Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thankful Breaks

Photo credit: Google Images
While a lot of writers worry about writer’s block, stopped creativity often comes from the opposite side—working too much, for too long, and getting bogged down in the words.  You know that feeling—when you’ve re-read the same passage fifty-nine times, and realize you have no clue what you just read.  Revision churns through a smoky haze. The plot and characters become so jumbled in your brain that you wake up in a cold sweat and can’t remember which character’s aunt Bessie killed the cook for spite.

It’s time for a break. Not a drive-around-the-lake kinda break, or a quick trip to Starbucks.  Nope, now’s the time for an extended one; a place for your mind to cool a bit from the frenzy and let the chaotic miasma unravel and come back to rest. 

Otherwise—and I promise you this—you’ll maim the baby on the page.  This is where writers so often tell me they want to revise the manuscript one more time even though they’re unable to process the words and find themselves doing some version of paragraph one above.  But they just can’t let go, can’t back away, are afraid everything is not exactly right and if that’s the case, the writing police will find and cite them for some awful unforgivable infraction.  Yep, the root of all this is fear, which we talked about last month!  And fear such as this does not accomplish one good thing. 

When you reach this point, just stop.  Take a deep breath.  It’s time to put aside the masterpiece and take up hiking for the Fall.  Or come down with hollyhock-itis and plant bulbs one by one.  Or take that cooking class and whip up scrumptious delights for which you invite me over to try.  

This is also the perfect time to let a good editor take over for a bit.  Whether novice or seasoned pro, everyone needs outside eyes and depending upon what sort of editing you seek, your book will be out of your hands for two weeks to two months.  And you need at least the latter—a good two months away. 

Writers freak at this!  Eight entire weeks?  Of not working?  And I know I have just sprouted horns in their images of me.  But, in a word, yes.  Once you’ve devolved to circling your brain with words you don’t remember knowing, that break is mandatory.

Now, it doesn’t mean you can’t write at all.  Something totally different works great during this time.  If you usually write novels, short fiction is a wonderful way of cleansing the palate.  Or, essays, articles—the further afield of what you normally write, the better.  Just the exercise itself is rejuvenating. 

I always take this time to just read.  You know—all those books and stories you’ve been meaning to get to but haven’t had the time?  The perfect antidote for not writing is reading great books.  Of course, in my world, that’s pretty much the perfect antidote for everything up to and including a nuclear holocaust, but that’s another story! 

Or see all those friends/family who’ve been wondering if you still exist or have literally become a vampire since you’re never seen in daylight and your skin’s turned ghostly pale.  You know—those folks you ostensibly love and who’re now doubting that fact. 

In other words, go play.  Let your creative psyche decompress and heal and remember what joy is.  What Thanksgiving is.  Partake of life and all its abundance again, and feel the gratitude that comes with that.  Which is exactly how you dispel the guilt piled on by the demons of writing who crucify you for not working. Being grateful shuts them smooth up :)

The funniest result of your extended time off?  When you get back to it, your subconscious creative mind has actually been working all that time, and what bubbles up from there is better, stronger, more wonderful and delightful than you ever thought you could write.  Now, that’s something be thankful for.

Award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone has four traditionally published books to her credit (fiction and nonfiction) and many published short stories. A freelance editor, forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to Traditional publishers. You can see more about her, and what authors say about working with her, at:

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  1. I've managed to take writing breaks by giving birth to human babies instead of book babies. I think I'm just a sucker for punishment ;-)


  2. If I may dare say so, human babies are more important than book babies, Elle.

    Susan, thanks so much for the reminder of how important it is to step back from work and feed our creativity. I think it is important for us to do other creative or just fun things to refuel the creative juices.

  3. Great advice. Taking breaks are critical to resparking my creative energy.

  4. Now THAT certainly counts, Elle! And yep, more important than book babies :) Besides, just think of all the fodder for fiction you'll get raising them up!

  5. Yes, breaks . . . Last evening, after a long day of intense editing, I fell asleep in front of the TV. Shortly after midnight, I awoke and went to work on a book and cover layout that should have been completed yesterday amidst the edits. At 6:00 this morning, I finished the layout. (Photoshop is a powerful program, but not a close friend. We have our spats.) Now it's time for a break -- during regular working when I should again be editing. Is something wrong with this picture?

    Ah, Susan, something can be said for taking breaks from editing, too.

  6. I have to get offline and shut down the computer completely! It is amazing to me how just a few days of gets the creative juices really flowing. Can't wait until December when I'm off for the month. Thanks, Susan. Good tips!

  7. Breaks fuel our creativity, don't they? Tremendous thoughts here. After the first week of December, I'm shutting down for a month. *happy dance* Thanks for reminding me that it's okay if I take a break. As a matter of fact, it's required! *waves*

  8. Linda! You need a break! See Dani and Robyn's post below yours! LOL. Truly, time to rest and rejuvenate for a while.
    Now that I think about it, I need to take my own advice too :)

  9. Oh, this speaks to me on so many levels! I now have a super organized front closet. :)

  10. Sometimes an author needs to step outside of the writing world and experience real life for a while. It helps to get energized and great for inspiration!

    Morgan Mandel


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.