Writing advice columns abound with the mantra that we should write every day, even if it’s just a page, a paragraph, a sentence. And while it is generally true – after all, we don’t want our skills to get rusty; we want to see them improve steadily – it is equally important to know when to take a break. A real break.
I finished my manuscript at the end of April, after I had worked at a furious pace for weeks, revising and editing late into the night after I came home from my day job. By the time my self-imposed deadline approached, I was beginning to feel exhausted and burned out, the first such feeling I had since I’d started working on In the Warmth of the Sun five years ago. And I realized: I had not had a real break from writing since late 2011. I was always jotting things down, always thinking about the plot, even when I was doing something else. Mostly because I really wanted to, but partially because I felt a certain guilt, only fueled by popular writing advice to be at it every day.
So on May 1st, I sent the manuscript to my four beta-readers, and closed the laptop. Literally. I decided that in the interest of preserving my mental health, I had to disengage from the project for more than a day or two. There was Part 2 of my novel waiting to be substantially revised, and for a moment I was tempted to plunge headlong into that, but I told myself no. Writing is important but my sanity IS even more so (not to mention that I need my sanity to write anything coherent!).
It was the best thing I could do for myself (along with a last-minute trip to the beautiful Puerta Vallarta on Mexico’s west coast). It is almost two months now, and I feel recharged and excited to be going back to writing in July. I am hoping for a fresh perspective, I already have some ideas of my own for changes, and of course the great feedback I’m getting from my beta-readers.
We are all impatient to finish, to see our work published, to reap rewards of years of hard work. But don’t rush it. Take a real break, whether it’s after the first draft before you begin revising it, or after finishing one book before starting the next one. It will lessen the risk of burnout or the dreaded writer’s block, and give you the chance to be the best writer you can be.