On Not Writing


6a00e54ff9f2cf88340120a786bd73970b Happy belated 4th of July WEbook nation. I hope you all had a good long weekend (or, hopefully, are still on vacation reading this from a lounger somewhere). I spent the holiday on Cape Cod with family and friends as I do every year. It was a bit more special this time around because I hadn’t seen many of them in a while.

Still, I was conflicted. I’ve got about 100 pages left in the final proofread of my novel—the one I started nearly four years ago. To say that I’m close to the end would be the mother of all understatements. Throughout the weekend I debated getting up early, staying up late, or stealing an hour or two here and there to chip away at the last of my manuscript. Ultimately, I didn’t do any of these thigns, and I’m happier for it. I feel refreshed and energized and heard some amazing stories.

It got me thinking: when is it good to take a break from writing? When is it necessary?

I tend to work in sustained bursts. Schedule and budget permitting, I’ll hammer away eight- to ten-hours-a-day, six days a week for a couple months until a draft is done. Then I’ll take a break, return to paying work and generally scramble to pick up all the balls that fell to earth while I single-mindedly pursued my goal. When I finish a draft or a manuscript, I’m usually spent and need to do other things just to get my head back into life. Sometimes I won’t write for weeks afterwards, at least not creatively. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. I need to read, re-charge, wait for new ideas to arrive.

My long-range plan is to transition to a more sane writing schedule. I’d like to write every day, but not with such a manic focus. I’d like to consistently produce without having to hurl myself at a particular project because I have only a small window (and savings) to do it that way. I’d like to be a bestselling author with time to burn on my next project. (I would also like to see the Cubs win the World Series, the oil spill in the Gulf to end, and Lady Gaga to chill out, but alas…) 

Every time I get a break from my writing—forced or otherwise—I don’t realize how much I need it until it happens. Even if it’s just for a few days, I feel like I come back stronger, and my writing is better for it. Also it’s summer here on the east coast and therefore weekends and holidays are no time to be cooped up inside absorbing the glow of a computer screen. (I say this while currently absorbing said glow, sadly.) And yet the guests are all gone and my family is doing other things today. So I’ll probably work. I have only 100 pages left to edit. I’m close, very close…

This week’s question: When do you take a break from your writing, why and how does it help?


JMHammock1 John Meils is currently finishing a first novel, tentatively titled The Warring House. He has written for Elle, Men’s Health, and MyTango.com, among others. To learn more about him, visit johnmeils.com.

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  1. I find it frustating to take a break from the creative process. I'm addicted to it, relish in it. When I don't write I feel as if I'm letting my novel down. It calls to me in my dreams, begging to be written. I actively try to take a break, I swear that I do. But then I sulk all day long until I am finally back at the laptop keys, punching away letters that become words. Words that torment me until they find a home in each story.

  2. (Is it usually like this? Writers having to juggle their time between another job? I want to be a writer more than anything, but does it mean I'll have to have another job in addition?)
    Anyway--on subject. If I know what I'm writing about, I can usually write until I finish that certain part. I'm forced to take breaks (due to school and chores and my inability to write good-quality stuff in the daytime) but I still have ideas swarming in my head and pestering me. Usually I'll end up squeezing in even the tiniest bits and phrases throughout the day.

  3. Well, I take a break when I come home from school! I know I really shouldn't be writing my Novel in English, Applied Information Technology, Religious Education and especially not Maths. I just can't help it. My ideas come to me throughout the day at school and I feel compelled to write them straight into the story or onto some note pages! When I take a break it doesn't really help that much. It prolongs the writing of my Novel too much!

  4. "Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise the muscles seize up "
    Jane Yolen, Merlin

  5. I made a project that revolves aroung publishing if anyone would want to check it out.

  6. John,
    I'm much like you in this area. I usually write in long, manic bursts-almost being unable to do anything else for that stretch of time. Then, I may go weeks (and have gone months) without writing a word. What I have found out about myself, while writing my first novel and working on my second one, is that if I force myself into a schedule, I lose much of my creativity. I end up writing just to write, and I think my work suffers for it.
    Like you, I'd really like to transition into a more sane writing schedule...but, at the same time, I'm scared that I would end up staring at a blinking cursor for a few hours and then taking a nap.

  7. I, like you John, tend to write for long periods of time without a break. I find it hard to break away from the creative process long enough to do anything else. Lately I've been finishing a six page chapter a night, making for a twenty nine or thirty chapter novel a month. Luckily the genre I write for (Paranormal Romance) only requires a 90,000 word or more novel. The largest of a break I will take during these monthly runs is five or ten minutes of just laying on the couch with my mind submersed in the story since all of my novels are like daydreams anyway. If I get stuck on a part I dream about what would happen next, I throw myself in the lead characters shoes and I write it how my mind plays it out. Other than that I use a month or two in between to recharge my mental batteries but even then I'm editing a manuscript, jotting down plot and character ideas, typing up an outline, sitting at starbucks with my laptop and working on a script for a new machinema I'm working on; It just never really ends with me ^^

  8. Excuse my English-I take a break from my writing when I don't want or can't write any more.
    The standards are individual, there are no universal standards for taking a break in writing. Some people are scribomans, manic writers, but think of this-could quantity overwelm quality? Of course, yes...but not necesserrelly, as I said standards are individual in this case.
    We need to recharge our batterys, but for me writing is stimulative and has chain effect, as I write more I have need to write more, and I like that, its pleasure. Paul Austers said "writing is the matter of surviving", not in financial moment, but in case of his personallity, he writtes to shade off the pain , just like me.
    I hope I help somebody, in understanding ourselves!


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