5 ways to take a pause that refreshes

Word count: 688 words

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

We focus so much on getting things done. But here are some writing tips that will help you learn how to take a break…

I was strolling home, down West Broadway, one day last week, stopping at a printing house to get a quote and at a travel store to pick up a book on Chicago, where I’m going in August.

But while walking, I wasn’t just moving my feet. I was also engaging my brain. As a friend and I like to put it, I was taking this column for a walk.

No matter how pressing my deadline, I never just sit down to write, and I don’t think you should either. We should always take what Coca Cola used to call (in ad campaigns in 1929 and 1947) “the pause that refreshes.” But, heaven forbid, don’t start throwing back soft drinks! That high fructose stuff will play havoc with your blood sugar. What I mean is that you should PAUSE before writing. Why? Three reasons:

  1. A pause will allow you to plan. Have you ever gone on vacation without any planning whatsoever? Built a house? Made dinner? Bought a computer? True, writing a single article may seem inconsequential by comparison but it’s still a job that requires your brain and it will go better if you take the time to plan for it.
  2. A pause will inspire the back of your brain to start working, as well as the front. We all know so much on a subconscious level but we can’t get access to it unless we take a pause. As my friend writer Anne Giardini puts it in my book: “[Planning/pausing] is like keeping the tap running in the back so the pipes don’t freeze.”
  3. A pause will enable you to calm the loud-mouthed internal editor who tries to undo us all with his/her internal refrain: “my writing isn’t good enough; my boss is going to hate this; my readers will be bored to tears.”

So, now you know why you need the pause, let’s look at HOW you can actually manage to accomplish it. Here are five steps:

  1. I like walking but you can also do anything mindless that will keep your hands or feet busy and allow you time to think. Over the years readers have suggested: doing dishes, grooming a dog, going for a drive. I like walking best because it also gives me some exercise. Whatever you choose, have some way of taking notes. I use my iPhone (which has a great recording function) but you can use any cellphone to leave yourself a voicemail message or get an inexpensive digital recorder.
  2. Think about WHO you are writing for. Really try to get into that person’s head. Give him or her a name and an age. Or, even better, write for a real person. (When I worked in newspapers I frequently wrote for my mother, even though I never told her this.)
  3. Think about HOW you can make the writing as interesting as possible. Focus less on the information and more on the stories, anecdotes and examples. What’s the friendliest, most fascinating way you can begin? Imagine that your readers are a uninterested bunch – what tricks can you use to entice them into reading what you are writing?
  4. Let your mind flit back and forth between your writing and anything else you like. But concentrate on staying in the moment.
  5. Take a deep breath. Stop thinking about your story. Instead focus on your breathing. Count the number of seconds it takes you to breathe in and the number it takes to exhale. Focus only on your breath.

Congratulations! If you’ve taken these five steps before writing, you will be far better prepared for the task.

Then, do a mindmap and see how much tumbles out.

Finally, you are ready to write. But before you apply your fingers to the keyboard, take another very brief pause. Breathe. Empty your mind. Calm yourself. Remind yourself you’ll have plenty of opportunities to edit, later.

Now, write!

If you want more tips on how to support your your writing practice, consider my self-directred, email-based course: Extreme Writing Makeover. Owners of the premium version of my book get a $49 discount. (If you’re an owner, just email me for the code.)

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