Friday, August 18, 2023

Pros and Cons of Taking Break from Writing, Part 2 by Karen S Wiesner

Pros and Cons of Taking Break from Writing,

Part 2

by Karen S. Wiesner

In the final of a two-part article, I evaluate aging, progress, and momentum as well as talk about the indisputable value breaks provide one in their particular discipline along with the damage protracted absences from said discipline can also do.

In the first part of this article, I talked about my goals for 2023. I have two more series to wrap up before I retire from writing. After that, I'm hoping to illustrate children's books. I'd hoped I could finish writing the first drafts of my last few novels in 2023. 2024 was my goal year for making the transition between the two disciplines of writing and art.

For the month of July 2023, while I was intensely writing the first draft of my final Peaceful Pilgrims story, I toyed with the prospect of going directly into writing the second to the last novel in my Bloodmoon Cove Spirits Series throughout the months of August and September 2023. However, I was bordering on burnout. Without a break, my writing would suffer, and that's simply not how I wanted to go into any of my final writing projects. I want each of them to be my best work ever. I was at a crossroads: I needed a break, but, if I took one, I absolutely couldn't accomplish all I'd intended to in 2023. Retirement and beginning my next career in illustration would have to be put on hold. Again.

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 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.

For swimmers in training, as my husband considered himself (though he really only competes with himself--or his alter ego Frank who swims one kilometer a day every day like clockwork), there are a lot of pros and cons to taking a short break or even a lengthy one from daily discipline. A lot can happen to the body when a swimmer isn't in the pool each day, and of course the longer the absence, the worse things can get.

First, the longer an individual has been swimming, the more natural it becomes for them. They develop a "water feel". Being in the water becomes so natural, their skills become honed and instinctive. Taking a break, that instinct is dulled, and not surprisingly the longer they're away from the water, the more drastic losing the "water feel" becomes. Once they come back, they'll have to work harder to adjust to being and becoming like a fish again.

Second, when you're swimming every day, you're building endurance and muscle, and your metabolism is high. You can do more, expend less energy with the task, and in less time. When you take a break, your tolerance for the activity lessens. While your muscles enjoy and benefit from the initial rest, before long they begin to atrophy if absence persists. Finally, while you're working out each and every day, you may be able to eat more and still burn it off without penalty. If you're not putting in the work every day and that stretches into even more time away, you may still be hungry; however, eating the same amount you did sans the exercise, you'll gain weight in a hurry.

Third, when a person swims each day, the body becomes stronger. With the powerful muscles that being fit provides, this person is better able to handle anything in life that requires physical activity. Short periods of rest--a day or two--can be very beneficial, allowing muscles to heal before being rebuilt even stronger. Just as you'd expect, muscle that's not being worked breaks down, which will happen if a rest carries on too long.

Creative pursuits aren't all that different from a physical activity like swimming. For instance, the longer you've been writing, the more you hone your writing craft--"word feel", if you will. The process of writing becomes natural when it's done often, every day, with proper discipline, and it can become instinctive. But breaks, especially long ones, can make a writer lose that instinctual edge. You'll work harder to produce the same results you got easily before you took the extended break.

When you're writing each day, you're building skills, endurance, and longevity in the pursuit of excellence. Your enthusiasm and passion will be high. You'll be able to do more, expend less energy, and produce quality results in less time. But take a long break, and your tolerance wanes quickly. You tire easily and, inevitably, your skills will begin to weaken and wither. You'll also find your ardor cooling, your hunger tapering off. You may feel disinterested or even apathetic about returning to the discipline you previously enjoyed.

Finally, when you're writing every day, your material becomes far stronger. Your stories will invariably be richer, deeper, and more powerful. Taking breaks between stages in a project can almost certainly improve the quality and quantity of your work as well as provide you with the refreshment and perspective necessary to continuing the task through to its successful completion. You can read my previous articles about the benefits of writing in stages on this blog here: However, long breaks from writing can set you back instead of propel you forward. You need momentum for long-term tasks, and that only comes from activity, not lethargy, which saps physical, mental, and spiritual pursuits. Once gravity pulls you down, you'll have to work harder to yank yourself back up again.

The takeaway here becomes clear when you consider that in nearly aspect of life, finding the thing that you're good at, the thing you love and are willing to work hard to gain or achieve success in requires that you juggle times of disciplined activity and short periods of revitalizing rest. Both are crucial to maintaining, sustaining, and ensuring progress. Just as overtraining can cause injuries, refusing to allow yourself to step away for a bit to recover physical, mental, and spiritual energy can lead to burnout or worse.

Another factor is the length of time you've been working on any certain discipline. Anything you've been doing for a long time and consistently over the course of presumed years will provide you with a healthy foundation for instinct, endurance, and strength. Each of these components will remain in place for longer, requiring more hardship to whittle the three cornerstones down. Core aspects drop away slower, because you can fall back on the basics you've been cultivating for a considerable number of years. Someone who's new to a discipline will see key competencies drop off much faster when they take short or long breaks from it. Conversely, if you've been training hard and you come to a full stop abruptly, your overall performance is likely to plummet just as suddenly. But if you're doing something almost casually, you probably won't notice a significant change in your functioning.

I've been writing for almost 35 years. If I had to compare my career to a physical activity, for most of it I was easily competing to be an Olympic athlete. Between getting old, the COVID isolation hitting me hard, and the life upheavals I experienced a few years back (more about that in my "Reflections of Life" article series, which you'll find posted here:, I came to an almost full stop very suddenly. I've been dealing with the fallout ever since…

Such as the fact that I'm now facing that the goals I made for myself at the end of 2022 probably can't happen the way I planned. I can't write two novels back to back anymore, like I used to, even if one of them is drastically less complicated than the other. I'll need to take a break from writing for the next several weeks after finishing the first novel I've written this year in late July 2023. I'll have things to do to fill the downtime, just a little each day while I take a refreshing break from the hard work of writing. Additionally, I can get in some of the art practice that will eventually help me when I'm settling into the new career as an illustrator. I'll be ahead of the game there since I'll have spent several years in advance honing the new craft I intend to put my all into once I retire from writing. Between September and October of 2023, I'll write the next, more complex novel that I'm working on this year. That will leave me just enough time the final two months of 2023 to at least outline the very last offerings in my Bloodmoon Cove Spirits Series. It's not everything I hoped for. But, hey, it's still good.

It's very easy for me to get discouraged when I compare the "myself of today" with "myself of yesterday". I'm practically at a standstill when I look back at what I used to be able to accomplish every given year. I think I need to stop hitting the same brick wall of being disappointed with my output, of wanting to push myself harder. I may want to do more, but I've found over the course of the last two years that I simply can't anymore. I'm older, I have less stamina, and it just takes longer to make the magic happen. Even still, when I do get things done, I've found myself very proud of what I've managed to produce.

Instead of letting this same dejection knock me down over and over again, it may help me to compare myself to other writers. Most authors produce one novel a year and consider themselves productive. So, even if I only write two this year (perhaps pathetic in comparison to my previous five novels and five long novellas), I'm still doing double the norm. That's something. (If you write one a year, don't think you haven't accomplished much. You have. I just used to be a superhero and now I'm normal. It's a brand new world for me, one that's lacking the furious glow of the previous.)

So what if I'll only able to write two novels instead of the three I'd hoped to complete in 2023? So what I won't be able to retire from writing until 2024, at which point I can avidly begin my next career in illustration? Let's face it, I'm kicking and screaming every second, even as I accept this "downgrade". I imagine I'll fight against compromise in this regard the rest of my life.

Still, I'm not running a sprint here. My writing career has been a marathon, one I'm coming to the end of, and therefore it's even more necessary that I allow myself to slow down, catch my breath, and conserve my vigor so, when it's time to make that final push toward the finish line, I'll be in possession of 3 1/2 decades of instincts, endurance, and strength to help me complete the race. I call that success, even if I didn't get there with as much under my belt or anywhere near as fast as I intended.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

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