I took a break from my main fiction project recently. Having finished the umpteenth round of editing on my second novel, I decided a few weeks separation was needed before I re-read it with fresher eyes and decided which aspects needed to be re-tackled.
While I let my novel lie fallow, I reflected on the place of “not writing” on that body of work. Although I took a break from creative writing, I think this experience could apply to taking a break from other creative pursuits.
At first, it was strange. I constantly felt guilty that I wasn’t writing or editing my novel, and had to remind myself this was a deliberate choice. Of course, ideas usually come to mind after intense editing, and when they did, I just noted them down for action later. Oddly much of this time I was idea-dry, but there were a few valuable bursts of inspiration initially and more insights as time passed.
I did still do some writing but nowhere near as much as usual and certainly not every day; sometimes days went by without writing. I wrote stream-of-consciousness “pages” on a fairly regular basis, I snuck in some editing on some of my short stories and I wrote regularly for my medical jobs. I even contemplated making a start on my next novel, for which ideas are brewing. I chose not to because, while I also hold down three jobs, I find it difficult to swap between working on different novels. I like being in the flow for one novel at a time. I tend to want to give my project as much of my attention as I can (around my other commitments). I can pause for non-fiction writing or sometimes a short story, but to start another novel didn’t feel right. For the same reason, I chose not to look again at my first novel.
Once I got used to the pattern, I enjoyed having more time to do other things. More time for catching up with friends and family, exercise, reading, gardening and knocking off some of those chores that sit perennially on one of my lists but must be done at some stage – great to be without the added pressure of those jobs achieved. I went on a holiday with my family and for once wasn’t wondering if I could juggle my time to squeeze in some work on my writing.
The real challenge to my “taking a break” philosophy came as I restarted editing, while also catching up at work on my return from leave. Unexpectedly I had to devote more time to family and my writing break turned out to be longer than I had planned.
The reflection I had done during my time-out meant I was already at peace with myself on not writing when the occasion arises. Quietly accepting, without guilt or frustration, that it would be a little longer freed me to do what I needed to with a clear conscience.
In the meantime, my head feels clearer, my ideas-and-to-fix list has grown considerably longer and I am excited about the next round of rewriting and editing. (You will see from my previous post why I am excited about being excited!)
Many opinion pieces extol that we writers must keep writing every day, no matter what is going on around us. Maybe that is the right choice for some, but it isn’t the case for everyone. I have read a few posts that acknowledge the importance of a break and to those authors, I thank you.
Life has ebbs and flows. Some prudently placed downtime can be well worth the investment.
What has been your experience of taking a break from writing?
Any advice to those considering a writing break?
I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences – please share them in the comments.
Thanks for reading this post! Some of my other posts include:
- When push comes to shove – juggling priorities in a time-poor world
- What are the synergies between mindfulness and creativity? and
- Where health and creativity intersect.
With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.
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© 2015 Jacquie Garton-Smith
We’ve obviously been in sync, because I had an unplanned hiatus from my writing for the past two months. It’s the end of the year, and I’m getting tired. My break wasn’t a conscious decision, though—more that I was ‘idea-dry’, as you so aptly described it. I felt a bit guilty at first, as if it was something I had control over, and I should stop being lazy and procrastinating. But, my kids benefited from having a more present mother, and the house will benefit as I decided we need to renovate! (My husband is glad to see me back writing again—it costs a lot less!) The creative bucket gets depleted from time-to-time, and needs replenishing, and I think it does us good to let our minds lie fallow for a while, and give our brains time for new ideas to germinate.
Great to find that I have not been alone Louise. Perhaps the idea-dry state is more significant than I imagined. I certainly agree about needing to replenish the creative bucket and allowing time for ideas to germinate. Good luck with the next phase of your writing!
Just back from a long break from writing, I am itching for a creative release. I am fresh. My perspective has changed. And I am ripe to let word drip through my fingertips onto a keyboard. Good luck with the journey.
Thanks Char. Sounds like your passion for writing has been reinvigorated! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could bottle that feeing? Exactly what we would all hope a good break will do, and I am sure it will translate to wonderful progress on the page.
Best wishes to you
Like you said, some people will say that a writer must write every day, and some do (I don’t think Stephen King ever takes breaks). But there is rarely/never a one-size-fits-all for anything, including writing. It’s hard to give ourselves permission to do what our bodies and brains need sometimes, and I think that’s really the key — that we listen to what we need, and exercise self-care. My experience has also been that re-starting can slip a bit, but in the scheme of things, it all works out in the end!
Thanks so much Laura – giving ourselves permission, especially in the face of conflicting opinion, can indeed be challenging. I think you are so right about needing to look after ourselves and listen to our needs. Perhaps the counter-balance is also calling ourselves when we are making excuses!
I wonder if it rather depends on the motivation and purpose for writing. Some write as a main means of support in which case the motivation to persist may be different from someone who writes as an outlet for their creativity. For some it’s an escape and a therapy of sorts. For some like myself, the writing might serve a specific purpose. What I wrote was a reference point for times of need. As always I’ve enjoyed your posts. 🙂 Food for thought.
That’s an excellent point Jeisea – understanding the motivation to write in the first place is probably integral to also interpreting the need for and impact of taking a break, at least from one particular project. Thanks so much for contributing your wise thoughts!
Interesting post, and I can definitely relate. Like Louise, I don’t tend to plan my time away from writing – my breaks tend to just organically evolve (I like that term – sounds so much better than ‘I just end up not writing’!), but I find them helpful in getting back that strong urge and itch to write. I try to write most days, but sometimes that daily writing habit can be too dogged, and my writing starts to feel (and sound) so plodding.
I read somewhere a quote about how writers must also get out and really live life in order to write, and it’s easy to forget that.
I’m glad you’re feeling excited about getting back to writing – obviously that break was just what you needed! All the best with your editing and rewriting 🙂
Great to hear from you!
Life does have a way of throwing reasons for us not to write in our path and you make such a great point about also needing to have a life beyond writing (whether alongside writing or sometimes necessitating a break) – for so many reasons, but I am sure we are more rounded human beings and better writers as a result of it. A healthy choice.
Thanks Jacquie. This was a really helpful post (Rae sent me the link this morning.) I’m feeling much better now about recently taking a little bit of down-time, which I took intuitively, but nevertheless felt guilty about.
What wonderful feedback – thanks Marie. I know it goes against the tide of the many “write no matter what” posts but I think we need to be a bit kinder to ourselves! We wouldn’t hesitate to say that holidays are important for all kinds of reasons, so why is writing any different? Managing the guilt is important so we can get the best value from the break. I hope you find your downtime replenishes the well and recharges your writing (as well as you, of course). I would love to hear your verdict!
Every best wish
I hear so much of the ‘write every day’ mentality that it’s hard not to feel guilt if I’m not writing. It’s been great to get validation for taking a needed break. And yes, the small break worked, so thank you.
That’s great to hear, Marie!