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  • Joel Ryan

When is it Time for a Writing Break?



As some of you may know, I often like to set aside specific times in my year to unplug and step away from social media and other media outlets, just to gain a little perspective and give my eyes a break from the never-ending torrent of politics, world news, and status updates.


This year, however, my normal August tech shabbat (as I like to call it) spilled over into September and even the first week of October. And I’m glad it did.


It’s amazing what time away from the chaos of social media and media can do for one’s mental health and clarity, not to mention one’s blood pressure.


Ironically, last weekend when I spoke about my summer tech shabbat at the Elevate Writer’s Conference, I received a lot of questions about how much we should be writing and how to know when to call it quits for the day.


Here, then, are a few perspectives on the writing process and knowing when enough is enough for one day.


Wouldn’t It be Nice if I Had All Day to Write? Not Always


We’ve all had seasons in life where we struggle to find time to put words on the page. When those weeks come, setting aside an hour or two at the end of the day to write may feel paltry.


Wouldn’t it be nice if we could free up our schedules and have all day to do nothing but write?


If only we had more time, we’d finally be able to finish our work and do more as a writer.


So we tell ourselves.


While I’m all for personal writing retreats and the occasional writing weekend to crank out a heavy amount of writing, this method of writing isn’t really sustainable, nor is it that healthy in the long run.


Having all day to write doesn’t mean you will actually spend all day writing.

As it turns out, when people give themselves all day to do anything, they often take all day to do it. Procrastination becomes a much bigger obstacle to meeting your writing goal when all of your time constraints are removed and deadlines absolved.


Whatever your writing day look like, I encourage you to set a start time, set an end time, and try and focus on getting as much writing done in that time as possible.


Even if it’s only an hour or two every day or a few hours on select days, small blocks, when stacked together, can eventually become mighty towers. Words become paragraphs and paragraphs become pages if you put enough of them together over time.


Remember: if you can’t be productive with your smaller writing blocks, you won’t all of a sudden become more productive with the longer blocks you hope will come.


You are More Than Just a Writer


While the image of the pipe-smoking, over-caffeinated writer, locked away in some cabin in the woods for months at a time may seem romantic I don’t think anyone really wants to live that life, no matter how much they love writing.


Most writers I know live remarkably normal, balanced, and inconspicuous lives. They have families they love and need to take care of. They have full time jobs and side jobs. They take their dog for a walk, drive their kids to school every morning, and have hobbies and side projects they look forward to completing that have nothing to do with their writing. They take the trash out, wash their cars, and go to the dentist to get their teeth cleaned.


Yes, as a writer, you will need to get used to long hours of solitude and silence, when you focus on your writing with no one to talk to but the characters on the page.


However, there are other people (actual people) in your life who need you too.


You are more than just a writer, and you have more responsibilities in life than just writing.


There’s a time and a place for everything, and writing should never fill every time slot in your day. At some point, you have to learn to put the pen down and look to the other joys, relationships, and responsibilities of life.

Blessed to Rest

One of the greatest skills you will develop as a writer is knowing when to be done for the day and knowing how to be content with your work.

In the Genesis account of creation, we find that God dedicates the seventh day of the week to rest. Was it because He was tired or burned out? No. God rested from His creative work because He was finished. He stepped back, saw that it was good, then declared the Sabbath holy and a day of rest as a favor to humanity. And guess what? We need it.

Unlike God, we do get tired and burnt out. Our work is difficult, strenuous, and overwhelming at times. Furthermore, no matter how hard we labor, our creative works will never be perfect. Most writers will confess, there is also no such thing as a truly finished work either.


At some point, our work is done when we realize it's as good as it's going to get it. We submit and move on because, at some point, we have to.

God, however, gives us the Sabbath to celebrate His finished work and remind us to stop and enter His rest.


Of course, the Sabbath is one designated day of the week, and I do encourage everyone to take this day to set their work aside and rest. However, what about the other six.


Here’s a trick: Set a page goal or word count goal and then set a time you will be done for those days. Work as hard as you can during that time, and when that time is up, be done. Even if you are mid-sentence or just shy of reaching your goal, when your alarm goes off, save your document, close your computer, and walk away! No matter what! Don’t stay an extra twenty minutes. Don’t try and squeeze in another sentence. Walk away, spend time with your family, enjoy your night, and come back to your writing the next day.


At first you will feel uncomfortable and maybe even disappointed that you weren’t able to reach your goal. However, in time, you will begin to approach your writing with new energy and focus, knowing that you only have so much time to get your work done before that final whistle blows. You will learn to be productive with the time you have when you remember it’s all you have.


Quench Your Thirst


One of the best ways to stay productive, inspired, and creative is to schedule time in your week to replenish and feed your creativity. Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) would call this an artist’s date. You can call it whatever you want. The idea here is to make time to gather inspiration and never allow your gas tank to run on fumes.


As a writer, you should be reading books, watching movies, and studying your craft. You should be learning from the greatness of other writers and artists. Study what they do. Practice their techniques. Let their talent and discipline encourage and motivate you to keep writing. And don’t be afraid to make time to do things that may or may not have anything to do with writing.

Consider this set time as your creative cool down after a long workout or study session in preparation for the test (your writing).


Paint something, pick up the guitar, go for a hike, cook your favorite meal. Get some fresh air and sunlight for goodness sake.


Find things that inspire you and make them a regular part of your writing process.


These activities should never distract you from writing, but when given the proper place and time, they can inspire you to keep writing and help in your recovery when you’ve been at it all week. And as any weightlifter will tell you, recovery is just as important as the lift itself.


Let it Breathe!


One of my favorite questions I get asked by writers is how long they should set their manuscript aside once it’s finished before they jump back into rewrites.


I'm not a wine drinker but I know there's something to letting a freshly poured glass of wine breathe before you take your first taste.


As a general rule, I try to give any big project at least two to three weeks, maybe a few days if I’m working on a short story, article, or blog post, deadlines permitting.


The goal here is to create some distance from the work so you can return to it later with a fresh set of eyes. At this point, you’re no longer driving the boat, which you’ve been doing throughout the writing process. Now you’re looking at it from the dock where you can identify for holes, flaws, and ugly spots that need your attention.


Here you shift from being a writer to a reader and eventually an editor. A brief sabbatical helps with this transition. All great work needs to be reevaluated. Give it that time and give yourself time to detach and return with objective eyes.


This isn’t to say that in these two to three weeks you stop writing. You should continue writing, but this is the time where you can play with new ideas or start working on other writing projects you have in your queue.


What About Side Writing?


I will always challenge the idea of writer’s block because I don’t believe there is such a thing.


Sure, you may get tired during the writing process or lose interest in your idea or get stuck on a tricky section of your manuscript, but to arrive at a point where you all of a sudden cannot write ANYTHING is nonsense!


You’re a writer. You can write. You may just be struggling with what to write in that moment. You haven’t hit a brick wall. You’ve hit a patch of mud in the race you’re running. It can slow you down, but it should never stop you.


Push through. Keep going. What you write next may be ugly. It may feel like muck and the words coming out of your mouth may sound like muck. But sometimes you have to write a couple of really bad sentences before you can figure out the right way to write that sentence, scene or chapter.


And you will push through. I promise you!


I also encourage writers to spend some time doing some practice writing before they jump into the day’s work. This is your warmup lap and stretch before the big race.

It’s always better to write something (anything) rather than just stare at the screen and write nothing. Jump ahead in your manuscript if you need to. Work on something else if you have to. Just keep writing!


Your progress may be slow some days. You may not hit your writing goals other days. But the more you write, the more creative muscles you’ll begin to develop. Just make sure you also give them time to rest and recover. Scheduled writing breaks don’t just help the process. They should be a regular part of the process.


Everything in its proper time.


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Anyway, that should be enough for today. I’m nearing the end of my own time clock and have other projects to work on so I'll leave you to it.


Thanks again to everyone who attended the Elevate Writer’s Conference last week and thank you so much for stopping by. If you enjoyed these perspectives, tap the heart below. If you loved them, don’t forget to subscribe. Pass the word along, share this post, and let me know if there’s any ideas or content you’d like covered.


Now get back to writing or learn to be done for the day!

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