Writing when it’s going great makes you feel invincible. The words are flowing, the scenes are coming together. You’ve solved that one plot hole you didn’t think you’d dig your way out of. The dialogue is on-point and your imaginary friends are talking. The muse has even blessed you with an abundance of ideas after all your sacrifices of chocolate.
Then there are the times when it’s not great. The days when doing the task before you is so unimaginable you want to give up.
On those days, all the flaws stick out and you can’t unsee them. To make it worse, you don’t know how to fix them and the anxiety is making that one thing you love not fun anymore.
You dread sitting down at those keys and tapping out a sentence. This isn’t the first draft when you’re putting down any words—good or bad. This is the I’ve-lost-count-of-all-the-drafts draft. The I’ve-been-working-on-this-for-years draft. The it-took-me-endless-edits-to-realize-I-can’t-write draft. And you don’t know what to do.
You could give up. It’s the easiest solution. But did you create all those drafts to do that? Is that why you started writing in the first place? What you need to do is take a break.
But if I stop writing for any length of time, I don’t know if I’ll come back to it! That’s a fair point, one I’ve struggled with too. But there is a way to save your sanity, rest like you need to, and not give in to the desire to send your hard-earned words to the recycle bin.
You need to take a break without losing your motivation.
Read the novels you love. The kind that inspired you to write. Read books that are bad, ones that will remind you that you aren’t the worst writer in the world (they’re out there, some on bestseller lists). Immersing yourself in words might be the last thing you want to do, but that’s your words. Take a break from them while staying inspired by the words of others.
Write Blogs or Journal
Whenever I’m in the midst of downtime between editing drafts, I’ll knock out a few extra blog posts. This serves me well by creating a stash of posts for when life gets in the way, and it keeps my word-smith skills sharpened. When you’re sick of working on your book, writing blogs will keep you in the writing game, just on a different game board.
As for journaling, it’s a great way to let your creative disappointment loose on the page, even if you’re the only one who reads it. Let your frustrations out and don’t worry about telling, not showing, getting every comma in place, or the million other rules that drove you to burn out. Express yourself however you want and write your way into and out of your break.
Catch Up On What Others Are Doing
If you’ve bookmarked blogs by other writers you intended to read but so far haven’t, or absently liked Instagram feeds without interacting, now is your chance to see what your fellow writers are up to. This will keep you active in the writing community even though you’re not actively writing.
For non-writer catchups, if you haven’t seen any friends in awhile because you canceled your social plans to fail at writing, get out into the real world! Book a coffee date (but not for coffee because coffee is gross), or go to the movies. Bask in what you’ve been missing out on while slaving away at the keyboard and let it inspire you. That way, when you’re back at that desk, you’ve got new experiences to turn into sentences.
If you can, make some of those new experiences a getaway! Away from your desk and away from your life (for a bit). Take a day trip somewhere. Head into the city, head into the country. Do something non-writing related that will enrich your writing life. You can’t write about experiences if you don’t have any. Smell the country air and save the senses for a scene. The break will also clear your mind.
Spend Time With Your Thoughts
Take a walk without headphones. Fill up a bubble bath. Find a place where you won’t be bothered and converse with yourself (maybe not aloud, though). Why are you fed up with writing? Is there a way to work around the problem? What has made it so unbearable? Can you fix it? Do you want to fix it? Ask yourself all the questions you need, even if you can’t answer them just yet.
Go Over The Good
There must be a piece of writing you love or great feedback someone has sent you. Gushing praise from a beta reader or a five-star review. An article you penned that was published somewhere. A blog post overflowing with awesome comments. A collection of words you cobbled together that others liked enough to compliment. Read that. Or Google motivational quotes. Anything that will remind you at some point you wrote something worth it—and that you can do it again.
By doing activities that allow a break from writing, while still keeping you in the writing world, you might just find what you need to reset your mojo. Hopefully, it’ll bring back that spark, the reason you sit at your desk day-after-day. And if it doesn’t, take another break until you get out of the spiral.
All things—good and bad—end at some point. Ride it out, write it out. Create when you can, take a break when you have to. And don’t forget to keep your chocolate supply stocked and a pen and paper always on hand.
What do you do when you need to put some space between yourself and your words? Let me know in the comments.
— K.M. Allan