That line is paraphrased from Dov Simmons, a film producer I met when I was 19 and just getting my feet wet in the film industry. To us new, young creators, without much of anything in production yet, Dov’s line could make us sound more legitimate when inevitably asked, “So what are you working on?” “Oh, me? Well, I have multiple projects in various states of development.”
But what happens when you do have various projects in multiple states of development? As many writers do. All the time. How do you schedule your time off?
Carefully, I suggest.
The nature of the writing process does require taking periodic breaks at certain stages, after finishing a draft, for example, or once a revision has been handed to beta readers. But while stepping away from a particular project for a time can help that project in particular, walking away from writing for any significant length of time usually throws a spanner in the works of creativity in general.
In my experience, not writing at all for longer than three days has unintended, often subtle, consequences. Irritability increases, a kind of malaise, or even depression, can set in. Writers not writing aren’t always a friendly bunch.
But we still need breaks…
Remember that saying, “a change is as good as a rest”? With writing, this may be the way to take those breaks. And the first thing to change is your expectations.
Let’s say you’ve been drafting a novel with a daily goal of writing 500 words for five days per week but feel you need a break. What could you change? Fewer days, fewer words?
For writing breaks, I suggest shifting your quantity expectations while holding onto a quality connection.It seems that qualitative distance is most detrimental to creativity. Quantitative expectations can shift, but a quality-based connection should be maintained.
So while taking a break, maybe you carry around a “sense notebook” in which you jot down details noticed during the day related to one or two senses. A few lines of description keeps you connected to writing without undue pressure to produce (and could provide raw material for future projects). Or you could journal in the voice of your characters, or write the poetry they’d write. Then again, maybe a break means giving yourself time to write the poetry you want to write, and explore thoughts you want to think.
Whatever you choose, keeping a light and simple tether to your writing practice maintains your connection and “keeps the writing close” (another phrase I like to use) during breaks.
Breaks, good rests, playing, and relaxing with friends help balance our inner selves, which is the source of our outer work. Letting the imagination have free rein, daydreaming, even being bored at times, allows the subconscious to reboot. Creatives of all kinds, including scientists, recognize the benefits of a good nap!
For writers, full-stop breaks aren’t always beneficial. We write for many reasons, but there’s an ineffable one that connects to our experiences of awareness and existence; writing as an activity is connected to our sense of being. We can’t really take a break from that, but we can modify how we relate to it for a while. How might you modify your practice to give yourself a break when you need it?
This summer, I plan to journal more. I use a kind that fits easily into backpacks and beach bags. Restful states can open intuitive pathways, yielding unexpected insights and ideas. Often, creative problems are solved when we let go of trying and just relax and have fun. So I do like to have pen and paper nearby even while enjoying a much needed break.
Summer is a sweet time of year to fill one’s inner tanks with light, warmth, color, and company. Those multiple projects in various states of development will be waiting for you when you return feeling refreshed.