This article was originally published in The Writer’s Everything, Issue #007.
No matter how eager you are as a writer, no matter how many ideas you have, or how grand your visions of your career are, there will almost inevitably come a time when you need to cut free from the word-count goals and get a little R&R.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You don’t want to take a break. You don’t want to lose your momentum. You’re afraid that you might not get back into the groove, that days will become months, and months will become years.
That is not, in fact, an invalid concern. Just like with a vehicle, it takes more effort to get going from a dead stop than it does to coast along at 65. However, sometimes we need to get out and stretch our legs and, above all, refuel so that we can continue on our journey.
The question then is, how do you know when you need to take a break? Once you put the pen or keyboard down, how long can you leave it sitting on the desk before it’s been there for too long? Of course, there is no one, black-and- white answer to this question, an answer that will fit every writer, and their methods, perfectly. But there are things that we can all keep in mind to help us to gauge when we should pick our writing utensils up again and get back to the grindstone.
When you’re wading through an endless forrest of words, it’s possible to get lost, to lose sight of the big picture for the trees. If you start to feel like the endgame of your writing is getting muddled in your mind’s eye, then perhaps a break is exactly what you need.
Taking a day, week, or even a month off can help to give you a fresh perspective on the projects you’re working on. If you were facing a challenge that you saw no way around, a steel wall of writer’s block, then taking that time away from the project could help you to reorganize your thoughts. In fact, sometimes the solutions to our problems come exactly when we stop thinking about them.
Refilling Your Creativity
Even if you aren’t, per se, having trouble with your writing, the act of taking a break can still be of benefit to you. Creating an artistic expression is like writing with an ink pen. You can write and write and write with no problem, but when you least expect it, your ink runs out.
Your job as a writer requires you to perform activities to refill your creativity just as much as it requires you to actually write. Creativity is essential to the writing process, and if you use it all up, it can lead to difficulty writing and, even worse, discouragement.
So what can you do to recharge your creativity? One of the most important things is to take in more than you put out. This requires that you enjoy the creations of other artists, such as music, poems, short stories, novels, television shows, and movies.
Now, you might scoff at this idea for various reasons. Perhaps you don’t enjoy taking in some, or all, of these art forms. Or perhaps you’re concerned that if you immerse yourself in someone else’s work, it will alter the voice of your own work. Really, though, there are more potential benefits than risks with taking in media.
First, it provides you with memories and experiences of aspects of existence that you may have never gained in your own life. While I’ll never be a bank robber, of course, I can tell the story of one with at least a passing resemblance to real life, simply because I’ve seen bank robbers depicted in films and television.
Second, it helps you to learn more about your writing craft through osmosis. As you read a book, you might wonder at the choice of words, the method of describing scenes, or the point-of-view in which an author chooses to write. This will almost inevitably transfer into your own work, usually for the better.
That being the case, absorb the type of entertainment that you aspire to write. That way, you can gain the tools to continue advancing in your craft.
While taking in media can be a great way to recharge your creativity, there’s also another simple thing that you can do to get yourself into the right headspace:
That’s right. Sometimes the best thing for an overworked brain is to turn off the critical thinking and do something mind-numbing. This can include activities such as playing video games, cards, putting together puzzles, walking, running, skating, sewing, drawing, or my current and most recent favorite activity, woodworking.
While you’re working on these side projects and hobbies, you’ll find that your mind is free to reorganize and refresh.
There are, however, dangers that come with taking breaks from the writing process.
Losing The Flow
As authors, there are times when we get rolling, and find that we’re virtually unstoppable. Everything comes out perfectly well-constructed, the ideas flow like milk and honey, and we bang out thousands of words a day.
In that case, it’s highly likely that you don’t actually need to take a break. In fact, it might even be that taking a break will have the complete opposite effect of what you want it to have. It’ll make you lose your rhythm.
Once that happens, you’ll likely find that much more hard work and effort are required to get you back on track than what you managed to save up during your break. At that point, taking a break becomes not only pointless, but actually counter-productive.
There’s something else that you, as a creative individual, need to consider when it comes to taking a break: How long can you go without expressing yourself artistically? For many of us, writing, as well as creating in other formats, provides our lives with fulfillment and meaning. If you give it up for any length of time, be cognizant of the effect it has on your psyche, on your subconscious self. If it begins to harm you, then immediately discontinue your break.
Making A Career
There’s one final topic of consideration that it would be good for you to factor into your decision of whether or not to take a break: Do you want writing to be a hobby, or do you want it to be a career? If your answer is the former, then taking breaks won’t have as great of a negative effect on you. You’re writing for your own self-fulfillment and enjoyment, and you don’t need hard-set goals and writing schedules set in stone.
If your answer is the latter, though, if you want to make a career out of your writing, get published, sell articles, and the like, then you need to be careful about taking breaks. To succeed in the writing industry, most authors need to be determined and self-motivated. They have to be able to meet the demands and deadlines of their dream job, or else that dream will always be just out of reach.
On top of that, the more you write, the more opportunities you have to succeed, to sell your articles, to get featured on a major blog, or to get a book contract with your dream publisher. Very few authors make a go of writing by working on one novel for ten to twenty years, and then trying to pitch it around the world for another five to ten years.
By writing a novel a year, you’d be increasing your chances ten-fold, to say nothing of the first-hand experience and training that you’d gain from each and every completed project.
So judge for yourself whether you need to take a break or not. Reflect on whether a break could improve, or impair, your progress as an author, and, above all, always make sure that what you choose is the very best option for your well-being, as well as that of your loved ones.
The Writer’s Everything
This article, as well as many others, have been featured in previous issues of my writing journal, The Writer’s Everything, in which I, along with occasional guest contributors, provide essays, guides, encouragement, motivation, writing prompts, character bio development kits, and anything else that can help you turn your dream of becoming a writer into a reality.
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