Writing: Time for a break?

So we’re not aspiring writers, we’re writers, so we write whenever we can. If we have a full time job we get up early or write into the night. If we stay at home with children we write when they are napping or happily occupied or in preschool or gone to bed. If we go out to work and have children we write from under a six foot pile of laundry with the dust bunnies for company, and sometimes we’re so tired we don’t know if anything is making sense.

Then life happens, other stuff, financial worries, work commitments, sick or anxious children, ailing relatives, a death or a report of one, something close to the bone or joyous events that need our time and attention.  These things affect both men and women but I think women try to hold everything in their heads all at once and may find it harder to switch between roles. Sometimes there are just too many directions. Is this why there are more major male novelists? It’s a controversial thing to ask and I don’t want to ruffle any feathers. Are novels just too big a thing to keep in your head alongside all the micromanagement of life that women do? Does it take longer for women to reach the 10,000 hours of practise it takes to become an expert? Do women on average ultimately write less novels or have less ‘head space’ in which to incubate their novels.

Are there times, in particular for juggling women, but for all writers when you need to stop writing? Are there times when you are going through the motions and producing word count but your work lacks direction, depth, layering, association, all the things that can make a good novel or story great? Are there times when you need to just live, or just live and keep your mind open as the writing circulates in your subconscious?

Writing, do we need a break from each other sometimes? From the treadmill word count achievement, from the blogs and the flash fiction and the competitions and the myriad online publication options. Do we need to just sit somewhere, stare at the sun on the grass or into the fire to the bright flicker of flame and the roaring red core or just visit our relations, talk to our children, catch up on our day job, organise the laundry, have tea, go to bed early, read?

I read a wonderful post lately from Jennifer New on Studio Mothers, who tells us that the ideas we have in the thick of life and cannot follow up just then are not really lost, they feed into other things or we find ideas later that are just as good as the earlier ones. In my mother writer series I will be talking to author Jane Rusbridge. In her interview next Sunday she will be telling us about the long process over several years of writing her acclaimed novel Devil’s Music in tandem with her busy life situation. And prolific author Nicola Morgan has explored whether we can still write during difficult and challenging times in our lives. Indeed we all read of people who’s writing keeps them going through hard times. We all take solace from expression or from losing ourselves in something we love but is there a time to pause?

What do you think? Are there occasions when our life needs our absolute focus or when we need to step back and stop producing so that our writing ideas catch up with us? When we need to rid ourselves of the opposing clamour from the many requirements of our lives? Or do you just keep doggedly on, putting down even a few words every day. Have any of you taken an extended break and how did it affect your writing work, for the better or worse? If you take a long break will you lose momentum or gain perspective?

My feeling is that there is a time for pause. So often it is the down times when I only have a pen and a notebook and no plans that my best stories unfurl. So we may take a break, we may go off for a while and live our lives but the writing will always find us.

8 thoughts on “Writing: Time for a break?

  1. We definitely need “time off”. If we don’t take time to do other things, even if it’s just take the children to a park or have a day out shopping, how on earth will we experience new things and gain new ideas?

    All of my best ideas come to me when I am doing something completely unrelated to writing, and definitely away from a computer. It makes me enjoy other activities even more.

  2. Hi Alison,

    What a wonderful post written so eloquently. I also believe that the writing will find me. I can’t write unless the rest of my life is in order. The ideas won’t flow into my head unless it has a clear pathway. I may never be financially successful by writing, but I will always find the pleasure in it, because it is my solace. If I write, just to get something out there in front of readers every week or as often as possible, it isn’t worth reading. It needs to come from within and my heart will tell me when it’s time to write.
    Thank you for this post, Alison. It’s great to know that another writer and author shares my feeling about writing.

    Warm Hugs to you!

  3. I think what you say applies to people without children, as well. Writing uninformed by living will not be worthwhile. And a grind is a grind is a grind. Pausing can be the best thing we can do for ourselves, in every sense.

  4. Good post. I have a friend, now in his late eighties, who says, “Don’t pretend to be what you’re not because life comes in stages.” For me, this means that right now, I’m a mother of small children — so that’s what I do. In terms of writing, this means that childcare takes up most of my day, but also frees me from a full time office job and feeds me rich and varied stories. I love being both mum and writer, even if I am a dustball zombie after any deadline. When they’re grown, there’ll be more writing (I imagine) but until then, I’ll be grateful for my children, and speed-type through naps and preschool. As for men… I think they face similar challenges to women. My poor old soul is sitting here now, dimmer switches and wires in his bleeding fingers, political thriller in his eyes and a plot behind the screensaver… Yeah, men, women and children… we’re in it together!
    (And no — novels aren’t too big for our brains, we can do it. One word at a time.)

  5. Mari G

    Hi Alison.
    A writer and artist friend calls it “filling the well.” Taking a break from writing to allow ideas to form and be inspired, especially when life catches up on us and takes up all our headspace.
    A great and thought provoking post.

  6. laradunning

    In Feb I went on a trip where I was completely unplugged. It was so relieving to not think about checking Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and editing. When I came back I felt recharged with lots of ideas flowing. Now the problem is back to not having enough time to write them all. I think it is a defiante must to unplug for at least one week during the year.

  7. What an interesting post. I’ve never had children, but there have been times in my life when it was overflowing. You can only have so many priorities, then the rest has to go. Writers write. That’s the bottom line for me.

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