Writing and the art of rest
I will never forget the time I sat down to write a cover story for a national magazine. Nor the day: Aug. 20. That’s because the deadline was Aug. 21. As my fingers flew over the keyboard, I kept telling myself, “Don’t think. Just write.”
Of course, that wasn’t the most intense deadline I’ve ever faced. Earlier in my career—just two days after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995—the editor of a news service called to see if I would interview a man who had lost both his grandsons in the bombing. He was willing to discuss how God had brought him through that.
It was about 11:45 a.m. When I asked what time the story was due, the editor said, “By 3 p.m.” I immediately put aside other plans for the day and jotted down some questions before calling the man.
He said he would need to call me back after he went to the office a friend had been letting him use to field media calls. That meant another hour of precious time ebbed by as I waited to hear from him.
When I want to be absolutely certain I quote someone correctly, I will record the call. This day, there was no time for listening to a recording. So, using the best self-taught shorthand techniques I could muster, I scribbled furiously.
I hung up from that call at 1:55 p.m. and proceeded to “smoke” the keyboard. In an hour I wrote about 1,000 words. After sending off the email, I felt like I had been hit by a semi-truck. Then I remembered why I was glad that I no longer worked for a daily newspaper, where such deadlines are a normal course of life.
Setting wise schedules
Unfortunately, it took me a long time to learn to avoid setting impossible schedules for myself when it came to turning in writing assignments.
In the past, when trying to reach sources, I would give them as long as a couple days before my deadline to return my inquiry. That meant I had to go ahead with the first draft and plug in any last-minute responses right before the story was due.
Once I wised up, I built a much longer lead time into my schedule for both responses and writing. When possible, I like to finish the draft of a story two weeks before it is due. After it sits for a week, I take another look and edit it. Then, I let it sit another week before giving it a final reading and edit. The end result is always better.
Now, it doesn’t always work out that way, due to tighter schedules or deadline requirements. In mid-October, a missions organization asked if I could write a story for their magazine that was due Oct. 31. Not only would the income plug a hole for another assignment that was taking longer than expected, I’ve long been interested in missions. So I said “yes.” Fortunately, I finished the draft done quickly enough to allow it to rest for a couple days before submitting it.
The necessity of a break
The same principle applies to writing books. The more time you can take away from a chapter, the easier the mistakes and oversights will pop out when you review the draft.
In our frenetic, 24-7, always-connected world, the idea of stopping to rest seems unproductive, wasteful or foolish. It isn’t. Rest is an essential part of writing. After all, there’s a reason God took a Sabbath after He created the world.
An experienced freelance writer, co-author and book editor, Ken Walker edits blogs for several contributors to Church Central and has coached various bloggers for the site. A member of the Christian PEN (Proofreaders and Editors Network), he has co-authored, edited or contributed to more than 50 books. You can see samples of his work or ask about his services as a writing coach by going to http://www.KenWalkerWriter.com or by e-mailing email@example.com