When Creative Downtime Strikes
Not exactly writer’s block, just creative muscles needing a wee break
NOVELISTS, especially those who write serials, are not writing machines. They may be able to produce a novel one after another – think book contracts that specify deadline submissions! – but it does not mean that they are chained to their laptops writing away 24/7 until their novel is ready for self-editing.
Polishing one’s work, by the way, is the hardest part in completing a novel for submission to the publisher, all set for the publication’s editor for final checks and edits.
Easy, easier, easiest
For me, plotting is the easiest part in writing a novel.
What is easier, after developing a draft synopsis, is figuring out a beginning, a middle and an ending based on the draft synopsis.
The easy part is the actual writing: a beginning to hook the readers; a middle in which the conflicts rise to an unputdownable crescendo that promises to firmly put the readers on tenterhooks; and an ending that will make the readers happy and satisfied with the resolution.
But what about writing what’s going to happen between the beginning and the middle, or how the flow of story would progress between the middle and the ending?
What did novelists do when they experience creative downtime, or arrive at an uninspired standstill at the beginning of the next chapter of the book they were writing?
For sure, novelists have notes for each chapter and for each character, or perhaps not. But even if they do, and when writers are not making their protagonists, antagonists and minor players act mechanically (like a puppet being manipulated to do as the writer bids them to do), characters in a novel sometimes act on their own.
You see, as the writing progresses, further character development by the characters themselves sometimes ensues; hence, they act consistently with how their personalities or nature is developed – outside the novelist’s notes for the next chapters. When this happens to me, I get stalled in writing the next chapter.
What does a writer then do to get their creative juices flowing again?
A few novelists, those whom I knew personally, shared what they did to refresh their creative muscles. One made her way to her collection of indoor plants, spoke to them while polishing their leaves with baby oil or spritzing them with mineral water. Another writer, instead of driving himself, took provincial bus rides (during the day) to calmly enjoy watching the beautiful countryside. One played music, a soothing one, while having a drink or two, preferably whisky. Still another played computer games between writing his novel.
Having a walk would be great to refresh and relax the mind, but my co-novelists and I during the time when we were producing novels one after the other mostly worked during unholy hours. Who would choose to walk in the dark, exposed to all the elements?
Me? I chose to cook or bake. This was done between midnight and 3:00 in the morning. As I used to write from late afternoon until daybreak, my creative downtime occurred, if at all, during those wee hours. My concoctions were basic: bread-and-butter pudding, spiced apple cake, cassava cake, leche flan, coconut pudding – you get the picture.
Buttering the bread triangles or cutting the apple in paper-thin slices or stirring the coconut milk and sweet corn mixture in the pot, for whatever reason, soothes my mind.
Out of those, one dessert in what I call my mindless cooking stands out. Not only is this easy to prepare, it is a bestseller in a manner of speaking in my household. I like it, too, and you may want to try this recipe when you’re in the middle of your own creative downtime.
Downtime no-bake choco-walnut fridge cake
3tbsp golden syrup
250g condensed milk
300g dark chocolate
125g walnuts, roughly chopped
175g sultana (can substitute cranberry raisins)
- Line a 25cm square baking tray with baking parchment or cling film. For thicker slices, use 18cmX25cm baking tray.
- In a pan over low heat, put the chocolate, butter, condensed milk and golden syrup. Stir until all the chocolate has melted and the mixture well combined and smooth. Remove the pan from heat and let cool.
- While waiting for the chocolate mixture to cool, crunch the granola. Make sure that there are no lumps. Do the same with the sultanas as they tended to stick to another. Pour the granola, the sultanas and the chopped walnuts into a mixing bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine.
- Pour the walnut mixture into the chocolate mixture in the pan. Stir until the walnuts, granola and sultanas are well coated in chocolate.
- Pour the mixture into the baking tray and spread evenly using a spatula or the back of a spoon.
- Chill the cake in the fridge for at least four hours. Chilling overnight, however, is best.
- When chilled, lift the cake out of the baking tray using the baking parchment lining.
- Cut into squares.
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While waiting for the choco-walnut cake to cool, have a cup of tea (or coffee) and write the next chapter.
Here’s to writing the next chapters, with or without experiencing creative downtime!
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