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how to know when you need a break

Sometimes I think the words “slow down” aren’t in my vocabulary. I don’t say this to brag on myself or puff myself up; I actually see it as a problem, as I face writer’s burnout more often than I should and spend days spinning my wheels over the same problems when a good weekend off would do the trick. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s something great about testing your limits, and if you want to accomplish anything, at some point you have to lay out your goals and stick to your intentions. But if you have a similar personality to me and don’t know when to quit, or if you are just learning the tight-rope walk of a balanced writing schedule, I have a few tips on how to know when you need a break.

When you’ve finished a project

A few months ago I wrote an post on what to do when you finish a draft and item number one is to take a break from writing. This isn’t to punish you or reward you (depending on what kind of terms you’re on with your creative muse), but rather to replenish your writing juices. Like anything worth its salt, the writing process takes a piece of you as you work, and while stories give back to their maker, its important to nurture your writing self with a little R&R in order to not exhaust your creative stores. Stephen King recommends six weeks, other writers advise two months or more, but take a good chunk of time once you’ve finished a project to reset your mind and renew your creativity.

When you’re physically exhausted

This one is harder to measure because everyone has a different breaking point, but try to recognize symptoms of physical exhaustion (or other ailments) and see them as a sign to take a break. Unless you’re one of those artists who sleep-deprives herself for two days before cranking out ten thousand words or you’re facing a super tight deadline, you have to sleep to do your best work. If you can’t keep your eyes open at your desk or if you’re putting the orange juice in the pantry, more than likely your writing ain’t that great. Take one or two days to rest up without pressure or guilt, then hit the ground running when you’re back to one hundred percent.

When you dread writing

Again, in this case you have to know yourself well enough to tell the difference between frustration with what you’re producing and true dread of writing. I’ve had many a morning when I didn’t want to work on my novel, but more often than not, it was timidity or perfectionism or poor planning that stalled my fingers. But sometimes, even when I’ve been on a roll and I’m in the middle of an action-packed scene, I dread opening my computer and having to string words together. To deal with my characters issues and emotions, to have to hurt them and heal them and figure out where they’re taking me next. Tell-tale signs of burnout, and if you write under those conditions long enough, you can do long-term damage to your resolve. If day after day you find yourself dragging your feet to the writing bench, take a little break and give yourself time to recuperate so you can deal with Betty’s dysfunctional relationship with her cat with a clear and able head.

Solutions for tired writers

If any of these scenarios applies to you, here are some short-term and long-term ways to take breaks and deal with writing burnout

Take a Walk

Taking a walk is one of the best ways to clear your head and renew inspiration. Something about being in nature and putting one foot before the other gets the gears in your brain moving and helps you not to feel so stuck in place. In the words of Erin Hannon, “A spinning brain is a working brain.”

Take a Bath

I believe a bath can cure almost any ailment, and that includes writing burnouts or blockages. It’s a luxurious type of relaxation that doesn’t cost you much at all (in time or money), and it can help you feel up for anything.

Read a Book

Nothing like reading a chapter of your favorite book or a snippet of an inspiring author’s work to relight your fire for writing. I find reading books by authors who have most influenced my voice and style renews my confidence and makes me look forward to writing again.

Fit a Rest Day into Your Writing Schedule

For a long term solution to avoiding writing burnouts, fit a pause into your writing schedule. Even Stephen King allows one day a week for rest, and if breaking for a day or two makes you more productive in the long run, it’s no loss in my book.

Have a Writing Ritual

Writing rituals intuitively prepare your body for writing and can therefore cut out the trepidation and stress that comes at the beginning of a writing session. In my opinion it’s these emotions that drain writers most and make writing more painful than it ought to be. With a writing ritual to tame those demons, the process becomes a relaxing and fulfilling process again rather than a difficult chore.

Happy writing (and resting)!

/// E.S.T.

NOW TELL ME // Have you ever experienced writing burnout? What do you do when you need to take a break? Let me know below!

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