How to Take a Productive Break from Writing
Have you ever gotten so frustrated with your writing you just want to give up? You
feel no spark, no inspiration, no drive? You try to force yourself but the words fall flat on the page. Sometimes the best solution is to just plow through and keep pushing out the copy until it gets better. But sometimes, quite honestly, you just need to give up. Not forever, but for a while at least.
This is at the point when you’ve fallen into a dry rut. You need to turn off the computer and go for a walk or a run or a weekend in the woods or a month in Paris. You need time not thinking about what you are trying to write.
What happens if you should go but you don’t? Often times, you just wander. You look up words. You answer emails. You sharpen pencils. You spend a lot of time not getting anything done and feeling guilty about it. You get frustrated with yourself and if you can make yourself write, it’s deadly dull or scattered about.
If you decide it’s time to walk away, you should do so deliberately and without guilt. You should give yourself permission to take a “creative sabbatical.” Sometimes you just need to get some distance from the work. Your mind needs time to work on the writing without you thinking about it. You need inspiration or insight that you can’t get from staring at the computer.
Here are some things to do before you hit the off button to make that time more effective:
- Think about what’s going wrong. Do you have enough information? Are you overwhelmed by the project? Are you struggling with the organization? Do you have a strong enough understanding of your reader? Are you struggling with what you want to say or how to say it?
- Write at least a rough opening paragraph and a brief outline of what you want to include in the piece. If you already have a chunk of the project finished, rough out the next section. The complexity will depend on the length of the piece and your own sense of the project. It’s easier to get more detailed with a 500 word essay than an entire book. These are essentially notes to yourself – some things for your mind to work on while you turn your attention elsewhere.
- Write a statement or two about what you want to accomplish – define a character, get a better sense of the plot, come up with clever phrases to capture your thoughts, get a sense of how the piece should flow. This isn’t something you need to specifically focus on during your time off, but knowing what you want to work out can help you
- Then put it all away. Go have fun. Go work on something else. Take as much time as you can or feel you need. Maybe an hour is enough. Maybe you need a few days or a few months. During this time, expect to get new insights and inspiration. Expect to come back refreshed and ready.