In May 2019, I graduated for the last(?) time. That also marked one year since I had discovered my passion for writing. It also marked a time when I didn’t know what came next.
Life hit pretty hard — I was moving, searching for jobs, and trying to get my life back into a routine, all while balancing a relationship. There was a period of time where I didn’t have the chance to work on writing; something that I hadn’t missed in months.
Even though it was different and challenging, my separation from writing taught me a lot of things; not just about my writing, but about myself.
Writing had been one of my top priorities as I was finishing up graduate work and a college softball season. My life at the time was conducive to that. Then I added a relationship to that mix. Not difficult, but time had to be allocated there. Dedication to my job wasn’t an option of cutting so I found the minutes throughout my day to rearrange tasks.
When I graduated and needed to move, all of my priorities changed. I had to find a job, find a place to live, set up utilities, move into an apartment with no functioning toilets… it was a lot.
Writing moved from a top priority to a low priority. Not because that’s where I wanted it, but because that was necessary for me to survive that period of time. Different life circumstances call for different priorities. I was forced to spend time away from the physical act of writing.
Writing was fuel
When my couch finally arrived and I sat in a seat downstairs for the first time in a week, I realized how much I missed writing. I finally had a minute to breathe and think, and I saw how much of my time had been filled with everything but writing.
It’s not that I was procrastinating, I just had my priorities in a different order at the time. If anything, it made me crave the page even more — to feel that excitement of writing out a really good dialogue, to cry with my characters when I put them through hell, to not realize where three hours have gone after looking up at the clock.
Writing brought me joy. I was used to spending any time not writing in the process of thinking about writing. When I finally got the chance to sit down and type, I went nuts.
Health takes precedence
My biggest break from writing actually came in April. I had a week long migraine that turned into days throwing up and time spent in the emergency room. It was so scary, my mom actually changed a flight to come visit a week earlier than my parents originally planned to come out.
While I am fine, during that time I couldn’t afford to stick to my daily habits of writing. Any thought that wasn’t about strategy to stand up from the bathroom floor didn’t seem important.
Nowadays, I’ve found myself signed up for a half marathon. I’m up at 4:30 every morning to get my run in before the heat and before I have to leave for work. What used to be my morning writing ritual has become a running ritual. While I did choose to rearrange my morning routine to better focus on health, I find myself scheduling my evening around a section of writing time.
New city, new opportunities
Grad school took place in a small town, thus few to no opportunities for community. In a way, it’s my fault. Because I was late to the party, I didn’t realize that my school had an MFA program. Not that I would have been accepted, but a third graduate degree from this school wasn’t really ideal for moving on with my life.
What it did give me, after a short email exchange, was a one-on-one, hour long chat with the MFA director. She answered a lot of my questions about MFA programs, gave me some ideas about who to read/talk to, and finally closed with encouragement that when I did find my new place to live, I should join a writing group.
So, once settled, I did exactly that. I found one that, after some digging, was trying to get started up again. The first day, there were only three of us — and I was the newbie. They knew each other already, and were farther along in their writing careers, but they welcomed me in as if I was right up there with them. We now have at least five of us come each week to write.
I’m not saying you have to move so you can find a community. Looking at it with new eyes, like talking to the MFA director who works across campus from you, is great. Sometimes you need some separation before you see what is right in front of you.
Writing is still right in front of you
While I was distanced from the physical act of writing, from day one, I was thinking about writing. All. The. Time.
I would think about my characters. I would think about the next scene. I would (embarrassingly) find myself making facial expressions of my characters as I acted out their dialogue in my head. I thought about how to use a funny joke I just heard in a scene. I thought about a chapter I just wrote and how it created this massive plot hole. I thought about how that massive plot hole wasn’t actually a plot hole but could take the story in a new direction I never saw the first time.
Writing, or ideas, are everywhere. Most people don’t need a break from writing to see it, but being new to the process, I discovered how much material was right in front of me — and I didn’t even have to try.
It’s not always easy to come back, but don’t give up
After coming back to writing, I found my inner editor had taken up residence in my mind again. It was something I had slowly learned to shut off back when I first started — that dumb voice that said I wasn’t good enough, that this sentence wasn’t perfect, that I should be embarrassed by how rough this sentence/paragraph/chapter sounded.
Your editor has a time and place, but first drafts are neither. Slowly, I am getting back into the feeling that my writing does not have to be perfect immediately. Things take time, and while I’m impatient, this wait is worth it.
Some days I’d rather go to bed. Some days I do go to bed. My writing time looks different now, but I still find ways to do it. On days I can’t bring myself to write, I read or learn. If I can’t quite make progress with my book, I’ll journal or throw quotes and ideas in my commonplace notebook. Something is better than nothing (and sometimes nothing is better than something). You understand how you work so roll with it.
Motivation through challenges
To say I’ve been in a slump, despite weekly writing group and trying to fill in time throughout the week/weekend, is an understatement. I’ve been trying to branch out and test some different ideas. Well, I’m learning that those ideas can’t just be rolled with. More research, planning, and crafting needs to be done before I can sit down and start creating books from these ideas.
NaNoWriMo is where I LIVE. I’ve been competitive basically since birth so when it comes time for a challenge, you better believe I’ll do anything to win. By anything, I mean sacrificing sleep, writing on my phone while I’m working out, writing in the bathroom, writing when I’m supposed to be doing homework… yes, one time I even threw my phone in a plastic bag so I could shower before an event and still write. I got 237 words from that session and successfully shampooed 30% of my hair. It was good enough.
During NaNo, you’re forced to scrap all sense of, well, sense. It doesn’t matter if X works now that you’ve written Y. Make a note for your future self to fix it and keep going. You don’t have time to delete anything. That challenge is what introduced me to writing and I’ll forever be thankful. It also means I’m sure as hell doing it again in a month.
Taking a break has some ups and downs. Some days I wish I could just spend my day writing. Other days, I’m thankful to have a job where I don’t write the whole time I’m there. On a few days, I daydream about sticking my keyboard through the wall.
Writing has taught me a lot, and I’ve learned even more. It’s never easy, and not always rewarding, but it’s something I can’t live without.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about how you take writing breaks and how it has helped or hurt your process.
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