Write It Out: When You Just Need a Break

Even though I don’t have any publishable material to show for it, I have been doing a lot of writing lately. It’s been great; I’ve really loved it. But it led to an interesting dilemma yesterday. I had time; I probably could have written a blog post without too much trouble in terms of my schedule. Notice I said schedule. Words simply would not come, and I don’t think it was writer’s block so much as the fact that I have been pushing myself so hard that finally it was just time to let myself have a mental break.

There are times like this, in my opinion, in every writer’s life. We discipline ourselves, force ourselves to write, produce greater and greater amounts of content (usually improving in the process just by the practice), and we finally come to a crossroads. We can keep writing at the pace we have with the same type of content, and probably we’ll manage to do it. For a while. But eventually comes the point where the discipline to write this way saps the last of our energy reserves and our writing slips. We might still write, but the amount of content drops and certainly the quality of content becomes an issue. We begin to resent writing instead of enjoying it even if we are enjoying what we love.

Now as we look through the history of writers, there are exceptions to this rule. The truly great writers who managed to write quality content seemingly endlessly no matter the life circumstances. I have moments where I envy those writers and wish I could manage that. But again, that leads me to resent sitting down to write rather than doing it because I am passionate about it.

Friends, we are human beings. That means that we have limits and it is prudent to live within those limitations to some extent. Obviously there are times where we need to push beyond our limits so that we grow and better ourselves. But we also have to acknowledge that sometimes we are just tired. We can’t push past the block this time because it isn’t so much a matter of finding the right word but our minds (and even our bodies) are telling us we need a break.

If you are so tired you can hardly keep your eyes open and you are sitting down to write, you might want to consider giving yourself a break. I know there are times where this is impossible. I had a job where I had to write rather extensive, detailed reports quite frequently. And there were deadlines such that if I didn’t meet them I would face the wrath of a judge. So I get it. Sometimes you just don’t have a choice. And in the years I worked in that job, my personal writing suffered greatly. I couldn’t force myself to focus on it frequently because of that exact tired I mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph. I would write what I HAD to which left no time for what I WANTED to.

As writers though, we know somewhere deep inside that we need breaks now and then. And that doesn’t mean we stop writing entirely. If that’s what you need, admit it to yourself and take care of your writing brain. You are just going to work yourself into frustration if you keep making yourself write when you just need a break. But if you can, keep going. Maybe take a break from the blog (as I did yesterday) and just focus on your personal journaling (journaling is really important for a writer who wishes to create realistic narrative in fiction writing; the details you journal are what you draw from in order to generate people, places, things, and dialogue that readers relate to). Give yourself a mental break from the work in progress you’ve got going and write some poems. You don’t necessarily need to generate quality, readable content during this mental break. You just need to look to something else.

Yesterday I was so tired I literally had to discipline myself to eat. I couldn’t put forth the mental effort to write a blog I was satisfied with and the topic for Thursdays being trauma, I knew it would take an emotional toll to write. But I still journaled, mentally worked through some scenarios for my work in progress, and thought a bit about what I would post today. None of it was anything I would share with any reader other than my husband, but it kept my brain on track. It let even my body know, you can rest, but when your mind is working, we can come up with something.

That’s what we all need as writers sometimes. We need to let our bodies and minds know we aren’t giving up on the writing thing, we’re just giving them the rest they need so we can get right back at it. When we do this, we actually end up taking shorter breaks than if we try to push through the exhaustion. And we are usually able to produce more and better content immediately following the break, more than making up for what we missed from a day or two respite. It’s counterintuitive. We somehow think that in order to do a good job we must always be working and if we aren’t we’re doing it wrong. We do need to work at it. Stories don’t write themselves. But if we work without admitting our limitations, they will catch us and we may have to take years off or not ever return to writing. So take a breath. And if you just need a break, take it now. You can always come back to your work in a couple hours or tomorrow.