by S.J. Rozan

Some people tell me I have an impressive work ethic, an admirable sense of discipline. I say I'm slightly obsessive, not to mention a little compulsive. I write every day, as a rule, and it's a rule I take seriously. Many elements go into the creation of a book, but no book was every created without the most basic element of all: ass-in-chair.

But sometimes you do need a break.

I just got back from two weeks of teaching and another week of visiting in Umbria. Yes, Italy. But that wasn't the break. I worked every morning there, just as I do here. I took an early morning hike -- here it's a walk, but in Assisi, where I was teaching, there's no choice out the door but seriously up or seriously down -- and then retreated to my room, to write all morning. After all, my students had been ordered to do that, by me; the least I could do was write in solidarity. After the teaching gig was over I went to stay with a friend about an hour away. She's a writer, too, and she had a deadline, so again, we worked in the morning and then we played.

The work I did there was necessary, but bad. I needed to figure out for myself the complicated unfolding at the end of my new book. I more or less did, but it came out in the form of what my friend Keith Snyder calls an "expository infodump." A bunch of characters sitting around telling each other what really went on. Sounded like a good idea when I wrote it. All seven times. I put characters in, took characters out, did the hokey-pokey with the characters, and finally decided the characters weren't the problem. The thing just stunk. Why wouldn't it? If you're telling, not showing, doing it in dialogue instead of exposition is about as much of an improvement as putting on perfume instead of bathing.

The good news, though, is that all those people yakking were able to explain what had gone on to me. Now, that was important. And the other good news is, I've traveled enough to know about myself that jetlag hits me hard and I don't always notice. It's like those times when you've had one beer, and think you're fine, but you find yourself wondering why your door won't open until your next-door asks what you're doing on his porch. So I've learned not to write for the week after a big trip. That was the break. And during it, all sorts of questions popped into my mind, the answers to which solve the issue of the organization of the end of the book. So I'm ready to start really working again. I'm not advocating time off when you don't know how to handle a writing problem. But when you've given it your best shot and it still isn’t working, and you've rewritten that shot a couple of times, a few days away from the book may not be a bad idea.

Just don't make a habit of it.

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