Why You Should Walk Away From Your Writing

Why You Should Walk Away From Your Writing

Sometimes the only way you can make progress as a writer is to walk away from your writing.

Many writers attest to the necessity of “bum glue” to finish their manuscripts. Some joke about tying themselves to their office chairs. I’ve been known to stick my feet in a bucket of water to curb my habit of wandering off when I should be writing.

Stick-to-itiveness is essential in the completion of any project, but sometimes the determination to never leave your chair can hinder your progress.

Why?

The Process of Walking Away From Your Writing

The answer lies in how ideas come about. Edward Blakeslee said,

Your most brilliant ideas come in a flash, but the flash comes only after a lot of hard word. Nobody gets a big idea when he is not relaxed, and nobody gets a big idea when he’s relaxed all the time.

When you’re stuck in the middle of your manuscript, looking for inspiration, remember the two essential elements for receiving “light bulb” moment.

You Need to Have Done the Work

Your mind needs to have been immersed in the subject. so all the relevant details are already spinning around in your head.

You Need to Have Walked Away

Relaxing your mind and moving your focus elsewhere allows these swirling possibilities to gradually crystallize into an idea.

Think back to some of your best ideas. Did they happen:

  • While you were in the shower?
  • During a walk?
  • On your way to work?
  • Just before bed?

What do all these situations have in common? You’re not in front of your computer staring at the blank page.

They are moments when your mind was distracted by other (non-project related) things. Meanwhile, in your subconscious, elements that would you never have associated with each other coalesce to form the solution to your problem.

Naturally, you can’t spend all your time wandering about the house or standing in the shower, hoping every element of your story will magically appear in your head.

So when should you walk away from your writing and when should you stay?

A Handy Checklist for Deciding When to Walk Away From Your Writing

Before you decide to walk away from your writing, go through this five-part checklist.

1. “Check In” With Your Manuscript

Checking in with your manuscript means rereading part of it or writing at least a few hundred words every day (or so).

2. Try Freewriting

White page fright often stops us from writing, even if the words are ready to come. Freewriting, or stream of consciousness writing, forces you to get words out (even if they’re rubbish) just to get your flow started. Don’t get caught up in perfectionism. Never walk away from your writing until you’ve tried freewriting for at least ten minutes.

3. Check if You’ve Gone Off Track Somewhere

Sometimes a writing block is caused by a wrong turn we’ve taken earlier in our writing, a spot where we forced a character to do or say something that didn’t fit. Read back over your writing to see if there was a point where your prose became laboured and your writing became much harder. If you find it, try starting afresh from that point.

4. Spend Time on World Building and Character Profiling

If the words aren’t coming easily, perhaps it’s because the world of your book or the characters who inhabit that world are not yet well defined. Instead of trying to add to your word count, spend your writing session describing your world or interviewing a character.

5. Don’t Stare at the Page for More than 15 Minutes

Past a certain point, bum glue just doesn’t cut it anymore. If you’ve been doing all of the above and you’re still no further along, then you’re ready to walk away from your writing.

How Long Should You Walk Away For?

Sometimes simply walking away for a few minutes will provide enough release to bring the rush of ideas. You might be surprised how quickly the words return.

If that doesn’t work, you may need to leave your writing for a day or two, perhaps over the weekend.

If you don’t have any fresh ideas on the third day, return to the page and start the above checklist again. A fresh idea may surface when you give it opportunity during your writing time.

What should you do when the block continues for weeks?

Sometimes we have to permanently walk away from an entire project. It can be a painful decision, but if the project is weighing you down and eating into your writing time with no measurable return, then you’re better off spending your writing time on a new project.

Whatever your decision, remember that you as a writer are a separate entity from your words. If one project stalls, it does not make you a failure as a writer. Push through. If that doesn’t work, walk away for a while. If that still doesn’t work, move on to a new project. You’re a writer, and that’s true no matter what project you’re working on.

Tell me your opinion: How do you decide when to walk away from your writing?

 Why You Should Walk Away From Your Writing

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About Jessica Baverstock | @JessBaverstock

Jessica Baverstock is a creativity coach and writer. She blogs at Creativity's Workshop, where her Creativity writes in purple text. This week she’s releasing her five-week Creative Cleanse e-mail course, with the aim of rejuvenating and motivating your Creativity to write again.

Comments

  1. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Jessica!

    • My pleasure! 🙂

    • I did not choose to walk away from my writing, I had to. My daily life gets in the way. I recently had a 3 month old baby and I have two older children. I also went through postpartem depression after my baby was born. I still think about my novel and I do character research. I just don’t write a lot. I also do world building. Sometimes I think I should quit writing. I should give up my dream of being I writer. I have been working on my novel for 3 years and don’t even have a first draft finished. I have no time.

      • I understand your frustrations, Natalie. It sounds like you’re going through a particularly hard patch. But please don’t give up on your dreams of being a writer.

        Some of the difficulties you are currently facing will pass in time. While you cope with what’s on your plate, perhaps you can try other forms of writing – short stories or journal writing – to keep your writing dream alive.

      • A.C. Trethowan says:

        I’m there right now. My baby will be three months very soon and this is my first child. It’s exhausting to blend the recovery, anemia, and new schedules in with a continued desire to write. Where I used to write for hours each day, now I’m only writing an hour a day and that’s IF I can stay awake. I know it will be even harder when the second baby comes.

        I hope that you’ll find a way to make your dreams happen. Is there a way to ask for a writer’s vacation once a week? Would even 1000 words once a week be possible? Could you get a baby sitter or sign up for a mother’s day out program?

        If all else fails, I’m told on good authority that when kids start school mother’s get a life again. Hang in there!

  2. That was a great read. Sometimes the most basic things are the furthest from our minds. I get some of my best thoughts when I’m NOT at my desk, and I “jot” them down on my phone, either with my Evernote app or Springpad app to review later.

  3. Good advice. Sometimes simply walking away for a couple hours to do other things you need to during your day, like folding the laundry, can make you ready for another go around with the wip.

    • Yes, laundry is definitely a secret weapon. I believe my imagination hates folding laundry and will do anything to get out of it – like producing my next interesting idea. Washing or drying dishes works well too!

      • Nice post, Jessica, thanks.
        My secret weapon is walking the dog. In 15-30 min I got a bunch of ideas. Travelling to work and staring out the bus window works too.
        I definitely need to “walk” away and get some thinking time when I’m not satisfied with the plot.

  4. I solve so many writing problems while walking! Thankfully I have my phone with me and take notes.

    • I love writing. It’s amazing how movement can often release your writing blocks. A phone or notepad is essential though. There’s nothing worse than having a great idea and being stuck without somewhere to record it! The only way to manage is to chant the idea all the way home, ignoring all the strange looks along the way. 🙂

  5. Michaela says:

    Hello,
    I was wondering if you already have done or will do a post of series of posts about creating a character for all different types of genres. Thanks,
    Michaela

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The elements of a good character don’t vary from genre to genre (although, of course, in genre fiction, you will have certain traits that crop more frequently). You can find my backlist of character psots here.

  6. I’ve never had any trouble walking away. I usually can’t sustain my concentration for too long at a time, so I write in short spurts. Some of those spurts may be days apart, but the work eventually gets done. And most of my ideas or solutions to plot problems come when I’m reading. Fiction or nonfiction doesn’t really matter. It might be a word, a turn of a phrase, or a bit of dialogue that triggers somethin in my head. And I agree that you need to have done the work beforehand for that to happen — lots and lots of thinking about the story and the characters.

    • Interesting you should mention that. I’m currently reading ‘Reading Like a Writer’ by Francine Prose and it seems she has similar experiences when reading. If she’s stuck at a certain point in her writing, or is wondering how she’s going to approach a plot point, she deliberately finds a book that attempts something similar so she can discover how another writer has accomplished it.

      Her book is a very interesting read, especially if you’re already an avid reader.

      • Thanks for the Prose mention. I’ll look it up. But my reading is whatever I happen to be in the mood for or are in the middle of at the time. It might even be a news report. It sounds as if her reading is focused more on technique than solving story problems.

        • She teaches close-reading courses at colleges and universities so the book brings out examples she’s used during those courses, but the principles apply to whatever you’re reading.

          I find it so interesting that you can discover ideas and solutions in whatever you’re reading. You must have a fascinating writing life. 🙂

          • 🙂 I don’t know that it’s fascinating. I’m strongly ADD and I think that has a lot to do with it. There’s always something going on in my head, so ideas are churning around and bumping into each other. It has its benefits, and its problems.

  7. KJ Conrad says:

    I often get my best ideas in the shower or while driving. When I am at my keyboard I am so busy trying to get all the details down from those inspirational moments that I sometimes get frustrated that I can’t remember everything. I think taking a few minutes and walking away makes a lot of sense. I have learned so much about taking care of my creativity from Jessica’s blog. If you haven’t checked it out, it is well worth your time to visit. Thanks Jessica for more great advice.

    • Thanks for your comment!

      Walking away can definitely help you remember things. It seems the memory works better when relaxed.

      I get my best ideas in the shower too! How do you record the ideas you get when showering or driving?

      • KJ Conrad says:

        I use a voice recorder on my phone while driving. I am never in the shower long enough to forget, so those ideas I just jot down in my idea book when I am done. It has some water damage from dripping hair sometimes, but at least everything is in there when I have time to write. 😉

  8. Good points here. There are far too many people who are afraid of walking away because they believe it devalues what they do. I was just reading an interesting article about how people are too busy and they are the only ones to blame since they get in a mindset they “have to be busy to keep their jobs.” It is amazing how much “busyness” bleeds into art, and leads to burnout, among other things.

    Great presentation, glad you shared it, much appreciated!

    • Yes, I absolutely agree with you, Matthew. Most of us have the impression that in order to be a good worker, we need to always appear to be busy working. But the truth is, our brain needs down time to give us those flashes of inspiration. Staring out the window every now and then is part of the creative process.

  9. I find going for a walk helps, but only if I go somewhere that sparks my imagination, like a nice path with pretty street lamps, or by a train yard, trails in the forest…

    • Those all sound like great places to go for a walk! I especially like walking in a place I’ve never been before, so the new sights, smells and sounds infuse me with fresh ideas.

  10. Lisa Searle says:

    Thanks for sharing this Jessica.

    I’m currently trying to cope with mild depression and stress with my full time job, which has resulted in my stepping away from my current WIP for over two months now. What I had originally thought was a ‘blip’ has turned out to be something a little more serious, but not insurmountable. I originally got stuck on one character’s storyline (trying to pick it up again in book 2 has proven harder than I first thought), and although I’ve been pushing myself along the guilt wagon for not having written or worked on the novel for over two months, I realise now that this is going to take time and I need to build up my interest again. So I’m letting the story tick over in my head again and in the meantime doing things i do want to do and ensuring i keep my writing hand in by journalling, knowing that I will start it again one day soon. I can take comfort at least that I have finished one book, which I intend to publish at some point this year 🙂

    • Hi Lisa,

      Depression and stress definitely impact writing routine and motivation. I’ve experienced it myself.

      While trying to guilt yourself back to your writing may seem like a necessary response, it can often backfire because it may cause you to resent or dread your writing.

      Your plan of allowing the story to tick over in your head while taking your writing in a different direction is a great response to your circumstances. It allows your sub-conscious to work on a solution without your writing skills becoming rusty.

      I wish you much success with your writing and publishing over the coming year.

Trackbacks

  1. […] this week. I’m also guest posting over at Helping Writers Become Authors today on the subject Why You Should Walk Away From Your Writing. For the record, I wrote the guest post before I came down with the […]

  2. […] to this post, when you’re stuck in the middle of your work-in-progress, two things need to happen in order […]

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