To all my fellow Americans, I hope you had a spectacular Fourth of July weekend! My husband and I were out of town visiting family and I found time to write an impressive total of roughly 300 words, so now I’m feeling rather rusty; even now as I type this, my fingers are cramping in defiance. Writing truly is like exercising; the longer we neglect doing it, the more demotivated and out of shape we become! Or do we…?
It’s that question that has inspired me to (temporarily) deviate from my Nonfiction-writing series because I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to know whether writers should take days off.
Occasionally spending time away from our notepads and laptops is a healthy practice…or so I’m told. Admittedly, however, I exhibit major withdrawal symptoms within the first 24 hours, which include erratic outbursts as I audibly brainstorm plot points and lines of dialogue, twitchy hands in search of coffee and a keyboard, and the irrational conviction that if I don’t bang out at least 500 words before sundown, the muse will abandon me altogether and baby unicorns everywhere will drop dead.
After the first angst-ridden day, I’m finally able to let loose as I remember that there’s a great big world to be enjoyed outside the ones I write about, filled with friends and family I truly love and who mean more to me than my work, though my obsessive writer self may kick and scream at this confession.
Taking time off doesn’t mean I stop thinking about writing (is it possible for writers to do so?). I’m constantly jotting down notes on current work in progress, future projects and blog ideas, and frequently catch myself observing people and places, ever on the lookout for potential story material and inspiration. I actually feel that these hiatuses increase my creativity rather than diminish it; my mind recharges, my senses heighten, and my heart embraces the subconscious artistic process by which creative ideas are planted and nurtured.
I’ve come to believe that working 365 days a year will actually hinder us in the long run. Writing will feel more like a chore than a pleasure, more like an obligation than a privilege, more like a demanding master than a warm companion. Not only that, but we’ll unwittingly starve ourselves of the very sustenance which fuels our creative endeavors.
By holing up at our desks day after day, we miss out on the sights, smells, emotions, and experiences that infuse life and color into our craft. We forget that writing is an art form that rewards the quiet pursuit of everyday pleasures, not a rigorous science that cares only for results reached in a sterile laboratory.
Now it’s time to revisit the aforementioned statement, “Writing truly is like exercising; the longer we neglect doing it, the more demotivated and out of shape we become.” I strongly disagree. I’ve been a proud gym rat for thirteen years now and can tell you that taking breaks from the gym is a must. Pushing yourself for too long in any physical activity will lead to burnout, halts in progress, and an increased risk of injury. This goes for writing too for all the reasons noted above.
Becoming “out of shape” and “demotivated” is a very real possibility, however. These digressions occur when we allow the hiatus to endure indefinitely. I’ve seen similar scenarios occur again and again at our gym CrossFit 925 in which clients take a summer vacation, go skiing over New Year’s, get sick, have surgery, study for finals etc., and then fall off the face of the planet. When we shoot them an email weeks later to see what’s become of them, most are honest and admit they’re simply not motivated to get to the gym. And so we pester them until they return, and they’re happy they do!
When we as writers let our time off persist with no end in sight, we tend to let other responsibilities take center stage as what Steven Pressfield famously calls Resistance creeps in and infects our thoughts with thousands of excuses for why writing can wait another day. We know the first day back will be tough; the writing muscles are stiff and our brains are covered with cobwebs. But, just as any athlete knows, muscle memory will kick in and take the reins – all we have to do is sit down, get still, and accept that the process to be slower than usual.
I highly recommend that you give yourself an end date to your writing break and that you schedule them wisely around events outside of your control. For instance, in my recent case, I knew I’d be out of town for four nights over the Fourth of July, so logically, it seemed like a perfect time to bid a temporary adieu to my fantasy work-in-progress. And for a Colorado trip last Thanksgiving, I left my laptop behind because I knew if I had it with me, the temptation to write instead of rest would be overwhelming. In both instances, I made up my mind to resume my writing routine the morning after we returned. No procrastinating. No fussing. No excuses. No Resistance.
I’ve been surprised to find that I feel more motivated after time away; as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder! As for cramping, typing-averse fingers and becoming “out of shape,” it may at first feel like our creative juices have run dry and that our writing muscles have atrophied, but this is where faith comes in. Faith in our gift, our passion, our calling. Faith in the journey which takes us through valleys, up mountains, across scary seas and peaceful plains, into dark forests of frustration out of which there seems to be no escape, and beside still streams that beckon us to remove our loads and rest a while.
Refusing to rest because we are fearful that our gift will abandon us is foolishness. We must never let fear dictate our artistic decisions lest such harebrained notions take root in our minds and make writing a burden and vacations a villain. Faith extinguishes our fears by filling us with confidence, peace, and the assurance that our writing, like a living, breathing creature, will be strengthened by our tender treatment of it.
If you haven’t given yourself a few consecutive days off from writing, perhaps it’s time you consider it. Perhaps it’s time you silence the opposing voices, take a leap of faith, and believe that you and your writing will be better for it.
What are your thoughts on taking time off from writing? Please comment below or tweet me your thoughts at @dandersontyler!