I’ll begin this post by calling myself a hypocrite. Why, you ask?
Because I’m writing a post about taking a break from writing. Which is a little like the pot calling the kettle black. And really, if your biggest worry about that metaphor is the pot calling the kettle names, and not the fact that the pot is a TALKING, SENTIENT BEING, then I can’t help you.
It feels like the year has just begun, and yet somehow May’s already upon us. I took a luxurious thirty seconds to reflect on my personal writing goals up until now. I was a little shocked by the results. Maybe not in a good way.
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve completely edited my nearly four hundred page forthcoming science fiction novel numerous times, written the sequel to it, gotten over halfway through writing the sequel to my I Am Phantom superhero series, and written a novella (like a sixty page short story) to give away to people who sign up for my author mailing list. This is on top of all the writing, editing, and pitching I do as my full-time job.
That’s a lot of writing.
I’m pretty burned out.
But you see, before this year, burnout was not an option for me as a writer. I always had the mindset that if you’re not moving forward then you’re falling behind. I want to be published and become a professional author? I have to work at it. Every single day. Multiple hours a day. On top of everything else I’m doing. Anything less would be failure, and failure would mean I wouldn’t be able to attain my goal. Not an option.
Which, upon truly thinking about that entire mindset, is bogus.
There comes a point at which going hard is not going smart. In the insightful words of my favorite angry angsty band, Linkin Park:
“Y’all go hard, I’ll go smart. How’s that working out for ya’ll in the back, huh?”
Preach, Mike Shinota.
But he’s right. What I failed to grasp (and might have sooner if I had just taken the time to think things through…) is that sometimes slowing down makes you speed up.
This is a mind-boggling concept for me. How can stopping writing in any way help my writing?
Well, for one, since my brain is so fried right now, writing is like splattering gray mush on the page. That’s not helping anyone. Plus, by taking the time to stop and think about WHY I’m writing, and HOW I can go about doing it better, smarter, faster, then it helps focus going forward.
The brain, like any muscle in your body, is…well, a muscle. Giving your creative batteries time to recharge means that when you come back to the page you’ll be refreshed and ready to go.
Guilt, though, that’s a killer. See, guilt about not writing (or, if you’re any sort of an athlete like me, not working out) is just as debilitating as trying to push onward when your batteries are drained.
I haven’t taken more than two days off of writing for…I’m not sure how long. It’s because after the second day, my mind tells me I’m failing. I’m not pursuing my dream. I’m wasting my time.
All lies. Convincing lies, like an infomercial, but lies all the same.
Writing is life experienced through the lens of the author, put into word form on the page. But after a while, the author’s creative tank is empty. The lens filter gets smeared and must be cleaned off. This doesn’t mean you don’t need to force yourself to write sometimes. There will be days you just won’t feel like it at all, and there’s definitely a difference between laziness and burnout. Sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike won’t cut it, but neither will doggedly pursuing your writing goals without ever stopping to rest, reassess and recharge.
So when guilt strikes, let it pass. I’ll be able to put this into practice when I take two weeks off writing (more on where I’m going in another post). The experience just might kill me, but I’m hoping to return revitalized. And if that guilt comes, I’ll simply tell myself that by not writing or thinking about writing, but just living, I’m bettering myself and my muse for when I start again.
With practice, letting yourself recharge can make the words you put on the page be better than ever.
So a few final points:
- Recharging your creative muscles is still part of the writing process. Think about this: if you’re an athlete, you actually grow muscles on your days off, not the days you train. True scientific fact. Google it. So why shouldn’t taking creative rest days help grow your writing?
- Taking time off lets you focus on other hobbies. Yeah, remember those? Other fun activities that break you out of your writing rut? I used to casually play video games and draw. I shudder to think how my skills in both have waned, but I’m willing to give them a shot again. Find what hobbies you may have neglected and go at it.
- Don’t let guilt eat you. Easier said than done, but the little inner critic in your head, you know, the one with a snarky sneer, fedora, smoking nasty cigars? That guy? Shut him up. Inner critics and guilt have their place, but it isn’t during a well-deserved mental break.
So cheers to the break.