Restarting the Blog Tour: Writing Advice — Take Time Off!

August 6, 2012

Yes, it’s been a little while since my last blog tour installment.  I admit it.  I was a little burned out and needed the week off.  My wife and girls and I went to the North Carolina Coast and spent the week swimming, reading, sitting out in the sun and sand, beachcombing, listening to the rush and retreat of the surf.  It was lovely.

But now I’m back, and I’m ready to get back to work.

It seems appropriate, though, to resume the blog tour with a post about taking time off from writing.

I’m asked quite often what advice I would offer to aspiring writers, and quite often I respond, at least in part, by saying that writers write, and that those who seek to become professional writers should make a daily habit of writing.  I still think that’s sound advice.  Writing is a little like exercising:  The more you do it, the easier it becomes.  There is no such thing as a writing muscle, of course, but I believe that the imagery can be helpful.  When you write, you tone your writing muscle, making it leaner, stronger, more efficient.

I know that after I take off too much time from writing, my writing muscle becomes a bit flaccid, and it can take me a couple of weeks, or even longer, to get back “in shape.”

And yet, having said all of that, I would now like to make the case for NOT writing all the time, for taking time off and giving oneself a break periodically.

As I have said here before, writing is hard.  It is draining emotionally; it is something many of us do in isolation, with little daily feedback; it can be deeply frustrating, not only in its everyday mechanics, but also in the slow progress that often characterizes our pursuit of longer term goals.  Sometimes, we just need time away from this work.  Creative burnout is real.  It can happen to the most dedicated and passionate among us.  Taking time away from our writing simply makes sense.  We wouldn’t want to work our real jobs without some time off.  We wouldn’t want to spend every waking minute with our children or our spouses or anyone else for that matter.  Breaks are healthy, they are necessary.  Without breaks, we run the risk of smothering our passion for the work we do.

But even more than that, sometimes breaks can actually be beneficial to the creative process.  Clearing our minds after finishing one project, or even after tackling a particularly difficult section of a work-still-in-progress, can make the next task far more manageable.  And yes, there are even times when we find ourselves confronted by something so challenging and troublesome that we need to take a break before we overcome it, lest we waste too much time and energy banging our heads against the proverbial wall.

Let me be clear here:  I am NOT saying that each time we reach an impasse with a book or story, we should take time off and wait for a solution to come to us.  Nine times out of ten — or maybe even ninety-nine times out of a hundred — I believe that the best way to deal with a creative problem is to sit at the computer (or in front of pad and paper) and work it through.  But there are exceptions.  There are times when that approach won’t work, and time away from writing really is the answer.

I am also not saying that with every finished chapter we should take off a week as a sort of creative reward.  Most of the time, I finish one section of a book or story and move on to the next.  But again, on occasion, rewarding oneself with a break of a day or two after reaching a milestone in a project can be a good thing.  And taking time off after completing a book manuscript is, in my view, essential to a writer’s mental and creative health.

Butt in Chair is still one of my favorite writing mantras.  We succeed by doing the work.  Still, taking time off from writing every now and then is not just acceptable, it is good practice, if for no other reason than because you will find yourself energized when you return to the work.  Just as I do now.

Keep writing!

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