Taking Breaks

I’ve been concentrating a lot on productivity in my writing lately.  I am intent on working more effectively, efficiently, and consistently.  Getting things done more quickly.  Not lallygagging around.  Focused.  Feet to the fire.  That’s good because these are issues I’ve been needing to address.  After all, you can’t write books unless you actually, uh… write books.  Get that butt in that chair, baby!

But in November it came to my attention that one thing I’d forgotten to factor into my zeal for productivity was the importance of taking breaks.  To rest.  To regroup.  To re-assess.

It’s a balancing act. I have to push myself. I have to keep my feet to that fire. But sometimes holding my feet to the fire only gets me burned feet.

Which is exactly what happened.  I ignored the warning signs, determined to push on through.  Pushing got harder and harder.  I pushed anyway. Then I got trapped in the chapter I was writing.  I mean, really trapped.  I couldn’t seem to find my way out of it.  I went over that thing so many times it was making me physically ill to read it.  But I couldn’t seem to stop.  I wouldn’t LET myself stop. I HAD to keep going over it again and again and again.  I HAD to whittle it down until it was perfect.  It was never perfect.  But it HAD to be perfect.  I knew I should move on.  I knew I should work on other things.  But I couldn’t seem to do it.

Some of you might call that OCD.  Some of you would probably be right.  I do definitely have my moments.

Anyway, I couldn’t seem to stop working on that damn chapter.  I went over the same words again and again and again.  This was my mind’s way of taking a break without me admitting I was taking a break.  Actual productivity was non-existent, but the illusion of productivity remained.  As long as the illusion was there, I could tell myself I was working.

Then my family came for a visit for a week at Thanksgiving and I finally had the excuse I needed to come to a full stop.

Stopping is not something I normally encourage in myself.  Coming to a full stop makes it much, much harder to start again.  Stopping can be nothing more than avoidance or fear.  But this time it was essential.   

I HAD to stop.  To regroup.

If you are stuck in the mud, if you are doing nothing but spinning your wheels, stopping what you’re doing might not be the self-sabotage it appears to be.  It might simply be necessary.  I was losing sight of the fact that I actually LIKE to write and be creative.  The longer the wheels were spinning, the more writing felt like a punishment.  The longer you go where being creative feels like a punishment, the easier it is to give up.

So I stopped.  Breathed.  Settled.

And when I came back a week or two later, I was able to look at the problem with new eyes.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I finished the chapter I’d been laboring over quite quickly once I’d sat back down at my computer after the Thanksgiving break.  It had seemed sooooo painful and important before the break.  But afterward, it was just another chapter.  Of course I finished it.

The thing I need to remember is that there’s never just one way to handle a situation.  Sometimes—many times—stopping is dangerous for me because it’s so easy to turn a break into an excuse not to succeed.

But sometimes pushing isn’t the answer either.  If all you’re doing is hitting your head against a brick wall, you just might want to, possibly, maybe, sort of, uh…stop doing that.

I’d planned on saying here that if you stop you just have to be sure to start again.  But after I thought about it more, I realized that starting again isn’t always the answer either.  Sometimes the answer is to stop and move on to something else.

There are no easy answers.  No one-size-fits-all way of being.  Not everything works all the time.  Not everything is right all the time.  And not everything is right forever.

I’m happy that writing still seems to be right for me.

And, as we all get caught up in the endless demands of a hectic holiday season, don’t forget to give yourselves time to breathe. To settle.  Try to enjoy what you’re actually doing.





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