By David E. Sharp
I recently completed a heavy-duty writing project with many rewrites, deep edits, and firm deadlines. Months of work spanning most of the past year were finally complete with the click of a send button. Shooting the last line edits to some server to a router that may bounce them to a satellite and then return them from orbit to another server. It arrived at my publisher after a right turn through the virus check and a quick left at Albuquerque.
The end of a large-scale project like that is always surreal to me. I could not believe it was done. I noticed a few things right away. Scratching my stubble-covered face, I had to reorient. When was the last time I shaved? Curious, I shambled from my writing den to explore the rest of the house. I discovered other people who lived there.
I recognized them. Fortunately, my wife recognized me too, just in time to stop dialing the police about the bearded stranger wandering the halls.
My transition back to the world of people did not come all at once. I still hear my writing music throughout the day, even when it is not playing. When people say something similar to one of my characters’ dialogue, I instinctively respond with the following line. It rarely translates into the conversation. Just an inside joke between my imaginary friends and me. My work emails come with a lot more metaphors than they used to. And I have developed a supernatural ability to hear punctuation when people talk to me.
Of course, I’m not finished writing for good. I have several more story ideas to churn out. I have unfinished projects I want to return to. And I need to restock my file of short stories. I like to have them available for contests and anthologies when opportunities arise. Writing is in my blood. I made up stories before I ever thought of them as fiction. As long as I have a pulse, I will keep writing. But after these large projects, I need extended writing breaks.
Advice on writing breathers runs the gamut. I have heard writers say you should start the next project immediately or risk losing your stride. Others say you should take regular breaks from work. Still, others ask why you spend any time writing when you could rub their bellies and throw toys for them to chase. The last one is the opinion of my Corgis.
Their thoughts are probably in the minority view. But the best advice I have heard is: Don’t stop writing, but writing should not always involve arranging words into sentences. According to this view, even the breaks are part of the writing process.
The truth is, you cannot write anything if you do not live anything. My ideas do not come from the writer den. I have to find them out there in the world. I talk to people. I wander aimlessly. I savor the little moments. Mostly, I treasure the people around me. When they are ready, the ideas find me, and I sew them in my brain garden.
I give them time to germinate, then bring them back to the writer’s den once they sprout. That’s where I feed them to my manuscript cattle in hopes of eventually producing a literary steak! Hmmm . . . that was a convoluted metaphor. And now I’m hungry.
Keep your writing breaks purposeful and prevent them from turning into a dry spell. To ensure your productivity, I have a few personal rules.
- Set a date: A soft re-entry into word-count production never works for me. The best way to keep a writing break from turning into a writing slump is to plan ahead. When will I begin churning manuscripts again? I mark a date on the calendar, and I hold myself to it.
- Be present in your moments: Productive breaks are all about experiencing life. This, in turn, informs your writing. Quality counts. Vegging out to Netflix is all right in small doses, but the natural creativity comes from living through your own story arcs. Try something new. Embarrass yourself. Eat foods you have never eaten. See new magic in everyday things.
- Read, Read, READ!: Ideally, you never stop reading through your writing process. But sometimes, life stacks up. Kids need attention. Chores need doing. Jobs need attending. And writing deadlines ensure the in-between moments are all booked. I am happy to report, my reading binge has begun! I have a demanding list of titles to devour, and devour I shall! There is no better productive activity for a writer than reading. It’s how I got started with all this madness.
You are overdue for a writing break. Want a few more tips to make it productive and guilt-free?