Sometimes a writer needs to gestate, integrate, contemplate and maybe even vegetate for a while. This may involve pulling away from the keyboard or notepad and staring off into space, pacing in circles, or lying on your futon in the fetal position. Whether you are trying to resolve a complex plot point, refine a difficult line of verse, or create a new theory of the universe’s origin, your brain may be taxed beyond its normal capacities and you have to allow some extra processing time for that.
Someone watching you during this gestation process might think you are lazy and doing nothing. How can you tell whether you are engaged in a productive inner process or just avoiding writing? These two very different enterprises look similar from the outside. When you hit a challenging juncture in our project, do you stop writing because you feel anxious, stressed and uncertain, or is it because you need to incubate a difficult problem? Sometimes it’s both.
The act of stepping away from your desk to feel relief might help you gain a different perspective or create additional mental space for new ideas to inhabit, which is good. It might also be reinforcing a long-standing habit of avoiding writing, which is less good. The relevant data for determining whether you are procrastinating or gestating, is whether or not you return to your project in a timely fashion (the same day) and reengage in your craft with renewed passion, energy and clarity. Or not.
When a blocked writer with no income just floats around doing nothing for months at a time except mooching off his mother, we say he’s lazy. When a fetus does the same, we feel happy that the gestation is going so well. After nine months, however, even mother is ready for the baby to leave the womb, take a deep breath, and start working on the novel.