On NOT Writing

I’m going to do something really controversial for a writer this week: I’m not going to write.

It’s a hot topic, and one that I’m still coming to terms with.

And, it’s a lesson that I have to continually teach myself — it’s okay to not write. There is a thing called burn out, and for me personally, pushing through it only makes the problem worse. That is why I don’t advocate for writing every day — I don’t disagree with it, it’s just not practical.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not a writer. I am. I write! (Mostly on lunch breaks or late at night after work and dinner, or rushed between jobs.) But not every day,  and sometimes not every week.

The lesson I’ve learned is that it’s okay to need other things in life: human interaction, other creative pursuits, sleep. When you have limited time to devote to anything outside work, all those things have to share. They’re all essential to living a balanced life, and that balance is what fosters the mental clarity needed to write well.

The hard part is knowing when to take a break. Knowing if you’re actually burnt out, or if you’re just stuck on a problem is a skill that takes time to develop.

That’s when it really helps to keep track, and notice any patterns. When do days go well? When do they go really badly? What’s your mental state like?

This year hasn’t been the best year, there have been a lot of ups and downs, and mostly downs. I’ve been stressed, and because of that, I’ve felt totally overwhelmed most of the time — largely about things outside of my writing life, but writing this book has been one of those stressers. I’ve wanted to finally get on with finishing this draft, that I was pushing myself to just keep going.

It wasn’t working.

I’d make a little progress, then stall and spend time beating myself up over not writing, not continuing. It made writing harder, and I eneded up wasting time I could have used writing worrying about not writing.

Until I gave up. I’d had enough. I picked up a book, then another, and just let myself read for a while.

It was a recalibration. After getting back into reading, I wrote chapter three. Then instead of feeling down for not moving right into chapter four, I picked up some stuff to make art again. I painted a picture. Then I wrote chapter four.

Now, I’m at that point again of having finished writing a chapter and transitioning into the next one. I’m already feeling that resistance to writing, so instead of fighting it, I’m going to read a book.

Writing every day will work for some people. It doesn’t work for me and my schedule, and that’s okay. Maybe alternating between reading, or being otherwise creative, and writing will help you, too.

2 thoughts on “On not writing

  1. I am so glad you shared this, Amanda! Writing breaks have led to some of my biggest story break throughs. As writers, we get so much pressure to write ALL the time, but I agree with you, it’s not always practical. Even worse, sometimes it leads to burnout.

    Great post!
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    1. I feel guilty at first, but I always feel so refreshed when I return to writing. I’ve also noticed a marked difference in my mood when I push myself too hard to write more consistently. I get overwhelmed, and it starts impacting other areas of my life. It’s not healthy to do more than you’re able, and it takes a lot to admit to yourself where your limits are. I want to do more, but right now I can’t. And that’s okay.

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