’ve done the work. But sometimes I just let it run wild and I listen to it, deadlines be damned (yes, yes, I know that the odds are very good that past Shanna has just screwed over future Shanna in a very big way, but she’s done it before and I know she will give me cookies and I will forgive her).
So I decided to read instead. I am very careful about what I read when I’m writing a novel. I unconsciously steal other author’s voices the way that some people unconsciously mimic other people’s accents. Short stories are okay. Non-fiction. Graphic novels. So I read The Art of Language Invention. I read about the deadliest rocks on the planet. I read a paragraph or two out of every book on the coffee table (it probably doesn’t surprise you to know that’s a lot of books, and if I didn’t love coffee so much, I would call it a book table instead).
And when I had read enough that someone else’s words had filled me to the brim, I put down the books and started writing again. Because the writer that is Death gave me the choice, and who knows how many more I will get before he decides my story is at its end.
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