Monday, February 24, 2014

Have You Had Your Break Today?

McDonald's may have been onto something when they coined the slogan 'have you had your break today?' We writers feel like we always need to be writing or doing something. But sometimes a break is exactly what we need. Now I’m not just talking about the ten minute break between writing sprints or even a day off here and there I’m talking about a full on writing vacation.

Why would anyone want to do that? Well, let me explain.

I’ve been pretty tight lipped about my writing over the last six months or so. And that is in large part because there hasn’t really been any. Sure I dabbled here and there with ideas, and I was furiously editing my YA scifi thriller, but there wasn’t much writing going on at all. Why?

To be completely honest, the idea of starting something new, terrified me. I got hives every time I thought about starting a new project. I was all over the place and couldn’t focus on any one thing. I was a hot mess!

I’ve been writing seriously for over three and half years and haven’t stopped for so much as five seconds to breath. I let words pour out of me as needed and just kept plowing. And now I’m utterly exhausted.

Writing isn’t my full time job, but I treated it like a second full time job for so long. And just as you sometimes need a vacation from your day job to maintain your sanity, you also need a vacation from your writing.

But before you throw the pages in the air and jet off to some place warm, take a minute to consider the pros and cons of taking such a writing vacation.

PRO – It’s healthy to take breaks. It reduces your stress levels and helps you recharge. There’s something to be said for starting on a clean slate. Your brain is clear and the page is ready for your words. There’s nothing stopping you.

CON – Breaks can ruin your rhythm. Finding your groove again can be tough. After I took my much needed break I noticed my word counts had dropped. But at least I was writing. I know I’ll build back up but the hit in word count was a bit painful to stomach.

PRO – Breaks provide clarity. With distance came a fresh set of eyes. I was able to approach things from a new angle. I may not have been writing, but my brain was developing in the background. My brain had time to rest and wasn’t so overloaded with craziness and stress. When I started writing again, the world looked much better, much more clean. And I found that although there were fewer words on the page they seemed a lot cleaner in the first go around.

CON – The guilt. Oh the guilt. I knew I should be writing. I wanted to be writing, more than anything. But every time I tried it wasn’t happening. I’d see other people writing, starting books, finishing books, starting then finishing books, and all the while I wanted to be doing the same, but my brain was utter mush. The guilt of what I should be doing ate away at me, but I knew I couldn’t continue on the current path or the crazy would eat me alive.

PRO – Free time. Hey what’s that? Well I wouldn’t exactly call it free time, but the time where you used to be writing, could be filled with other stuff. Editing, research, reading, classes on craft. Even when you aren’t writing you can still be learning. And when you take a break you have more time to do that. And hey in all that research and other stuff, you might even find you have some shiny new ideas you want to explore. I know I did!

So taking a little writing vacation can be really healthy and rejuvenating. I know it’s done wonders for my stress level. And in a time where I was utterly lost and didn’t know what to tackle next, instead of jumping from project to project aimlessly, I had time to let the next new shiny idea develop organically. And I don’t want to jinx it, but I think I’ve finally settled on a new project after my much needed break.

So what do you say you give me a break?


Jenni said...

Love this post! As writers, we're always hearing that we should be writing every spare minute we have. But it's important to recharge, like you said. Last September, I took the whole month off from writing, and it was lovely! I also found that I saw my WIP with new eyes when I came back.

Jamie Krakover said...

yes definitely! recharging is exactly what we need sometimes. Fresh eyes are great for sparking new enthusiasm in a project :)

Robert Polk said...

A dose of reality, Jamie. I also feel the pressure to write every spare minute. But you pointed out the "Clarity" benefit of taking a break and letting stress go. It helps me see my writing through fresh eyes later. That time and distance away from my MS is so valuable.

Jamie Krakover said...

Agreed! Time and distance are key! Sometimes you can get that while working on another project but often times, you just need to give your brain a break! And I think beyond you and I, a lot of writers feel the pressure to write. It doesn't end!

Mirka Breen said...

This reminded me of a well know writer whose son explained to his first grade class that his dad "doesn't do anything." But as we reflect, how many times have we had the childish notion that "doing something" only counts when we're hammering away?

So, back to work...

Jamie Krakover said...

yeah it's hard to feel accomplished when you don't have something physical to show for it, but sometimes your brain needs time to process in the background. :)