The Importance of Taking Writing Breaks

May 30, 2022

White person lying in a cream hammock, wearing red sneakers, looking at a cloudy blue sky. Picture taken from the person's perspective, so only their legs and feet are visible. Photo by Mateusz Dach on Pexels.com.

Hey folks!

Some of you might be starting a new writing project. Some of you might be in the middle, or at the end. Or maybe you’re in the middle of editing.

One thing everyone needs to remember at every stage – it’s important to take breaks from your writing.

This might look different depending on the stage you’re at. People just starting out might not want to take week-long breaks in their projects (though I am guilty of that), but making sure you’re not writing every day can be beneficial. Someone in the middle might take the same tactic. But in between drafts? A week or two can be a good plan. Maybe even a month in between, if you’re in the thick of editing and your last round of revision was pretty big.

Your brain needs a break. When you’re taking those breaks, it can think about other things and relax, which often gives way to random ideas for your project (ever stop doing something and NEED to write down an idea, because you let your mind wander during your day off and all of a sudden you solved a plot hole?) or allows your brain to form a fresh perspective.

Think of it like studying for a test. (At least, this metaphor works for me.) If you study, non-stop, for hours, days, without taking a break beyond maybe meals and an hour before bed, you’ll resent the content you’re trying to learn. You might get frustrated that you have to learn it in the first place. You might even forget details, overlook important facts, get overwhelmed and tired and just be over it. So how can you fix that? By taking study breaks. You take an afternoon off to go for a hike. You hang out with your friends. You go out to a movie or dinner or stay in and binge Netflix. When you go back to the material, you’re not so frustrated. You can plan what to study for that day so you’re not overwhelmed. By the end, you know the material, and you’ve kept your brain level. Maybe while you were on that hike, one of the hard concepts even clicked randomly. At the movie, a character said something that made you think of a specific fact and you’re proud you remembered it. It’s the same with writing. You write non-stop, you’ll be rushing to get it done, you’ll get frustrated that it’s taking so long, you’ll feel down about the process, and you won’t put out your best work. But if you go on that hike, a plot point will get cleared up. If you take the night off, you’ll be excited to get back to your characters the next day. If you listen to some music while dancing, a line will spark some inspiration for a poem you’ve been stuck on.

I know some people need to write every day, and that’s ok. I’m not telling you not to. But be aware when you need a break, and don’t force yourself to work through it. Your writing may not be the best if you do, and you might lose some of that spark you have for it.

If you’re on a deadline, and you have to push through it, plan a post-deadline break. Decide to treat yourself to a spa day, take a week to catch up on your favourite shows, or go to that restaurant you’ve been wanting to try. And then make sure to take that break. (If you haven’t guessed, I’m a big pusher of self-care.)

This is all applicable to taking breaks between revisions, too. I don’t know about you, but I often like most revisions right after I’ve made them. And if I jump too quickly into the next round, I’ll still think they were good, when they might, in fact, not be. I’m missing a level of objectivity a bit of distance can provide. Jumping in too quickly also raises the chances of wanting to go through the content faster because I’m tired of looking at it for hours or days on end. When I take a break for a week or two (or more) between revisions on personal projects, or as little as a day for client projects, I come back with a clear head. I don’t feel the need to power through. I’ve forgotten the smaller revisions I’ve made, so I can edit more objectively. I’m not rushing, I’m looking thoughtfully, and the end result is so much better than it could have been otherwise.

Long story short, breaks are important. They keep you motivated and your writing or editing sharp. So take this as a sign to take a break, or to take one soon.

Let me know in the comments what your favourite way to take a writing break is!

Published by Kaila Desjardins

Freelance poetry editor, fiction writer, proud nerd.

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