Time to take a break?

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Do you ever take a holiday from your writing? Here’s why you should consider it….

I just participated in a 10-day, two-person workshop designed to improve my writing.

It required me to take a plane to a different country and it meant I had to work like a fiend beforehand, writing two weekly newsletters and nine blog entries in advance. I also had to wrap up a bunch of projects for my corporate clients here in Vancouver and, temporarily put my coaching clients on hold.

The workshop offered excellent food – much of which we were able to cook ourselves – sunny, dry weather, and access to a pool. We started every morning with a hike, in places ranging from the depths of the Agua Caliente canyons to the heights of Mt St Jacinto, where we slid around on snow and ice while eying the bone-dry desert some 8,000 feet below.

And what writing did I accomplish, I hear you ask? Well, to be honest, not a word. This was the kind of a “writing workshop” that you might know better as a holiday.

I’ve lived in Vancouver my entire life and while I accept my hometown is not exactly laden with sunshine, my tolerance for rain and endless grey skies has decreased with age. Now that our kids are old enough to be left at home on their own, my husband and I have taken to going away in February.

And here’s what I know about holidays:

  • They help my concentration.
  • They give me time to read more books, particularly fiction. (I read six while away.)
  • They give me time to think about writing projects and ideas.
  • They increase my energy and vigor.
  • They improve my writing.

If you’d asked me if the holiday was a good idea before we departed on Feb. 17, I might have said, ‘no.’ I was stressed to the max. Exhausted, really, from all the writing and client chores. My back ached. My eyes were sore. I was short-tempered.

But as soon as I’d climbed onto the plane, all of the bad experiences melted away. It was like the cathartic feeling of walking out of a darkened theatre after a really bad movie, into a gloriously sunny day.

Are you taking enough breaks from your writing (ideally, holidays if your family life and budget allow)? Taking breaks is the necessary corollary to working diligently. Yes, you should write every day (even if only for five minutes – and by “every day” I always mean five days per week). But you should also take regular breaks.

When I returned from holiday, I read an interesting blog entry by my colleague, feminist and philosopher, Tracy Isaacs, who writes about her efforts to become more fit. She told the story of Clare Ross, a figure athlete, who had to withdraw from competition because she had destroyed her metabolic health. How? She’d eaten too little and trained too hard. Funnily enough, this made me think of writing.

When we’re not procrastinating, some of us may be trying to write too much. We refuse to take breaks because we assume that if a little bit of writing is good for us then more can only be better. But it’s not!

There are some very good reasons for taking breaks from writing. You’ve done enough for one day/week/month. Or you may need to sort out other priorities in your life.

I’m convinced there is a sweet spot for writing, however. It involves writing a regular amount (five to 60 minutes for non-professionals) five days a week. It means taking a two-day break after those five days. And it means taking a five-to-fourteen day break at least twice a year. Out of town, if you can afford it.

As I look out my window now, I see a bank of dark grey clouds and I hear the rapid plip-plop of rain. But I can close my eyes and see a sapphire sky and feel the warmth of the sun on my face.

It gives me the energy to keep writing.

Do you take breaks from your writing? How does it help you? We can all learn from each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me by commenting below. (If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.)

Photo courtesy Eric Watts

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