Why Taking a Break from Writing Is a Good Thing

Photo by Barbara Wells via Flickr & Creative Commons
Photo by Barbara Wells via Flickr & Creative Commons

It is time.Time for a break. A break from writing, researching, working.

I told myself no at first, but then I took stock and pondered the calendar. Yes, I feel the need for a break.

Everyone else is returning to school after summer vacation or back to work after the recent three-day weekend.

I’m reminded of back to school days heralding changing seasons. The air and shadows change. Perhaps I’m thinking how much I loved those days.

I am also returning to school, so to speak, mid-September for ten weeks for a one day per week creative nonfiction class.

Because of the intensity of the class, I’m working hard to get some domestic and gardening chores out of the way before then. Some blogging projects are completed, but other things I wanted to carry out were brushed aside yesterday in favor of taking a break.

Here are some reasons why I believe taking breaks is a necessary part of the writing life:

Try a Regular Day Off

I look back at Life Before Retirement and remember scheduling a day off here and there. It was always a welcome break from the pressures of the job, the clients’ unending questions, the cry of an attorney at 3:45 pm that “4 pm is filing deadline,” and then missing the last bus home.

One day, only one, was enough to recharge my batteries, allow time to catch up on home or family chores, and give the feeling of something luxurious — time. Writers need these “scheduled days off” too, even if your writing is going well. Time off helps avoid burnout as well as providing the benefits listed above.

Take Time to Work on Something Different

Maybe you want to work on a different writing project. Then again maybe you want to finish that quilt, knit the sweater you’ve been working on for your husband for three years (guilty as charged!), read a good book in one day, whatever. Shifting your focus from your recent writing project to something different refreshes the brain.

If you are fortunate enough to be talented in other art forms, the ability to switch back and forth keeps you fresh and interested in both projects. Exercising the brain in this way provides new insights and abilities not within reach prior to the break. Creative focus improves.

Allow Your Writing to Breathe

By the time a memoir or novel is finished, it is either loved or hated by the writer. Immediately set aside the draft for a few days before beginning the editing process. Once you’ve edited as much as you want/need to, consider setting the manuscript aside for months, maybe a year.

At this point, your objectivity has left the building, maybe the country. Don’t pick up that manuscript, look at it or think about it. When you sense your objectivity returning from its vacation, your waiting is over. You can renew your relationship with your book and proceed.

Take a Self-Imposed Vacation

An overused rubber band will do one of two things: (a) it will stretch too far and break; or (b) it will go sadly limp. To avoid either of these happening to you, schedule a self-imposed vacation at the end of a large writing project. Do yourself and your writing a favor.

Give yourself several months off, if possible, before starting a new project. This really isn’t vacation. Likely, the time you have given yourself will be spent working on marketing and editing other projects.

However, there are times when a total vacation is required. Step away from technology and loosen the ties that keep you at the desk. Watch movies, read good books, eat ice cream and chocolate, take long walks on the beach. You’ll come back to your writing refreshed and re-energized.

Could you walk away long-term?

So far we’ve looked at short-term breathers. But what about a need for more time away from your writing? Can you imagine yourself taking weeks, months, maybe a year?

Considering long-term time off from writing is often based in life changes or a growing disinterest in writing. Either one is a valid reason to consider taking a large block of time away. Life intervenes, and sometimes the choice is not ours. I know from experience. A hard choice but the best decision I ever made.

Through personal will and determination, we can push through and continue to write even in the worst of circumstances. And if you can, do so. However, do not feel guilty if you have to set aside your writing for a time. Only you can decide what is best for you, your family, and your work.

Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.

~ Stephen King

I strongly believe in the importance in treating our minds, bodies and craft well. So, before my class starts, I’m going to fade a bit to the background of the blog and online activity. I need time to prepare some guest posts, a synopsis of my memoir project for class, do some pre-reading before class, and at times do as I please in the next couple of weeks.

So what about you? What do you think about taking breaks from your writing? Have you ever taken a break? Share with us, if you will, what that was like.

26 thoughts on “Why Taking a Break from Writing Is a Good Thing

  1. I agree wholeheartedly that taking a break is a must. I took the summer off, concentrating on my platform, and now I’m delving back in. Enjoy your break and your class!

    1. Hello, Leslie! So nice to have you visit the blog. It seems you and I are running somewhat parallel with the platform process this summer. Still trying to get the book to a point where I feel comfortable with the process and it.
      I’ve been over snooping around your blog tonight, and I love it. My mother was the temperamental, abusive parent, but my parents did stay together. Sometimes I don’t know how. I turned to writing after retirement in 2006 and started my book about the same time you did, 2011. It has certainly been a therapeutic exercise and I still find it so. Look forward to getting to know you and your writing better.

      1. So nice to meet you too! Yes I have seen you all around this summer on line. It’s nice to have a fellow memoirist struggling through the pages. 🙂 I look forward to your future blogs and to keeping an eye on your progress. Thanks! Leslie

  2. Yes, yes ,yes, Sherrey! Your wise words resonate. I am getting ready to take a break too before delving into my next memoir project. I agree , both the writer and the manuscript need time ” to breathe.” Best wishes on your creative writing class.

    1. It’s Kathleen Pooler, published author! Surprised you have the time to read blog posts and comment these days. But that wouldn’t be you, would it? Ever the gracious and supportive friend. 🙂 Glad you’re planning a break before you begin that next book. I’ll keep you posted on the class. I’m almost as excited as a first grader over going to class!

  3. I wish I’d read this a week of so ago, it’s just what I needed to know! I am definitely that limp elastic band right now and I’ve been berating myself for not writing more, but you’re right, – sometimes we do need time off. It’s just like a job and we all take leave from those.Thanks for the reassurance, and for plainly stating all the different types of break. It’s a valuable read. X

    1. Hello, Cat, and welcome! I knew I should have posted this earlier. So sorry! I’m glad in spite of the fact it wasn’t here in time to ease your thoughts about taking a break you found the post valuable. And now, take a break! BTW, I’ve started following your blog and you on Twitter. Looking forward to getting to know more about you and your writing.

  4. Sherrey, It sounds like we’re on the same page. I’ve been taking lots of days off, working on other projects than my memoir, and simply being. It feels so good and my overworked brain isn’t as foggy as it was.

    1. Joan, I’ve been vicariously enjoying some of those days you’ve stepped away. Perhaps you were also a catalyst for my thoughts on this topic. I love the idea of these breaks also being “brain defoggers.” 🙂

  5. Sherrey, I believe, too, in letting a manuscript sit for a time and “percolate”. There are many wise words and worthy tips you offer here. As a former journalist who spent decades meeting deadlines, I know the importance of taking a deep breath and stopping for a while, Best of luck with your creative writing class. I also signed up for a class this fall on nurturing the spirit within and look forward to it.

    1. Hi Susan! Thanks for dropping in and sharing your thoughts. I like that word “percolate.” The mental image of percolation and words is a good one. And yes, you too would remember deadlines from previous work. I hope there will be a blog post on nurturing the spirit after your class finishes, and best wishes to you in your studies too.

  6. I agree, taking time off is a good thing. We can gather ideas and come back to our projects with a fresh perspective. I also like the idea of taking one day per week off. Everyone needs a day of rest.
    Blessings!

    1. Joan, as I wrote this post, I thought of you. Not to often, but sometimes, you speak of the refreshing renewal from stepping away. I like to think we learn from each other, and perhaps this was God’s nudging me to remember that you too believe in taking breaks. 🙂

    1. Hi Susan, always receiving encouragement from my readers I decided it was time to share some encouragement with them. What better way? Thanks for stopping in.

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