My much-needed summer break from my university tutoring gig starts now, and I definitely need it. You may not have a job where you get the summer off, but hopefully, summer will still bring a more relaxed change of pace. Longer days. Vacations. More time outside to play.
We all need to take breaks.
When we do, we return to our work with a clear mind, a renewed focus, and often a solution to a perplexing problem. It increases our creativity.
My mom taught me this many moons ago. I was up late, frustrated with a gathered skirt I had to sew for Home Ec. “Just go to bed,” Mom said. “You’ll be fresher when you wake up.” She was right. I woke up to find my skirt folded neatly on my chair. An anonymous elf had fixed the troublesome seam while I slept.
Now when I get stuck and I can’t see my way forward, there’s no elf around to fix it. Maybe I’m unsure what’s up with my character or which way to go with the plot. That’s when a mini-break is called for. I do something entirely different; I take a walk, weed the garden, or work on a puzzle. Just an hour away can often do wonders to help me unravel the knot–without even trying.
“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”
My favorite kind of breaks are the ones that look like I’m wasting time. I love to sit, preferably outside, and just stare into space. Manfred Kets de Vries, a leader in the field of, well, leadership, writes:
“Doing nothing is a great way to induce states of mind that nurture our imagination. Slacking off may be the best thing we can do for our mental health. Seemingly inactive states of mind can be an incubation period for future bursts of creativity.”
That’s all the encouragement I need to do nothing.
But sometimes an hour or an afternoon is not nearly enough time away. Your work feels like drudgery and it lacks the satisfaction it used to bring. A good exercise to do when this happens is to think about your motivations.
Consider this: Why do you do what you do?
You may have lots of reasons. For me, I write because I enjoy it; it’s a creative outlet where my imagination runs free; I believe God has called me to do it; and people tell me my writing inspires them.
Have you lost sight of your reasons? Try this. Step away from your work for an extended time (a weekend, week, or longer). Relax, enjoy life, and set your mind free. You might find you’re starting to remember your “why.” Then, rather than force yourself, you want to return to your work with a sense of the joy it used to bring.
Our minds need rest. We need to press reset often. When I do, the writing never completely leaves me. Even when I’m actively NOT writing, my dreams about my novel continue. I never stop observing, listening to dialogue, watching for interesting characters, or reading books to pull back the curtain and notice how other authors do what they do. It’s just that none of it feels like work. I’m on a break.
You’ll know when you’re ready for the break to end. My mind automatically starts to make the mental shift back to the writing. It nudges me and lets me know it’s time.
Some breaks are unintentional, even forced upon us.
I’ve taken a long unplanned time out from writing.
My novel came out during the height of the pandemic, in November 2020. Just one month later, my Dad started his journey with vascular dementia. Like all of us, I had hoped 2021 would be a better year, but it turned out to be the most difficult year of my life so far. And 2022? Life is beginning to return and I’ve found it’s much easier caregiving for one parent than two, but the stress continues.
There’s another kind of break, the kind of “leg up” we all long for.
May 17 will mark the 1-1/2 year anniversary of One Degree of Freedom. My baby’s growing up! Marketing my novel has been practically non-existent for much of its short life. But while I was sleeping, something amazing happened!
Somehow, the number of reviews and ratings on Amazon passed 100 and on GoodReads climbed to 87. This good news happened while I took my forced-on-me break.