It’s Okay to Take a Break

It’s come to my attention recently that many writers take pride in their inability to stop writing.

“Want to sprint?” they say.

“No thanks,” I say. “I’m between projects, so I’m taking a little vacation.”

“OH!” they say. “What’s that like?!”

They then go on to talk about how they can’t not write, how they “envy” me for being able to take a break. In the end, they make me feel like I’m somehow less of a writer, because I like to step aside between projects, to read books written by someone else and to recharge my poor, overworked brain.

They’re not doing it on purpose, I’m sure. But when someone tells me that as a distraction between books, they write another book, it’s hard not to feel as if I’m somehow inferior. That because I need that mental space between projects, I’m just not as creative or hard-working as they are.

It’s silly, really, just another example of the pissing contests you often see in a traditional workplace. There was always an unspoken competition between reporters in the newsroom to see who could stay the latest, go the longest without taking a lunch break, refuse to look from their computer screen even when the managing editor had long since gone home.

That attitude is great, I suppose, if you really do care that much, but for the rest of us, it’s hard to compete.

You see, I treat my writing like a job. I have the luxury of getting to stay home and write, and I found that if I didn’t treat it like a job, I got nothing done. I used to stay up to three in the morning writing, but I found that I was less productive when I did that, plus I had less time in the evenings to spend with my husband. Nowadays, I (usually) force myself to get up at a reasonable hour, and then I keep 9 to 5 writing hours. It’s hard, but it gets the words out, and that’s what’s really important.

And you know what comes with a regular job? Vacation. The occasional long weekend. Sick days. (Also, insurance and regular pay, but that’s a different issue!) Work comes with time off.

I’m not saying that writing isn’t fun for me, that it’s all workaday and (pardon the pun) prosaic. I get the writer’s high, too, and I find myself daydreaming out stories when I’m not working. Writing is fun—of course it is—but it’s not the only fun in the world.

I’m a firm believer in pursuing other activities to fuel one’s writing. Going for a walk always gives me a new location for a scene, just as listening to a new album by a band I love will inspire a confrontation between characters I don’t even know yet. Reading books gives me a chance to escape into another world, responsibility free, and it is, after all, what inspired me to write in the first place. Magazines are fun and fluffy and a good way to give the mind a break. We all know that exercise is as good for the mind as it is for the body. TV? Well, that’s another kind of escape. Friends deserve my time and love, and so does my family.

Most importantly, I deserve some time and love. I like that week after I’ve finished a project when I go get a massage and then out for lunch and then back to bed to read for the rest of the day. I like taking time off because it keeps me sane after I’ve been living in a high-stakes world of my own invention for X-number of months.

My point? Writing needs other pursuits. You need to get some fresh air and to get some fresh ideas, and those frisky, exciting new ideas, my friend, come  just as often from outside your brain as they do from a random lightning flash of inspiration.

So, if you, like me, have felt the pressure to just keep going, to never stop, and you’ve had the defensive thoughts I’ve expressed in this little essay, know this: it’s okay to take a break. You don’t need permission, but if you feel like you do, you have mine. Get thee to a spa! Or to the beech! Or just to your own bed to take a break! It’s okay to relax! Be free! Have fun!

Have you felt the pressure to never stop working? How do you deal with it? What do you do to relax?

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12 thoughts on “It’s Okay to Take a Break

  1. I’m currently trying to allow myself to take a break, but it’s not easy. Not because I can’t NOT write, but simply because it stresses me to think about how I could be getting work done.
    Thoughts like ‘You really need to get this short story finished’ or ‘Why are you not working on that book?’ keeps popping up, even though I have told myself that it is okay to take a break. And because I start to get stressed, the idea of actually writing just seems to add to the pressure.
    Relaxing is really very difficult for me…

    1. Kristin McFarland

      I have a similar issue. When I’m not working, I feel guilty about it, so I end up enjoying neither my leisure nor my work! I’m trying to get better about it, though.

  2. Shauna Granger

    Dude. Dude. Dude, I could have written this whole post word for word.

    I feel like we’ve been on similar writing schedules lately just by happenstance. I’ve taken the couple of weeks off as well – my eyes guiltily sliding over to the MS that needs a full overhaul but I didn’t have it in me yet. I’ve been carving into my TBR pile and recharging my batteries, spending time with my hubs and dogs and all the while, feeling a bit guilty. I get those tweets too, and while I haven’t gotten the “Gee, must be nice” response, I feel guilty about how often I’m saying, “Sorry! Between projects!” and find myself saying, “I swear! I’ll be working on something next week!” Why are we explaining ourselves to people?

    I realized the reason my MS needs such a big overhaul is because I forced it out when I should’ve taken a small break. Now I’m paying the price.

    Anywho. I feel ya. You’re not alone in any of those twisted feelings. We do deserve breaks. You can’t be creative every second of the day without any inspiration to fuel that creativity. But now you’ve inspired me and I’m totally going to blog about this on my blog.

    1. Kristin McFarland

      Amen. The tweets have been driving me a little nuts, too. We don’t need to apologize for taking a break! Especially when we’re working at different times or on something else entirely.

      And we have been strangely synced on the writing schedule. This year has been intense, hasn’t it? I feel like I need a real vacation.

  3. Oh, man. I am getting to burnout defcon five lately. I’m so stressed, and every time someone asks me to sprint I get kind of twitchy and YOU’RE NOT MY MOM about it.

    Brava, my dear. This post is exactly what I needed to read. My day off on Saturday to go to the Annapolis Irish Festival will be a day I do no work.

    1. Kristin McFarland

      Ohhh those sprint requests have been driving me batty. I don’t want my sprinting friends to forget about me, but I also kinda want to be left alone. *grumble grumble*

      Enjoy the Irish Festival! That sounds so fun.

  4. I have a really hard time taking a break because i have limited time to write. I have this insane notion in my head that I’m going to write two more books by the end of the year, on top of a full tome job, so i feel like i always need to be doing something toward that goal, whether its writing or researching. I feel guilty when i’m not, but i am learning slowly to allow myself time at the pool.

    1. Kristin McFarland

      That makes sense. Also, wow, that’s a lot of writing on top of a day job! Yikes! But it sounds like you’re finding a way to recharge.

  5. Fabulous post. I recently (in the past three months or so) found that I HAVE to take a break from writing every day, or it just doesn’t work for me. I find myself pickled in my creative juices to the point of not being able to see my work clearly. And I also get really lethargic, creatively speaking. Like you said, I have to engage my mind (not just my body) in other activities–swimming, going shopping with my daughter, going to the library with my kids, talking about my husband’s job with him–all of these, simple as they are, really let me see that I can effectively stop working on my writing and still remain just as creative (if not more so). It’s part of the reason why I’m now only committing to write on holidays and weekends. Watching kids all day AND writing was too much pressure and I was starting to lose my mind. 🙂 Do what works best for you, Kristin.

    1. Kristin McFarland

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who needs breaks! It does get stressful, and some people don’t seem to get that.

  6. Pingback: The Creative Mom: Not a Mythical Creature | Spellbound Scribes

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