A version of this post originally appeared on the YA Buccaneers group blog.
I don't know about you, but I always find it difficult to feel motivated to work in mid-August. Maybe it's the heat. Maybe it's that perpetual almost-back-to-school feeling. Maybe it's everyone's beachy photos on social media. Maybe it's the fact that I'll soon be at the beach myself.
[Note: this post is from 2016, but we will in fact be beaching again, little person in tow, in a few weeks! Just you wait for the baby swimsuit photos...sorry-not-sorry in advance. And for the record, while this summer has been a crash-course in new-parenthood, most summers I'm writing and promoting my work just as hard—if not harder!—than the rest of the year.]
Whatever the case, there's no question that I could use a vacation.
But here's the thing about being a writer, full-time or otherwise: it can be hard to let yourself take a vacation from the work. There's the sense of obligation—this book isn't going to write itself. There's how productive everyone else seems to be. There's the fear of missing out, of being left behind by writers who have more book deals and whose careers are progressing faster. And of course there's the guilt: if I'm not doing everything I can to help myself succeed, I'll have only myself to blame if I fail.
Needing time off can feel like weakness. Taking a break can feel like quitting.
So here's the reminder, for myself as much as for all of you who are in the trenches with me:
Rest is important. Vacations are important. Time spent not writing is important.
But when should you indulge in time off? Deadlines permitting, I'd say...
1: When you finish a draft.
After you type "The End," is your first instinct to scroll back to page one and start editing? What would happen if you saved and closed the document, instead? What if you spent the rest of the day lounging at the pool, or catching up on Netflix, or reading a book?
Taking a few days or weeks away from a project when a draft is done isn't just good for your brain; it can also be good for the manuscript! Time off can give you the space and distance you need to assess your work more clearly. You might pick up on plot holes, character inconsistencies, and even typos that you'd miss if you dove back in without pausing to catch your breath.
2: When you send out or turn in a draft.
When you send a manuscript to your editor, your agent, or beta readers/critique partners, you probably aren't going to immediately start tinkering with it. But what about those other projects that have been waiting patiently for your attention? Should you shift gears right away?
Your mileage may vary, but I've found that this is one of the best times to take a brief writing hiatus. When I sent a YA WIP off to my agent last July, I'd planned to jump right into the MG fantasy rewrite I'd been anxious about starting. But after two days of feeling paralyzed by the blank page, I realized I needed to give my brain an actual break. I told myself, You'll start the MG on Monday morning. Then I devoted some time to all of the things that can fall by the wayside during intense revision periods. I took on some additional freelance work. I cleaned the apartment. I cooked some delicious meals for myself and my husband. I took extra yoga and dance classes.
I went a week without creative writing, and it didn't kill me. In fact, when I opened the MG document again, I felt refreshed and was able to hit the ground running.
3: When you're hitting your head against the wall.
I'm a firm believer in "the only way out is through." Most of the time, when I'm stuck on a chapter or scene, I'll find a way to get something down on the page. I'll jump ahead a few scenes. I'll sketch an outline that has actions but no emotions, or vice versa. But what about those times when forward progress feels completely impossible?
This is, I think, when it's hardest to step away from the computer. The stubbornness kicks in. You don't want to let the manuscript defeat you, even if writing is like squeezing blood from a stone.
So...make yourself take a break. Walk around the neighborhood. Do dishes. Work out. And if your head doesn't feel clearer in an hour, give yourself the rest of the day. Or a couple of days. That stumbling block will still be there when you return—and with any luck, the time off will help it look less like a mountain you can't climb and more like a stepping stone you can use to reach the next level.
What about you? When do you find it best to take a step back from your writing? How do you find the balance between staying motivated and giving yourself permission to let go? Chime in in the comments!
Enjoy the rest of your summer!