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The Case For Taking Breaks From Writing

writing break

Write all the time! Write all the time! Write all the time, until you drop dead from the weight of all the money you’ll be making!

This is probably the most common piece of writing advice you’ll see on the Internet today. Write all the time, because the best authors write all the time. The best authors write every day, presumably all the time. How else could they have done so well and/or written so many different books? How else could they have come up with dozens of different ideas and built such intricate world if their Idea Pump wasn’t always being pushed up and down?

We hope you’re picking up on our sarcasm here. But to be serious, the advice that someone must write all the time is ubiquitous within the writing world. It’s also completely wrong.

In fact, if you want to have a successful writing career, you have to do the exact opposite of this advice: Take breaks. Take lots of breaks. Or even, goodness forbid, take a vacation from writing.

Sound crazy? Here’s why it’s not:

  • If your body ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

There’s a reason Ernest Hemingway wrote about athletics so often. That guy understood the importance of maintaining a healthy body even if your job isn’t physical in nature. You need your body to stay in shape because without it, your ideas will stop flowing in. You don’t need to do yoga, like the picture above. You can walk your dog, attend a CrossFit class, or even just vacuum a few rooms in the house. Anything to get your butt out of the office and actively moving around.

If nothing else, consider the following: If you want to be a successful writer, you owe it to yourself to eliminate as many un-beneficial distractions as possible. What’s more annoying: Exercising a few times every week or being rushed to the hospital because you’ve had a heart attack? Let’s not forget recovery time for any potential long-term damage, too.

  • You need solid relationships to be a solid writer.

This is another writer stereotype that only leads to bad things in real life. Right up there with the Always-Writing Writer is the Antisocial Author, who doesn’t have many friends and may even be putting off relationships because they’re “dedicating themselves entirely to their writing.”

Not to knock anyone who chooses to delay marriage or having children, but the notion that relationships hinder art is a complete fallacy. Bad relationships hinder art. Passive, dysfunctional, oppressive relationships affect art. If you can’t say to your best friends, “I have to stay in and work on my book tonight” without getting mocked, maybe they shouldn’t be your friends. The right ones will help support your writing, and your writing will only be enhanced. Why will that happen? Because your life will be enhanced.

  • You need perspective on past work.

Some of the best advice from Stephen King’s On Writing is to let a draft rest. That is, to step away from something you’ve written so that you can eventually come back to it with a fresh perspective. When you’re working hard on something, everything may seem awesome and perfect. You have the entire story in your head, and everything makes perfect sense.

But after you step away for a few days, take your kid to the Squash Festival, visit the dentist and go on a hike… that one-liner in the saloon scene may not sound so awesome. Getting some difference from your work is an incredible gift. It allows you to see your own work more like a reader than an author. And the reader’s perspective is what really matters.

  • An Idea Pump needs to be refilled.

Any writer (or author) that claims to have an endless stream of ideas all the time is a liar. A complete and total liar.

No matter where an author is in their career, they will experience at least one dry spell. It happens to everyone, and it always has. It’s derived from the truth that doing the same action over and over will always result in the same result. If you want a different idea for your story, you need to stop doing what you’ve been doing. You have to stop writing at your desk for six hours a day, pushing and pushing on the Idea Pump.

If you truly want to be like the great authors of our time, you need to lead a varied and compelling life. That’s the big unspoken requirement of the life of a writer. You need to be out there skydiving, playing poker, bowling with friends and sharing drinks with folks your mother would never let you talk to. When you try new things, you receive new ideas. So stop writing for a minute. Go out into the garden and see what adventure finds you.

When did you last take a break from writing? How long was it for? Tell us in the comments below!

2 Comments
  1. Hemingway has a great story about getting a boxing ring workout in his book Byline. It’s about when he was working as a Journalist and covering a conference in Malta, if I remember correctly. If you have not read it yet, I highly suggest you find a copy and I bet you will enjoy the tongue-in-cheek humor. 🙂
    Miles Cobbett, Author of the book Champion

    • Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll put that on my list. What have you been reading lately?

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