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!
    Bridgid Gal­lagher recent­ly post­ed…Should writ­ers blog?My Profile

    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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