How (and When) to Give Yourself a Break

Photo credit: Tom Wicker on Flickr
We writers tend to be really good at working ourselves to the bone. We spend much of our free time writing/editing/rewriting novels and researching/web stalking/querying/crying over agents and marketing/preparing e-books/researching the market and let’s not forget writing super-fun synopses, and drafting blog posts, and brainstorming new works. We worry constantly about whether we’ve written enough today (or this week, or this month), and whether we’re making enough progress on that WIP, and let’s not even think about what happens when we miss a day—apocalypse.

Truth be told, sometimes we’re a little too hard on ourselves.

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but even writers deserve breaks every once in a while. The key is knowing when the right time to take a short hiatus is.

Here are a few signs that you deserve a break:

  • You just finished a draft of your WIP. One of the absolute best times to take a break is between drafts—not only do you deserve to rest after working hard to complete a draft, but you need time to develop some distance to your work so that you can edit it more efficiently later. Win-win. 

  • You’ve been working on your WIP non-stop for a long time and now you feel stuck. What a “long time” is depends on you, but sometimes the best way to get unstuck is to distract yourself with something unrelated to your work. This is also known as taking a break. 

  • You’re tired of your WIP. Now, when I say tired of your WIP, I don’t mean that you’re in the middle of your novel and the shiny new novel glamour has worn off—that bit is pretty near inevitable. What I mean instead, is that you’ve lost the excitement, the love for your WIP. You dread sitting down to write and quite frankly, you’re not really sure you even want to finish this WIP. When that happens, sometimes the best thing you can do is step away from your WIP and take a break. This doesn’t mean forever, but it does mean you might need to distract yourself with some non-WIP goodies to recuperate. 

Once you’ve decided that you’re ready for a break, you now face a new dilemma: what to do? Remember that the point of this whole taking a break thing is to actually take a break. Put that WIP away and try some of these things:

  • Read ALL the books. Ok, maybe not all the books, but now’s a great time to catch up on that growing to-be-read list (you do have a TBR list, don’t you? Of course you do). Reading isn’t optional for serious writers, and as a bonus, it’s a pretty enjoyable way to spend some free time. 

  • Spend time with your friends and family. Chances are they haven’t seen quite as much of you as they might like—after all, you’ve been busy working on that book of yours. Now you have time to catch up with friends and sit down with your family, so use it! 

  • Do something you enjoy (other than writing). Watch a movie. Play ridiculous hours of Assassin’s Creed. Bake. Catch up on your Hulu queue. Whatever it is you really like to do, make sure that you spend time to rewarding yourself with it. You deserve it (seriously). 

  • Get some fresh air. This works particularly well when the weather is nice, but we writers have a tendency of spending a lot of time on the computer and very little time doing outdoorsy things—I’ll be the first to admit this is something I succumb to quite often. But fresh air is good for you. I promise. 

Sometimes taking a break is all you need to jump-start your inspiration and writing, and sometimes it’s just a nice little luxury that we deprive ourselves of too often. Whatever the case, make sure you reward yourself with a hiatus every once in a while—then get back to work.

What do you like to do when you’re on a writing hiatus?


alexandra said...

I like to listen to music- mainly movie soundtracks and try and think of new plots, develop my characters better in my head, maybe even imagine them conversing in a section of my book. I still get a break but it's super fun and I get some of my best ideas from doing that. And it keeps you motivated!

Ruth Ellen Parlour said...

I'm taking a break at the moment, particularly because it's Christmas, but also because I need space to find my inspiration again. I've been sitting down to read non stop as much as I can! It's so lovely :)

Ava Jae said...

Music can definitely be helpful. I've found I really like the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, although I can't say I've tried many other movie soundtracks. Any recommendations?

Ava Jae said...

I love being able to pause and take the time to read extra books. It's really a fantastic feeling.

Out of curiosity, what books are you reading?

javacia of said...

When I take a break from writing I usually use that time to spend with friends & family and to read, just as you recommended. Right now I'm on vacation (sort of) and I've been able to read, spend times with friends & family, and write. It's been lovely!

Ava Jae said...

That sounds fantastic! Enjoy the rest of your sort of vacation! :)

Andi-Roo said...

I take TOO MUCH of break. My problem is making myself get busy. Two of my Personal Commandments are:
1. Just show up.
2. Do the work.
I have some goals broken down into targeted plans that I am going to implement as we move into the New Year. And I'm also dying my hair blue-n-purple. Cuz sometimes a big crazy change is just what you need to light the boom under your butt! :)

¤čidney Peck said...

Scandalous, Ava!

Only kidding. My idea of a hiatus would be a small cabin (with indoor plumbing, of course) on the water, with no phone, a stocked pantry, and a DVR with a stack of movies to catch up on. Oh, and lots of bug spray for when I take a nice long daily hike. Perfect!

Ava Jae said...

Ah yes, well there can certainly be too much of a good thing with this post. Breaks are helpful, but only if you don't abuse them--in the end we need to use the breaks to get refreshed and re-energized, then get back to writing. :)

Blue and purple hair! That's very brave of you. I wish you the best with your New Years resolutions!

Ava Jae said...

I always find it kind of funny when people say they'd love to be out in a cabin in the woods, or camping, or any variation thereof. Personally, the thought of living without electricity (or internet) for days is somewhat of a nightmare for me, but as I understand it, it makes for a great respite for some people. :)

I will say that the stack of movies sounds particularly fantastic. Winding down in front of a good movie is a method of relaxation I enjoy as well. ^_^

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