You Deserve a Break Today

Today’s subject is breaks – when is the right time to take a break? This topic is something that’s been sitting in my to-do list for awhile, staring at me from the side of my screen whenever I open up to write a new entry. Funny that I would procrastinate about writing something about procrastinating, but that’s me. It’s been a specter for most of my writing career. My “fallow period”, one that I’ve written about before, was the result of a lot of procrastination on my part. I always told myself I would get around to doing the work at some future point, but I had too much to deal with in my personal life at that time.

Since then, I’ve come to realize that life doesn’t stop. Something will always come up. There will always be a distraction, always a personal problem. The question is how much you’re willing to put up with to chase your dream, to live the life you want to live. If you want it badly enough, you have to just gut your way through it and do the work that’s in front of you.

Where this really gets interesting is the question of when it’s okay to not get everything done. For instance, last week I fell well short of my goal. My typical weekly writing goal is 10,000 words, and I try to average 5 days of around 2,000 words each. Most weeks I overshoot the mark by quite a bit. I’ve had some weeks where I’ve gotten to 12,000, and I suspect this week might be another such week. But last week, a combination of a holiday, stress, exhaustion, and general busywork, got me to only around 6,000 words. Granted, that’s a little over 1,000 words a day – pretty good. At that pace you could write an average book in a little less than three months.

I worry, though. I always worry when I take these breaks. I worry that I’m getting into the habit of not working like I used to, or what if the inspiration is going away? But so far I’ve been going at this for eight months, which is frankly unprecedented in probably my entire writing career. I haven’t had any real downtime aside from a day here or there or maybe a slightly slow week.

I’ve been tracking my hours and words written since the end of March, and, you know, you can see things go up and down regularly, but at the end of the month I’m right around the same area consistently. Of course, things have changed a little as I’ve developed more efficiency in my processes, which allows me to either take more time off or write more.

So the question becomes, when is the right time to take a day off? I don’t do a whole lot of writing on the weekend, I confess to that. I like to take the weekends off to spend time with my fiancee, play video games, and get things done around the house. Which is why I’ve shortened my writing week to five days. Pretty reasonable. I average around an hour and a half every day. If you do the math, it gives you an idea of how many hours I’m writing a week – and a month.

I haven’t decided on a formula for when I have a down day. I know that I will tend to have very productive days, and then the next day might not be so productive.  For instance, on Tuesday I wrote over 3,000 words, the first day for that ever. Thus, yesterday, Wednesday, I wrote 2,536. Still way above my goal, but a drop-off and the lowest day this week. It also doesn’t help if I don’t sleep very well. When that happens I realize that I need to maybe have a slower day or take the day off. Usually if I’m home sick from work, I’ll take the day off from writing as well. Though that’s not always the case, either, because sometimes I work from home when I’m ill.

I try to take holidays off because I usually plan to be around friends and family. My biggest problem is being okay with taking a day off. I start to feel like I’m shirking my responsibility. I get a little panicky and worry if I’m going to be able to pick up where I left off. Last week was particularly bad.

So what I plan to do from here on out:

  1. Schedule things in advance. So if I plan to take, for example, Labor Day off, I’ll make a note of it. That’s all right. That’s fine.
  2. Know that some days I don’t have it. Maybe on a given day I’ll only be able to write 800 words. Or 500 words. I need to be able to be flexible with that. Maybe I’ll make the total for the week, maybe not.
The key is not to condemn myself in either of these situations because that’s when the whole spiral takes over and then I do end up going off the rails completely.
Discipline is very important in this field. I believe in what Bradbury said about writing a million words to become a better writer. The more I write, the better I see myself getting. But we’re also human beings and not machines and need to take time off as our bodies and schedules dictate. It’s just important to be in tune with yourself, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
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  1. Pingback: Write with Discipline | clairejdeboer

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