I talk a lot on this blog about the importance of making time to write and protecting your writing time. But equally as important is taking the time to not write. Most writers I know fit writing into a busy life. Maybe you get up early to write before anyone in your house is awake, or maybe you stay up later than anyone to get your words in. Or maybe you write on your lunch break or on your commute.
It can be hard to “not write.” You set time aside to be productive, so not writing during that time seems like a waste. It’s also possible you’ve set a deadline for yourself and you think you can’t afford to get behind. But I’ve found that sometimes, taking time away from the page is exactly what I need to take my book to the next level.
No matter when you write or how frequently, giving yourself some time off can be just as important to your finished product as actually writing. Here are some ways not writing has helped me personally:
1) It’s refreshed my creativity
Have you ever heard the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty glass?” This has proven to be true for writing too. Taking time to experience the world or take in other forms of creativity have often helped me write better. I have, on more than one occasion, been feeling like my story was boring, unoriginal, or just “off” in some way. Instead of staring at the screen trying to fix it, I’ve gone for walks, called a friend, or fallen down a YouTube hole. I may not always have a solution when I sit back down to work, but often times, the problem doesn’t seem as big. Typically, this means a solution isn’t too far off.
Other times, taking time to take in another form of art has lead to a story idea of its own. The ideas for Crossing the Line came when I was watching The Avengers and not actively thinking about writing or creating. The idea for a fantasy series I’m working on came when I was browsing Pinterest for fun. You really never know when the world will present you with your next great idea. If you don’t spend time away from your writing, you might miss it.
2) It’s led me to a creative solution that had been escaping me
Writers have a habit of overthinking and getting in their own way. Planning time to not write and not think about my story has often allowed ideas and solutions to surface naturally. For example, I was two drafts into Enemy Exposure when I realized that most of my plot was not working. I struggled with this for a week or two, trying desperately to nail it down, but it just wasn’t coming together. My deadline was about eight months away, and though I had plenty of time before the book was due, I was now behind schedule.
My sister and I had plans to watch Orphan Black together (I’d seen it but she hadn’t). When the time came to watch the show, a part of me thought I couldn’t afford to take the time away. But I also knew I’d been thinking this problem to death and I didn’t want to cancel on my sister at the last minute. So kept my plans and put my work aside. As it turned out, Orphan Black held the key to all of my plot problems. If you’ve seen the show and read Enemy Exposure, you can probably see the influence. Many people have told me they think this book is better than the first, and it wouldn’t exist if I didn’t take time to not write.
3) It keeps burnout at bay
Some people can write every day, but I’ve found when I do, I get fried and unproductive in a little over a week. Six days is my max, then I take a day off. But even with this schedule, I still feel drained from time to time, and I know if I keep pushing myself through that feeling, it will lead to full-blown burnout. I’ve learned that I’m better off taking a day or two to watch tv, read, or spend time with friends/family than to force myself to write. I’d rather lose a day or two when I feel it coming than a week or two down the line.
Even if you’re someone who can and needs to write every day, it’s still a good idea to step away from your work from time to time. Even if writing energizes you, consider a few lighter days or a day here and there where you do a different form of creative work.
For more on this, check out the post: What to do When You’re too Drained to Write.
So, how do you find the extra time?
If you can cut something out of your schedule that isn’t writing, do it. But, given how busy most writers are, I realize that may be asking a bit much. Instead, sacrifice some writing time. I know, I know, this is the opposite of almost every piece of writing advice out there. But it doesn’t have to be a lot of time, and it doesn’t have to be often. Maybe it’s once a month, or once every other week–whatever you feel like you can do. It may seem like you’re “wasting writing time” but you’re not. As long as you spend that time in a way that refreshes you, you’re not wasting anything. Part of being a productive writer is taking care of your brain. Not writing is essential to that. If you need some things to do, I have a whole post on How to Declutter You’re Writing Brain.
I hope this gives you a good idea how time off from writing can help you and your book!
If you’re looking for more on this subject, Bustle has an article on the benefits of taking time off from work. I think a lot of this can apply to writers too!
Now it’s your turn: How often do you take time away from writing? What refreshes you when you do? Tell me about it in the comments!
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