Pros and Cons of Taking Break from Writing,
by Karen S. Wiesner
As I get older, I think more about how much energy I had in the past and how much I was able to accomplish in such a short time. Frequently, I'm shocked about how I was able to do all I did, juggling dozens of balls all at the same time--seemingly without break a sweat. That's not the case anymore. These days, I call my former, amazing ability to accomplish my superpower…one I've almost completely lost as I age.
In my youth, my superpower allowed me to write five full-length novels and five (usually very long) novellas in a single year--completing all the steps involved from outline to final polish for all these stories in that year. I'm not sure how long I'll continue to freak out that I have such trouble finishing a mere three novels (and no novellas at all) in a year's time now. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
As you can tell, there's some grief and discouragement involved, but I've nearly reached the stage of acceptance in this process as well as the ability to reevaluate the best way to go about completing the activities I expend my diminished energy on. One such review involves a topic that has been a favorite of mine throughout my career: Namely, the pros and cons of taking a break from writing. The reason I started thinking about this recently is because I'm constantly looking at what I want to get done versus what I'm actually accomplishing over time. I assess this from one year to the next as well as from one month to the next, since most of the steps in my writing projects take around a month to complete. In the middle of any given year, I want to check on my progress. Doing this allows me take a long view of my progress as well as to gauge my momentum (or lack therefore) over time.
I've talked about this before in this column, so some of you already know that I'm counting down to writing the final books in my last two series. At that point, I intend to retire from writing, and I'd like to begin illustrating children's books indefinitely. To that end, for the last couple years, I've been taking online art courses in several mediums, trying out different things, finding out what interests me the most and where my talents lie. I try to fit a week or so of "art practice" into my schedule each month. It's not easy to do this because during the short time (usually the last week of the month) I allot to applying my love of art, it threatens to steal all my interest from writing. So I need to keep it contained; I have to decide what's possible in that short time I give myself to devote to art. This new love threatens to overtake me if I indulge it even for a short time and too often. While I want to be learning art craft during this time before I retire from writing, I can't let it take over. I have to get back to my writing sooner rather than later because I'm determined to finish these final two series to provide myself and readers closure before I retire from writing.
2024 was my goal year for making the transition between the two disciplines of writing and art. At the end of 2023, I figured out that it was possible to outline and write during the course of the next year what I thought at the time were three books. I might not have time to revise and polish all of them until early 2024, but I could at least get the first drafts written. I started 2023 pretty optimistic. In the first few months, I accomplished an admirable amount of tasks. I finished off the books I'd started in 2022 after getting critiques from my partners on several of them. I wasn't happy with how much work all of those required, taking more effort and longer time than I ever intended to complete them. Again, that seems to be a new thing in this aging process. But, alas, several things got done and dusted. I also outlined the final story in my Peaceful Pilgrims Series and felt really good about how that series would end. I had to pause in progress on my novels to get ahead on a couple months' worth of articles for this weekly column, something I used to be able to slam out in no time and I wouldn't have to think about it again for the next year. Ugh, ugh, ugh.
I finally got back to business on my novel writing goals for the year in May 2023. While outlining (again what I initially thought was) the second to the last book in my Bloodmoon Cove Spirits Series, I hit my first real snag in upsetting the goals I'd set for the year: I realized I still had too much material to cover to finish the series with a single book. Although I felt pretty far from solidifying the specific details on what was needed to wrap up the loose threads still dangling in this series (and still do at the time of this writing), I couldn't escape that there was no way to get it all into one book. Believe me, I tried. I definitely did not want the final offering of the series to end up 500 pages. I came to the conclusion that, with the number of viewpoints I would need to complete the series, it might be better to divide them into two separate parts. So one final book to finish this series became two, or one that will be presented in two separate parts. The two separate parts could end up novels or novellas, or one of each. At this point, I'm too early in the process to know how that will turn out. Bottom line: I definitely had a major setback to finishing what I wanted to in 2023.
At the six month juncture of 2023, I realized I'd fallen further behind than I wanted to be in my annual achievements by that time. I'd taken an entire month off because we had family members visit that we only get to spend a few weeks at a time with during the summer. While I had no regrets in doing that, it was a little depressing to think that my plan to finish writing the last books of the two series I have left to complete before I retire from writing might not get written this year after all. That means that my intention to begin illustrating children's books once all the stories I ever want to write are finished will have to wait. That was the second snag and undeniably a major setback.
In my discouragement (kneejerk reaction, I think, left over from my former superpower), I instinctively decided to pull the fire alarm so my goals for the year wouldn't be thwarted. Incidentally, I also had no time at all in the months of June and July to get any art practice in. Potentially, I might not be able to squeeze that time in during the months of August and September either, since I'd figured out during the first six months of the year that I was spreading myself out very thin with all I wanted to accomplish every month--between writing, art, articles for Alien Romances, and playing piano. Every single day was jam-packed, which is part of the reason why June ended up such a bust for me in terms of accomplishment. Even if I'd had time, I was mentally and physically too tired to do much of anything.
With a solid rest under my belt, I was determined to get back on track: I decided I'd write the two novels I'd outlined earlier in the year back to back. In July I would write the final book in my Peaceful Pilgrims Series. This was the shorter novel of the two and a pretty straightforward romance. I allotted writing 2-3 scenes on weekdays in July to the task of completing the first draft of that novel. The second novel would be longer and infinitely more complicated given that it would ultimately be a romantic paranormal horror suspense story, so I planned to give myself two months--August and September--to complete the first draft by writing only 1-2 scenes a day. That way I wouldn't become overwhelmed to the point that my daily writing would suffer.
July was, to say the least, an exhausting month. My writing quality each day was high, and that's about the best thing I can say. I was doing a lot, getting close to overreaching with how much I was producing on a daily basis (up to 27 pages/8000 words a day sometimes!). By the time the last week of the month rolled around, I was still looking at finishing the final eight scenes before the month concluded and several new things both writing and non-writing related threatened to give me even more to do each day that I wasn't sure I could handle.
The thought of finishing the Peaceful Pilgrims story in July and instantly moving into writing the next in my final series in August and September was intimidating, demoralizing. My brain screamed mutiny at the mere prospect. I was grateful that the last Peaceful Pilgrims book promises to become one of my best (after I wrap up the other steps I'll need to perform in the course of completing it). However, it was very clear to me even before I got to the last week of finishing the novel that I couldn't move into writing the next novel without a break. How much of a break, I wasn't exactly sure, but I knew burnout was inevitable. I was at a crossroads: If I couldn't accomplish all I'd intended to in 2023, my retirement and beginning my next career would have to wait, but I couldn't take the risk that my writing would suffer if I rushed ahead and forced myself to plow right into the next project without taking some kind of a break.
My poor husband heard my angst over this issue on a daily basis for the last two weeks in July, as I tried to decide the best course of action concerning my dilemma. He surprised me one morning when he told me about a weekly podcast he watches devoted to the discipline of swimming. In this particular video, the host talked about the pros and cons of taking a break from swimming. Although I've spent years thinking I understood the issue of the indisputable value breaks provide in writing, as well as the damage protracted absences can also do, I learned something as my husband summarized the points the swimming instructor brought up.
In next week's part of this article, I'll cover the general connections we can make and extrapolations that can be applied when studying the pros and cons of taking a break in nearly any discipline, and I'll conclude the status of my 2023 goals.
Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.
Visit her website here: https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/
Find out more about her books and see her art here: http://www.facebook.com/KarenWiesnerAuthor
Visit her publisher here: https://www.writers-exchange.com/Karen-Wiesner/