Do you have a hobby?
As a writer, I spend most of my writing time with my butt in a chair in front of a computer–like now–tapping black keys to make letters and numbers appear on a white screen. I do some writing on a yellow pad of paper too, but that’s usually a much smaller part of my writing time and it usually involves working up the backstory to whatever I’m working on. I spend an even smaller amount of time in just thinking about what I want to write–no paper, no computer, no keyboard, no nuthin’. Just working out in my head what I want to put down on the com screen. All of that work is essential to writing a good story, though.
But I can’t keep all that up all the time, though I’ve heard that some writers do. I’ve heard of writers who sit in front of a computer twelve or more hours a day, either because they love to write that much or because they have to to pay the bills. But even if I had to write full-time to pay the bills, I couldn’t sit in one chair for that much time every day. Let’s get real; there’s more to writing than the writing process.
I need a diversion. I need to relax from the anxiety of writing. Writing brings with it its own tensions–the necessity for research to make the writing accurate, the necessity to meet a daily word-count goal, the necessity for revisions to smooth it out and make it readable and remove the obvious errors such as data dumps, unrealistic dialogue, poor comma choice, etc., etc. Tension ain’t good for a long time.
I help reduce the tension by taking part in a hobby. My hobbies tend to be more physical than mental, and I leave the writing behind as I go off and do something else. I’ve been a model railroader for a long time, ever since I got a Lionel O-27 train set for Christmas God-knows-how-many years ago. Now I model in HO scale, where the models are smaller and easier to work with in a small apartment. I also like to travel and take pictures of the places I go. I’ve been into photography for a long time too. Sometimes I’ll go off on a trip with the Sierra Club to visit some out-of-the-way location to either see the sights (usually a wilderness site) or do some environmentally friendly work such as building trails or removing trash. Granted, all these hobbies require a certain amount of mental concentration to perform correctly, especially learning how to operate one of the new digital cameras that can do so much more than my old film cameras, but they take my mind off writing for a while and I feel better about getting back to the computer afterward.
I think the most important thing is that hobbies change the direction of thinking. Hobbies can be as mentally challenging as writing (or any other 9 to 5 job), but the important thing, for me anyway, is that a hobby allows me to do something different.