Sometimes we have to take time away from the things we love. Parents send their children off to pre-school for the first time. Organic chicken breast becomes just chicken (or maybe even canned tuna) as budgeting dictates eating habits. People in relationships take ‘a break’. And sometimes writers just…don’t write.
So why might an author put down his or her pen? Like anything, there can be multiple reasons, ranging from those motivated by frustration to those outlined in a ‘bigger picture.’ Discouragement from rejections. Burnt out from excessive writing. A break after finishing a big project. Time to ‘reboot.’ Or simply inability.
Recently, I picked that last from the excuse basket. I am applying to medical school and, on top of finishing a cocktail of pre-med classes that still gives me nightmares, I had to commit to three months of studying for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). That meant no trips, no partying, and, worst of all, no writing…for three months. I submitted as many stories as I thought ready to short fiction venues, backed up my word documents, and basically said ‘see you later’ to being an imagineer. Sure, I could have found some way to continue writing everyday, but I really needed to adopt a one-track mind for an extended period of time, and I thought that taking a break might also, in the long run, be good for my writing.
Yes, I said it might be GOOD for my writing.
We all know that distance makes the heart grow stronger. Hunger is the best sauce. You don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s gone. These common sayings accurately portray how I felt during my literary hiatus. Though I was well occupied with my studies, when I allowed my mind to wander, I thought of the stories I could be writing, or how long it would be until I could resume working on to my half-finished novel. Sometimes I even worried about not being able to return to writing. Removed from it, the difficulty of the craft seemed to grow into some unimaginable beast, and I wondered how I ever thought I could be successful at it. Those last moments were rare, however, and mostly I thought about the progress I had made over the years, and how I wanted to enter into a new phase when I returned.
It’s hard to recommend such an extensive break from writing, especially since I’ve yet to see what type of impact, if any, the break has had on my productivity. However, I think I can safely recommend some kind of break. Even if it’s just a week, you can use that time to take a step back from your writing process, think about the common problems you encounter, and consider ways to address them when you return. You will probably find that ideas still come to you. This is good! Write them down somewhere, and use them as fuel later. In your week off, think about what you want to accomplish in the next year. Do you mainly want to improve? Then read some of your old stuff and see which areas you consistently lag in. Want to finish a novel? Make a commitment to put the short stories aside until you do. Think of the time after your break as a ‘new phase’ for you in your writing. What do you want that phase to look like, and what has to change to achieve it?
With the MCAT behind me and my applications submitted, it’s time for me to officially end my break. I admit, I’m a little apprehensive. How rusty will I be? What if I can’t find my groove? Have I packed my brain with so much science that my writing abilities leaked out when I wasn’t looking? Yes, these are thoughts I have. But I am mostly excited. There are worlds out there to build that only I can. A measly three months can’t change that. My hope, in fact, is that it has made them that more amazing.