Why Taking Breaks Can Be Good For Writers

Today’s post is inspired by the all-too-familiar phrase, “If you don’t write every day, you’re not a real writer.”

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Would we ever tell a teacher, “If you don’t teach every day, you’re not a real teacher.”?Would we tell this kind of thing to a lawyer? A doctor? A cook? A janitor? Take your pick of any profession out there. Which fits into the “If you don’t do X every every, you’re not a real X?

If we truly believe that to be a “real” something, then why don’t we make everyone work seven days a week? Why don’t we tell them they must work 365 days a year, except in the case of leap year. In that case, it’s 366.

Do you see how absurd this sounds? Why is it writers are held to this standard? There’s no reasonable explanation for it.

Here’s the truth: aΒ real writer is one who writes.

Writing is the only thing a writer must do to be a real writer. It doesn’t matter how often they write. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow they write. It doesn’t matter if they write by daily word counts or by a certain number of scenes or chapters that day. It doesn’t matter if they write only one book at a time or work on multiple books at the same time. It doesn’t matter if they write first thing in the morning, in the afternoon, or in the evening. It doesn’t matter if they write in 15 minute chunks at a time or if they reserve two hours of nonstop writing at the keyboard. (Now, it might benefit a writer to step away from the computer to avoid eye strain, something I deal with, or to avoid hurting your wrist or back. But that has nothing to do with whether or not you’re a real writer.)

You know what does matter?

The quality of the story.

I realize this isn’t popular thinking. We’re led to believe that if we take days off or go on vacations (while leaving all writing behind), we’re lazy. Because if we truly loved writing–if it was our real passion–we would have to do it every single day. I’ve read the “write every day” advice in blog posts and books. I’ve seen it in videos and heard it in podcasts. It seems to be everywhere. I’m not saying that every single writer says this. But a lot do. And quite frankly, I’m sick of hearing it.

I think it’s time to change the mindset on this one. Breaks are good for the health and wellbeing of the writer. They allow the creative mind a chance to simmer over what’s going on in the story. They offer us a chance to spend time with friends and family. They offer us a chance to pursue something else that will help us grow as individuals. They give us freedom to be a more well-rounded person. And I think they will actually make us better writers.

I used to think that if I took the weekends off, I would lose momentum in writing. My daily word count goal is 3,000 words. I used to think, “I’ll lose 6,000 words if I don’t write on Saturday and Sunday.” But something funny happened. I noticed my daily word count went from an average of 3,000 words to about 1,500 when I pushed myself to write every day. No matter how hard I tried, I kept getting blocked because I hit a point in the story where I didn’t know what to do next. So I had to force myself to stop and give myself time to get the creativity flowing again. You know what happened? When I came back to the story, the ideas returned. The words came a lot easier. And I think I ended up telling a better story because I could see the characters moving around and hear what they were saying as if I was watching a movie. My average word count on days I wrote went from 1,5000 to 3,000 again. I’m able to get more done on writing days again. I owe that all to the breaks.

Breaks are great. Breaks allow writers to work smarter, not harder. I think breaks help buffer writers from burnout. I understand you’ll often make more money if you publish more often, but sooner or later, you’ll only be able to publish so much. We’re not robots.

We’re human beings. Human beings need rest. All writing every single day is going to get you is the sensation that you’re a hamster in a wheel that just spins around and around. It depletes you of your energy, and it takes time away from other things that are also important. Yes, writing is important, but it’s NOT the only thing that’s important. Next time someone tries to make you feel like you’re not a real writer because you don’t write every day, politely smile and leave them to their hamster wheel. Just because they want to run around in it, it doesn’t mean you have to.

20 thoughts on “Why Taking Breaks Can Be Good For Writers

    • Ruth Ann Nordin July 12, 2018 / 2:31 pm

      I’ve learned anything done all the time can be bad. Breaks are a good rule of thumb for everything. πŸ™‚

  1. maryellenwall June 20, 2018 / 4:12 pm

    100% yes! I have a full time plus job during the week and live in town. On the weekends I get to go home to the cabin and write…or sew or build something. I cannot force myself to write, Not one word has been penned at this place I room during the week. As you described I must dial into the story in my head and follow what the characters are showing and telling me. That requires peace. I am not a mechanical writer. A Best Seller in 60 days! Follow the trends and write for to a template! You know what I mean. Good gravy, not me.

    • Ruth Ann Nordin July 12, 2018 / 2:35 pm

      Oh, how fun that you have a cabin! That sounds so neat!

      The more I watch trends come and go, the more I’m convinced they don’t work for the long run. I even chased a couple and ended up feeling more like a dog chasing its tail than a writer. Things change so fast in the word of publishing that it’s hard to keep up. What works one year might not work the next, except for one thing: a good story. I think writing a top quality story is the one constant that will survive all these trends. People will always want a good story.

  2. amritaspeaks June 20, 2018 / 9:36 pm

    I have published two books a novel and a collection of short stories. I have never tried to write everyday. Because its impossible and if you do that you end up churning average stuff i feel. Completely agree with you. Writers should write when they feel at their creative best otherwise its perfect to take a break. My best plots have come to me while watching a movie, or playing with my son or while just being lazy πŸ™‚

    • Ruth Ann Nordin July 14, 2018 / 1:42 pm

      I agree on the average stuff comment. I noticed the quality of my own stories has diminished when I wrote every day. I forced myself to do it in the past. It was fine for the short-term, but it ended up taking its toll. When I made myself take days off, things got so much better. The best ideas really do come when you’re relaxed. πŸ™‚

  3. Ron Fritsch June 20, 2018 / 10:50 pm

    I’ve never paid any attention to the rules for writers like the write-every-day silliness. I write whenever I damned well feel like writing. And I’ve never counted how many words I’ve written during any one day, week, month, year or lifetime. It simply doesn’t matter. I write novels for one reason only — I love writing them.

  4. lizziechantree June 21, 2018 / 6:48 am

    I agree that it’s good to take break and rest from writing. I also like to go and sit by the sea and write there, which I find really relaxing.

    • Ruth Ann Nordin July 14, 2018 / 12:42 pm

      I’m sorry I didn’t get to this sooner. I didn’t realize it was sitting in the “pending approval” folder on this site.

      I think writing by the sea would be wonderful! That would be a lot of fun. πŸ™‚

  5. Susanna J. Sturgis June 22, 2018 / 8:02 am

    I do my best to write every day, but not because I’m not a “real writer” if I don’t. I’ve learned from experience that when I’m working on a long and/or challenging project (like a novel) bad things happen if I don’t work on it every day: I become convinced that it’s crap and I don’t dare open the file and find out for sure. When I do open the file, however, I invariably discover that it’s actually pretty exciting and that I know what I have to do next.

    • Ruth Ann Nordin July 12, 2018 / 2:38 pm

      That’s interesting, and I can see your point. The longer you let time go without working on something, the more chances are that doubts will creep in. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Also, it’s easier to keep going once you build up the momentum. I will say it does take time to come back to something after taking a break. This is why I try not to make my break more than two days. Ideally, I’d do it one day.

  6. mestengobooks July 8, 2018 / 5:24 pm

    I completely agree. I AM a writer but have no desire to write every day; I’d quickly lose interest in my projects. Glad I’m not alone in this opinion.

    • Ruth Ann Nordin July 12, 2018 / 2:42 pm

      I love writing more when I don’t write every day. I find the break gives me time to recoup my creativity. On the other hand, I can’t go too long without writing or else, I’ll lose my writing mojo. But breaks definitely helps me maintain my enthusiasm for the work.

      • mestengobooks July 15, 2018 / 6:38 pm

        Yep. That’s why it’s important for each us to do what’s best for our stories.

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