Before you take a break from your writing, you should first and foremost recognise that you need a break. We can’t be at 100% all the time. Engines need to be refuelled. Pencils need to be sharpened. Insert any analogy or metaphor you’d like; the fact of the matter is that we need breaks from everything we do. Creative projects are no different from taking a vacation from your job, going to sleep at the end of the day, or resting when you’re sick.
You might need a break if you experience any of these:
- getting distracted easily from your project
- becoming frustrated at your writing or writing progress
- embarking on line edits prematurely
- finding yourself doing other things, whether it’s work, school, family, hobbies, instead of writing
- “burnout” of any kind
How To Take A Break
Look to the future to see when you might be busy.
It’s hard to focus on creative projects, especially writing, if you’re travelling, swamped with work, handling family issues, or doing a lot with your time that you can’t delegate to someone or address later. Whenever I’m pressed for time and energy, my creative projects and hobbies fall to the wayside. I can plan for breaks from my writing if I look ahead at my schedule. You might end up being too preoccupied with life to feel guilty for not writing on top of it—this is the benefit of planning a break from your writing. You’re going according to plan!
Assess your mental and emotional well-being: could you use a break?
My writing burnout manifests through worsened mental health. I get distracted, frustrated, and tired more easily and quickly. Writing is a lot of mental and emotional work! If you’re feeling less than your best, you should take a break. If your manuscript also feels like it’s dragging you down, or you’re doubting yourself and value as a writer, you should take a break.
Are you at a major transition in your writing? (Between drafts, embarking on revising, etc.)
Authors commonly leave their manuscripts for a few weeks before they revise. This is a break from the writing project! They’ve completed one phase of it (drafting) and are transitioning into another phase (revising). Revision itself has multiple phases. I’m a hardcore advocate for taking time away from your writing when you’re in-between major milestones in completing the project. You become saturated by your work and it’s hard to step back any other way. I like taking breaks after drafts (first draft, second draft, etc.) and before revisions. Doing so gives me the chance to clear my head of the story and meet it again with a fresher perspective. I also have the chance to research, tweak my outline, prepare for the next draft or revision, and do the admin side of writing. It’s a lot less fun than the act of writing, which is why I do it when I’m not focusing on the creative aspect!
Prepare For A Break
Set a place in your writing for you to return to.
A concrete space to pick up your work will make the break easier to come out of. Pick a place, such as at the beginning of an act or a new draft, for you to begin your break—and then return to.
Aim for a duration timeline and a finishing deadline.
This is why you need to look at your future schedule and plans! You can work around the stress of life’s demands. You can pick a day after the stress has subsided for you to return to your writing. This is also a great way to schedule out how long your break will be.
Gather your tools for your return: inspiration, motivation, review of your writing, etc.
It’s harder to pick up something than it is to set it down, especially when it’s a creative project like a book. While you have the time and energy now, compile anything that gets you into the zone or flow of your writing. For me, I use music playlists, moodboards, character worksheets, and an outline. Having these materials at the ready when you’re ready makes the break appear seamless, or at the very least more natural.
My Recent Writing Break
I took a five/six week break from my writing before I started revisions. I was aiming for less than eight weeks, and I knew I’d be moving at the end of April. I work quickly with edits and revisions (it’s part of why I offer editing services!), so I knew I could squeeze in revisions before I needed to start packing.
This break from my manuscript was forced on me, in a way, since I couldn’t continue writing the novel after I finished it. I could have picked up and started a new project, but I assessed my situation and health: this is my first complete novel, my mental health needed some TLC, and I’m a serial polygamist with my writing. With this manuscript, I decided to prioritise finishing one project before starting another.
If I hadn’t had the break in between drafting and revising, I would’ve dived blindly into edits. I’m enjoying the process right now, and that’s because I took the time to prepare for the break and how to return to it.