Or maybe I should say, “When to take a break from writing”. Or maybe, “When to put the pen down”. Or maybe, “Do you need to stop writing?”. Or maybe, “Just stop writing…for now”.
There’s reason number one: you can’t stop rephrasing things.
Let’s assume we’re all writers here. Doesn’t matter what kind, but you write. When you take a break? Do you take a break?
This article can apply to all sorts of artists, athletes, and workers in general because no matter who we are or what we do we will need a break. We can’t keep going forever. We can’t push ourselves through everything as much as we like to think so.
But let’s look at writing.
First things first, let’s think about our writing habits. How much do you write a week? A day? What do you do to counter the effects of writing (meditation, consistent exercise, etc)? How do you feel after writing? How do you feel before writing?
Let’s go through some healthy answers.
When do you take a break?
Weekly. Every single week I have at least one day where I am not picking up a pen. This weekly break gives me space to feel like I am not chained to a project. It also helps me take a step back and return to a project with fresher eyes.
I also incorporate some free time into my schedule daily where I write whatever I want that isn’t the project I’m working on. It reminds me of why I’m a writer. I like to write. I have fun with it. Sometimes when all we do is write our current projects, we lose the happiness in it. We lose our passion for it. Incorporating free time for whatever writing you want to do is important in maintaining your writing health.
I also take several weeks off from anything short story length to novel length after I finish writing the first draft of a book. That’s when I need a long break. I need to recharge my batteries. And I’ll need to let my novel sit for awhile anyway so it’s a win win.
Do you take a break?
Yes! Taking a break isn’t a sign of weakness. It isn’t a sign of being a fraud. A lot of us writers suffer from impostor syndrome. That’s probably a whole ‘nother issue but it does play into the refusal to take down time.
We are afraid that we aren’t what we say we are. And that idea hurts. A lot. Right? Well, that’s probably a good sign because it means you love what you do.
So long as your break doesn’t turn into days and days of not writing, you’re okay. Be honest with yourself. Keep yourself on track. But remember, people work 5-6 days a week. Not every day for a reason.
How much do you write a week?
It actually doesn’t matter how much. Not really. What matters is that you’re keeping yourself honest, again. Are you going too low so you feel good about hitting a goal? Or have you not hit a goal in so long you forgot what that felt like?
I like to let my weekly word-count fluctuate. Some weeks I completely throw it away and go by how many poems or short stories I want to write or chapters I want to edit. Letting it be flexible for me is what works best. I know I’m working my hardest. I don’t need to set unrealistic goals to feel bad to motivate myself to work harder.
What do you do to counter the problems associated with writing?
Okay, okay. What are the problems of writing? Isolation. The precuneus. Introspection. Lack of movement/exercise. Unhealthy diets. Increased risk of depression. Blah, blah, blah. Poor eyesight?
Now onto countering them.
Meditation is your friend. And it doesn’t have to be boring. Exercise is your friend. And it doesn’t have to kill you, but it does have to be consistent and high energy. Socialization, well maybe not your friend but something necessary to keeping you functioning properly. You can join an exercise class or running group and that’ll count just fine.
What’s important is that we are not allowing ourselves to fall down rabbit holes. We are swimming, not just struggling to float. Whether it’s meditation, actual therapy or just learning about things like the precuneus (check out a study done by Andreas Fink).
How do you feel after writing?
Exhausted? Refreshed? Somewhere in between?
I think that as writers we should feel like we’ve emptied about half of our tank with each vigorous writing session. We shouldn’t be going until there’s nothing left. We can’t fill that space up again quickly enough. That being said we shouldn’t feel completely ready to go, unless we want to.
What we most definitely should not feel is exhausted, frustrated, and hopeless. These aren’t just signs of one bad writing day. String a bunch of them back to back and they’re signs of burning out.
How do you feel before writing?
This is the last question and the most telling one. You should feel cheery. Ready to go and write. Eager to explore the world on the page. Excited to try something new, write something you don’t know yet. Absolutely thrilled to pick up the pen, hop on the typewriter, or open that laptop.
You should absolutely not dread getting to work. This is what you love to do after all. And if it isn’t, maybe reconsider. Taking a step away from writing because it’s making you miserable is okay. Set a date when you want to return and stick to it!
There you have it! Stop writing when you feel like it but definitely take a day off once a week. Take some time after projects. Cut yourself some slack. You are not an impostor.
Don’t work yourself into hating your passion. Work hard. Work smart. Love what you do and take care of yourself so you can keep doing it.