Taking a Break from Writing
If there’s one thing that’s most neglected, it tends to be the most obvious. Writing isn’t a physically-demanding occupation but it can be draining. While there may be guides on how to write a novel or ways to NOT make money as a writer, there’s relatively little on taking a break from writing. It sounds simple to “stop”, but that’s why it’s so elusive.
In this article, we’ll take a look at when you should look at taking a break from writing, effective strategies for getting your mind back in working order, and some reflections on breaks in general.
Taking a Breaking from Writing: Signs You Need to Take Action
If any of the following seem familiar to you, you should look at taking a break from writing:
Loss of Objectivity: Ever work on a piece for a while, only to find that you’ve lost the direction of your writing five minutes ago? Instead of benefitting from a “flow state,” we end up with writing that isn’t present—kind of like forgetting how you ended up in your driveway after driving home from work. The same applies to your writing. Have you ever looked over your recently finished work, only to wonder if you were responsible for writing it… or worse, if it is any good?
Loss of Perspective: Losing sight of why something is being written is symptomatic of needing a break. Not only is your morale and enthusiasm for the piece diminishing, but the reader can always detect a lack of zest in this type of writing. Whether it is the FOMO (“Fear of Missing Out”) or an undiagnosed case of writer’s block, losing your perspective can be dangerous for your output. Getting in touch with the “why” is important, but you can’t consider your motives while actively working. Time for a break.
Forcing It: The biggest symptom of this is when writers have difficulty writing something they’re “not in the mood” for. It might seem obvious, but forcing yourself to write doesn’t always lead to the best finished product. This even includes the initial inertia that it takes to sit down and write—instead of hammering away at your keyboard, you might just need to do the opposite before you bend, snap, and ultimately wear yourself down.
Types of Breaks
Guilty of any of those? You need to be able to quiet that carousel of thoughts and anxieties in your head to rejuvenate your thought-processes. Of course, the other side of the coin applies when writing: shutting the outside world, inviting the entire carnival of creativity, and focusing on the writing task at hand.
Nevertheless, you have to understand what type of break you need to take. There are two types: short-term and long-term breaks.
Short-term breaks are pauses from your current activity, with the intent to give yourself a space for mental and physical recovery. Once you’ve recovered, you resume the task at hand until you are in need of another break or you’ve finished the work.
Long-term breaks are different. Instead of addressing your immediate concerns, you’ve become aware of endemic/reoccurring problems in your workflow. You need space to think about them. This may include the type of work that you’re undertaking, if you have what it takes for a freelance writing career, or even if the benefits of freelance writing are for you.
Let’s start with ways to take short-term breaks and then cover some thoughts about long-term breaks.
Short-Term Break Ideas
Do something innocuous: Counterbalancing the importance of what you’re writing. Browsing a mindless webpage, whether it’s Reddit or CNN or whatever, can pull you out of mental state and allow your subconscious to work over the finer details of your work. Similarly, I’ll just grab a banjo around the house and pluck away until my mind says, “enough’s enough. Back to work!”
Music: There’s a reason why this stuff is illegal in some countries. Music can change your emotional state and you can use that to take a mental vacation. Upbeat italo disco can raise my blood pressure to complete an assignment afterwards, just as a Scandinavian doom metal can put me in a contemplative mood. A few songs and I’m back to the keyboard, ready to type away…
Sleeping: Feel tired? You might need to sleep. This is especially true if your sleep pattern is erratic—you may need to put down that coffee and get some well-deserved rest. Naps are good, too, as I find them as a way of pushing the reset button and starting a new phase of the day.
Meditation: If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’ll need some serenity. Meditation is your ticket. Simply find a quiet place and try not to focus on anything. Easier said than done, but taking the time to push out persistent thoughts might just be what you need to get over the hump for some assignments.
Eat: Ever get “hangry”? I’ve found that ignoring the urge to eat when my body tells me to only creates ever-worsening mental fatigue. While I wouldn’t advocate mindless snacking, a deliberate snack that’s high in protein and carbohydrates (nuts, for instance) jumpstarts your brain and can sustain your focus on the task at hand.
Exercise: Everyone knows that exercise is the beneficial for every aspect of our lives. As writers, this is extremely true because of the sedentary nature of our profession. If you feel like you’re hitting a wall with your writing, listen to your body and lace up your running shoes. Even a brief walk around the block can help release endorphins that not only improve your mood, but also increase your brain’s functions. More vigorous exercise increases your mental processes, so don’t be afraid to dust off the Dorito dust and push yourself at the gym.
Location, location, location: I find that if I spend a long time writing in one place, my thoughts tend to mimic this environment. It’s helpful to have a space that’s only work-related, but sometimes a trip to another room in my house or a library gives me fresh thoughts. It even feels like a miniature vacation away from work… which might be a way to trick my mind into getting the work finished.
Read a book: It might seem counter-intuitive, but the more that I make freelance writing my career focus, the less I find that I read other author’s work. This is unfortunate because reading not only forces me to stop working, but is also enjoyable. Heck, I get competitive reading a well-written passage and take this passion back to my writing when I put the book back on the shelf.
As mentioned before, taking a break from writing long-term is different from taking a break from writing short-term. The goal is to gain perspective and insight into your writing and your life beyond writing. Be honest with your goals and take time to reflect on every aspect of your life.
Balance: Don’t forget to have a life. It’s been often repeated, but you have to establish a work-life balance. Burnout is a thing, and soon you can find yourself craving the simplicity of jobs that you’ve had before instead of your current workload.
The physical burnout can affect your health and your overall performance. If you find that you aren’t incorporating a physical routine into your life, you may to take a break from writing and start incorporating regular exercise to get your health back to an optimal level.
Location: In a long-term sense, try to understand how your living situation impacts your working situation. For me, taking a trip to a new location also could be inspiring or open up new writing opportunities. I spent the last five months camping in Colorado, which was a break from previously living on the road, which was a break from a stationary existence in Virginia. At each of these junctures, I could feel my enthusiasm wane. Writing—a relatively easy task—became the hardest thing to do. Solution? I found a place that stirred my curiosity and went there. The spillover from this enthusiasm reinvigorated my writing and I found new avenues for my freelance career.
Career: Not only should you think of breaks in terms of the day or per assignment, but also in terms of your overall career. There’s probably nothing worse than someone who’s lost their initial spark of enthusiasm only to be replaced with cynicism.
Ask yourself whether writing is what you actually want to do. If it is, you may need to change your client base or the type of writing that you may be undertaking may not align with what satisfies your hunger to succeed. If so, it’s time to refocus your efforts. You may even need to get another job that’s not writing-related to make writing “fun” again.
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Ultimately, taking a break from writing should be as much as a priority as completing assignments before a deadline. As freelancers, no one is in charge of you except for you. Don’t be afraid to take some time off when you feel like it. After all, that’s what being a freelancer is all about.