by Phoenix Desertsong, The Perpetual Prose Machine
Sometimes, I don't consider myself a very good writer. At times, I'll go without publishing an article or anything for even a month or two. Honestly, even though the common advice is to write every day, sometimes you do just need a break. If you feel like your writing is getting stale or is losing direction, it's actually a good idea to go and do something else completely different for a while in order to get yourself refocused. While your writing muscles do need the exercise, it doesn't make any sense to burn yourself out when you're not really producing anything worthy.
So, if you're asking yourself should I take a break from writing then the answer is most likely you should. The question then becomes for how long?
How Long is Too Long to Stay Away from Writing?
The answer really depends on how you feel. If you really are not feeling like writing anymore, then there's probably a good reason for it. If writing is how you make a living, however, then you obviously don't want to stay away from it too long. But, breaks are important to take.
The idea is to not let yourself go forever without writing. If you find that you're staying away from writing for days or weeks at a time, then you probably need the break. But when you find yourself not writing anything after months, even little notes in your journal, that's when you probably should reconsider if you're really even that interested in writing at all anymore.
I've actually been at that point in my life several times. There actually have been times where I haven't even written a single word for maybe even a month at a time, maybe even more. Why did this happen?
I can tell you straight up the main reason that I have gone long stretches without writing. It’s feeling forced to write things that I didn't feel like writing. For example, college papers were often a major struggle for me, as I just couldn’t get involved with the subject material. The other major thing is articles that weren't really paying a lot of money, but I needed the cash. So, when the writing started feeling forced like slave labor, it really was just no fun anymore. I didn't want to do it anymore.
Should Writing Feel More Like Work or Feel More Like Fun?
With anything that you do, it’s probably not going to be fun all the time. But should it be? Sometimes, if you get a lucrative opportunity you're going to take it, even if it's not for that much money. You may just need the cash. But, if you find yourself getting to the point where you hate writing, then obviously you need to take a step back and really reconsider your goals.
It's funny because for so much of my life I actually didn't really write with much of a goal in mind. But I will tell you this right now. If your only goal with writing is simply to make money, then you're probably really needing to find a deeper meaning and purpose to what you want to write.
For example, I really wanted to be a novelist for a long time. At other points in my life, I wanted to be a sports writer. So, at some point, there were actually times where I felt it was important to practice and polish my writing skills so that I could get a job later with writing. The practice alone was a good goal and it kept me focused. But as I became less interested in those jobs, my writing really lost focus for awhile. That’s why I turned to poetry and journal writing, and eventually articles.
Sometimes, you just have to find a different kind of writing to get going again. If it’s getting to feel too much like work, find something else that’s more fun. Sometimes you’re going to have to take assignments that feel like work, so be sure to balance it out with writing something fun. That way, you never have to take too long a break.
When Should Writing be More than Just a Job?
Even when you do something you enjoy, the sad truth is that you may end up feeling burnt out at one point or another. That's only natural. You may be overwhelmed with how much writing you're trying to do at once. If that’s what it is, you should probably scale back. Also, you might find that you don't have a good enough goal and motivation to keep yourself with the proper energy and focus that you need to write.
So, when should writing be more than a job? For a long time, writing for me was simply a hobby. It was something to take my mind off of other things. When I did try to turn writing into my regular job, it honestly didn't really feel that great. While I was making some money doing it, I started feeling like my skills were not being properly compensated. I kept asking myself: why am I even doing this anymore?
When you're writing purely for yourself, sometimes you find yourself saying: “Oh, well, I'll just write some more tomorrow.” Then, tomorrow becomes next week, and next week becomes next month. So what I suggest, if you're going to take a break from writing, is to switch gears. Take a break from writing, per se, as far as trying to write complete articles and the like. What you should keep doing instead, however, is to keep your mind coming up with ideas.
Take notes, whether that's in your phone, or a diary, or a little notebook. If you really are serious about writing, you need to keep putting things down. What I’ve found is that if you go too long, even a week, without just putting your thoughts down, it becomes very very difficult to get the momentum again. When you try to write again, you may find your writing is very sloppy for a while. But as long as you keep the ideas flowing one way or another, even if you just have to doodle in the margins of something, that's important.
Just need to keep the free flow of ideas going. If you’re continuously generating ideas, you'll find the other parts of your life improve, as well. If you sit there and let your mind stagnate, you're going to end up being pretty miserable. Even if you find that you’re not really writing for awhile, you can always use ideas.
Taking a Break from Writing Doesn’t Mean You Should Take a Break from Ideas
Even if you’re not writing, don’t ever take a break from ideas. If you continue to take down ideas, even when you're not actively writing something, you may find that you're able to start writing again all of a sudden. I know that I found this to be the case when I write poetry sometimes. If I haven't written for a while, it's great to try to force myself to rhyme a few phrases or even just keep track of syllables in a simple pattern. That way, I can sort of create a little framework to write around. Even if I only write 4 or 8 lines, I find that I've at least produced something. Producing something, even if it's only a little bit and even if it's not good, at least makes me force myself to put words together.
Trying to then force yourself to write a thousand word article is not always the best way to get going again. The trick that I found with writing is to not burn yourself out. Simply keep your thoughts flowing and note them somehow. The ideas don’t even have to be good. After all, to get good ideas, you have to have a lot of bad ones, too.
I can tell you right now that when I'm not doing very well with writing I'll still open up a whole bunch of documents and stick ideas in each one. Sure, probably 9 out of 10 of them never go anywhere. But, that's okay. Eventually I will find some way to connect those thoughts, even if they don't become articles on their own.
I've even found Speech-to-Text, even the simple kind that's on a lot of Google and Apple phones, is very helpful in getting your ideas out. Even when you don't actually feel like writing, using Speech-to-Text is different. That’s because when you talk, you're using a different part of your brain. You actually want to exercise this part of your brain, as well. By vocalizing your thoughts, all you're doing is expanding how you can express yourself. Heck, if you’d rather express yourself through art or other creative activities, that's good, too. The idea is to not let your mind stagnate. If you're not going to write, find some other way to express yourself.
How Long Your Break is From Writing is Up to You
So, how long should you take a break from writing it all is up to you. However long feels right to you is how long you should take. But, whatever you do don't keep the ideas from flowing. That's the most important part that is why I love writing so much. It’s a way for me to get my ideas out of my head so that they're not zooming around at a million miles an hour.
At times, I feel extremely unorganized, and that's when I feel like I need to take a break and refocus. If you can't focus with your writing, you're going to find yourself writing a lot of crap or things that you just can't do anything with. In fact, you end up confusing yourself. So, only write when you feel like you can have a clear path to what you're doing.
But even if you're not feeling clear, make sure you get the ideas down. The more ideas you get down, the more you have to come back to later. The worst thing you can ever do as a writer is to come in with a blank page with no direction. Make sure that you always come back to writing with some sort of direction. Even if you end up changing direction midstream, that's okay.
The idea is to make sure that you stay focused as a writer. Once you lose that focus, go do something else for a while. If you don't want to come back to writing maybe you never will. But that's okay. You can't worry about that. If you're meant to be a writer, you will come back to it. Even when I’ve felt like I was done with writing forever, I obviously still came back. That's what I've always found.
This post was originally posted at The Perpetual Prose Machine on Life Successfully.
It doesn’t matter what kind of writer you are. You don’t even have to be a writer right now. You can become a winning writer. Aimed at writers who want to become published authors, Joan Gelfand’s book “You Can Be a Winning Writer” takes a holistic approach to becoming a successful writer. While many writing advice books focus on one aspect of writing success, Gelfand’s book covers four main areas that need to be done all at the same time. She calls these the 4 C’s of Successful Authors: Craft, Commitment, Community, & Confidence.
While there have been entire books written about aspects of the four C’s, there hasn’t really been a book that focuses entirely on balancing all four of the C’s to become a successful author. That is exactly what Gelfand set out to do with “You Can Be a Winning Writer” and she does this well. She pulls together lots of great advice and anecdotes from many successful authors, many of them Pulitzer Prize winning. It’s well-researched and put together, whereas a lot of writing advice books seem like they’re all saying the same thing. As Gelfand breaks down the 4 C’s, any writers are bound to pick up some helpful hints in all areas of their writing lives.
“You Can Be a Winning Writer” is definitely worth a read. I’d suggest taking notes whenever something strikes you that you can apply to your own writing. There’s just so much good advice packed into every section of this book. It’s the kind of book you may read multiple times just to absorb all the lessons within, from Gelfand’s own personal experience and from all of the other writers’ stories she shares.
You may not even consider yourself a writer right now. But if you’ve even ever dreamed or even just thought of being a writer, go ahead and just do it. This book will help you not only get started, but also put you on the right path towards success. No, it’s not going to be easy. Gelfand doesn’t sugarcoat how difficult becoming a successful author is, but constantly reminds you that it’s possible with great dedication and discipline to sticking to a good plan. It’s a great writer’s manual and it should be on your bookshelf, no doubt about it.
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