5 Reasons You Should Stop Writing

Sometimes the best thing a writer can do is not write. There are going to be times when our brains are fried, our imaginations are dried up, and our lives are demanding we put non-writing priorities first.

In these situations, is it ever acceptable to just surrender and throw down the pen for a while? My answer is absolutely. In fact, sometimes it’s wise to deliberately plan to stop writing. Let’s consider a few instances in which not writing is not only acceptable but important.

1. To let a story breathe

By the time we finish writing a novel, our objectivity will have packed its bags and headed to Rio. We can edit the darn thing until we’re blue in the face, but we’re not likely to really see what’s wrong with it until we’re able to put a little distance between ourselves this story we’ve grown to love (or, perhaps, hate).Once I finish a first draft, I edit the manuscript three times to correct obvious typos and continuity errors. Then I set it aside for as much as a year. I don’t look at it; I don’t think about it. I just wait until my gut starts telling me my objectivity has boarded its return flight back from vacation.

2. To work on a different project

We may have any number of good reasons to stop writing a particular book and focus on something else. This something else might be another story, a non-fiction book, or something totally unrelated to writing: painting, crocheting, playing football, having a baby, you name it.

If you’re lucky enough to be interested and talented in other art forms, you can alternate between projects to keep yourself fresh and interested in both. In his article “The 20-story summer” in the May 2013 issue of The Writer, Eric D. Lehman calls this “feeding the brain machine so I could go back to the big project with new insights and abilities.”

3. To schedule a regular day off

You take a day off from work every week, so why not writing? I write six days out of the week, but I always schedule one day off out of every week and hold to it adamantly. When my writing isn’t going so great, this day is a reward. But even when my writing is sailing along splendidly, this regular day off allows me to recharge my batteries, stave off burnout, and apply time to non-writing activities and chores.

4. To take an enforced vacation

Your brain is like a rubber band. Stretch it too hard for too long, and it’ll either snap or end up so limp it won’t hold anything together. When you feel burnout approaching, do yourself and your writing a favor and take a break.

After finishing a manuscript, I always have to give myself at least a few months to recuperate before diving into the next project. This period isn’t a vacation in the strictest sense, since I’m still showing up at my desk to work on marketing and perhaps the editing of other projects.

But there are other times when a total vacation is required. Unplug your Internet for a week or two, step away from the computer, and pamper yourself with ice cream, movie marathons, lots of walks, and lots of reading. You’ll return to your writing refreshed and re-energized.

5. To walk away from writing for a time

So far, the break periods we’ve discussed have been relatively brief. But what about taking a serious break from writing? What about stopping for months or even years? This, of course, is a whole ’nother ballgame. If you’re even considering this, then you are either losing interest in your writing or you’re facing major changes in your life. Both are legitimate reasons to make the decision to step away from your writing for a time.

Sometimes, for whatever reason, we just won’t be able to make our writing work at certain periods in our life. Squeezing it in even when it’s difficult is the road most of us will take—and we’ll likely be rewarded for our tenacity in doing so. But sometimes life has other plans. If writing isn’t what you want to (or can) do right now, don’t be afraid to set it aside for a while. This doesn’t mean you’re not a writer, and it doesn’t mean you’ll never come back to your writing. A decision like this should never be made lightly, but, in some situations, it may be the best thing you can do for both yourself and all the stories you will write in the future.

Writers write. But sometimes, when they have good reasons for doing so, writers don’t write. If you need to take a break—long or short—to let a story breathe or to let yourself breathe, then don’t hesitate to do so. Writing is an inherently instinctive and organic process. If your gut is telling you a break is just what the book doctor ordered, then go for it. Otherwise, get back to your desk and start hammering those keys!

Tell me your opinion: Have you ever decided to take a break from writing?

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in iTunes).

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s monthly e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

Email:
About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. For a very long time I was a casual writer, that is, writing more when the mood struck me. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be published but I let a lot of other things distract me, like television. Then I decided to get serious. Really serious. Since then the only breaks I’ve taken are to let a book breathe, and to take a vaca, as in, out of town (which if you can do it is just the best). I may take a day off here and there but I pretty much write every day now. My feeling is, I’m not getting any younger here…!

  2. Good for you! I don’t think it matters what age you are. There are always more stories than time!

  3. I’m coming off an extended break – the inspiration and my muse just went poof a few months ago. Lots of family stress and I buried my head in books instead of writing. Things are percolating again in the back of my brain and signed up for an online creative writing course to help me get back into it. By the end of summer, daily writing will hopefully be a habit, happy habit, again.

  4. I believe sometimes writers are fearful of success. They may need others to encourage or hold their hand as they work through each stage of a project.

  5. @Robin: There are some periods in our lives where we just need to push on through the exhaustion and the distraction. But there are other periods, when that exhaustion and sense of distraction is a clear sign that we need to slack off and give our brains a rest for a bit.

    @Show Host: And many of us are certainly fearful of failure. Fear, of either kind, is rarely a good reason to take a break. We need to work through our fears and keep right on going.

  6. I stopped writing for a period of about ten years. It just wasn’t the right thing for me to be doing at the time. For a while I thought that the writing had just been a phase.

    Then about two years ago I was suddenly inspired to start again. The words don’t come to me quite as easily to me as when I first started, but overall, I have felt that it is a lot like the proverbial learning to ride a bike. I can draw on my previous writing experience (which you really don’t ever forget) as well as the life experience I have had in those intervening years to add (hopefully!) more depth to the prose.

  7. Life has a way of surprising us. We never know quite what it’s going to throw at us. At any rate, I’m glad to hear you’re back at it!

  8. I took a Long break of almost ten years and I don’t even remembef WHY anymore. it wasnt until three years ago that i decided to take it up again and be serious about it. before that it was just a hobby and I never even considered letting anyone read my stories. Now I’m really glad I started writing again.

  9. Your writing will probably be all the better for that break. Sounds like maybe you just lost interest in writing for the time. It’s hard to invest the time and energy and enthusiasm necessary for a good story if we’re struggling with apathy.

  10. Over fifteen years. Closer to eighteen, really. Took a divorce to make me reevaluate my priorities and get back in the game.

  11. I gave up writing for a few years while going through a divorce, but the death of a marriage proved remarkably fertile ground for the sprouting of stories. Not that I’m recommending such an extreme sabbatical for anyone else.

  12. I 100% agree with the necessity of letting a story breathe. It’s amazing how much more objective you can be even after a short break. I also tend to have several projects on the go at once so that I can switch it up and not get bored with one thing. Recently when I broke my ankle, I didn’t feel like writing at all and I decided that was okay. As my body needed time to heal, I allowed myself this break from writing as well

  13. This really hit home for me. I stopped writing for going on three months because I found out I was pregnant again. Being pregnant plus having two other children has made me so exhausted and may brain is fried.

    I feel so guilty that I have not been working on my novel.

  14. Never let what other writers say make you feel guilty or fearful. Creativity must renew itself or the well dries up.

  15. I like this– I think it is terribly true! Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself AND your writing is take a breather. Live up some life– and then you’ll be able to spill life onto the page. 🙂

  16. I think I am addicted now. If I don’t write for a day or two I feel odd, as if something is slipping away from me. I have lots of projects, with my MG adventure series and my Regency romances. The longest I have not written is when we were moving house and my computer needed an upgrade. A month with no writing? It was weird. When I get back to a story I feel a deep sense of relief. Am I addicted???? (Gulp!) I do take breaks though, a day or so a week, or sometimes a few hours to run errands and do ‘stuff.’

  17. @szwrites: We all have to walk different life journeys. Some of us won’t be able to write our best work until life has put us through the wringer.

    @Trevor: Writing is such a cathartic experience. It’s no wonder it blooms when we’re going through difficult circumstances.

    @Tracy: Sometimes our bodies force us to take the breaks we need. Hard to argue with ill health, even on a temporary basis.

    @Pixie: Don’t feel guilty. Children are a responsibility and a blessing that easily take priority over writing at certain periods in our lives.

    @Julia: Absolutely. We’re all walking individual journeys. What’s right for one of us won’t always be write for someone else.

    @Rachel: I’ve tried to push through my writing in periods in my life when I probably would have been better off taking a break – and the stories have suffered for it.

    @Fiona: I go crazy when I have to take breaks. Even when I know they’re for the best and my writing will be the better for it, it’s still like pulling teeth.

  18. My dream, like so many others, is to be an author. A few years ago, for a period of maybe a year or two, I just had no creativity, but I felt bad not to write. I think if I just took a deliberate break, it would have helped me. But it’s a relief now to hear you say that extended breaks don’t mean I won’t become a writer! I may need to remember that again somewhere down the road…

  19. The frist 53 years of my life were my extended writing break. Now I need to catch up! 😉

  20. @Erika: There’s a huge difference between not writing because you’re lazy or scared and not writing because you just flat out need the break to regather your creativity and energy.

    @Mariam: I have a feeling you won’t be taking any more breaks from now on!

  21. It is HARD taking a break from writing… come to think of it, I’m sure if I’d gone a day without writing something, whether it’s a comment on a blog, an entry of my own, a status update or some short sketch. It’s a mean of self-expression and a way of clearing the cobwebs out of my head.
    Regarding the actual writing of stories and such, it’s harder to get the motor started most days than it is to stop it. When that spark happens, I keep going until I say everything I need to say about it. But in the time when my writing was more frequent, I’d usually step away from writing anything for a couple months until I either get another idea or I’m so bored without writing anything that I just start on something new.

  22. Very true about it being harder to get the motor going than to stop it. It’s funny that it’s so, since we know that once we do get going, everything is great. But sometimes just getting over the hump of that first paragraph is the hardest thing we’ll have to do all day.

  23. Loved the post, dear! Thanks!
    Actually, I left writing for years and now it´s like I want to write everything in a row. I guess, I will do everything in it´s own time.
    Hugs,
    M.

  24. I was ill recently and fell behind on a load of stuff (my schedule is pretty tight, so the smallest dent has an effect). I let myself off writing for a couple of weeks so I could use that time to catch up on other stuff.

    But oh, the guilt! It will drive me back to it if nothing else will!

  25. @Meryl: Then it sounds as if you’re break was just the thing you needed. Without it, writing might be the last thing in the world you’d ever want to think about again.

    @Matt: Don’t think of it as guilt. Guilt is rarely constructive. Think of it as passion – or even compulsion. If we’ve got that driving force urging us to write, we’ll find a way most of the time, regardless the less than perfect conditions in our lives.

  26. good reasons to stop writing for awhile
    I’m taking several months off writing at the moment because of changes in job, location. I also want to allow myself to grow, to get my writing to the new level, so would like to absorb quite a lot of books. My voice will be changing …

  27. We have to live to be able to write, otherwise our voices stagnate in repetition and shallowness.

  28. Maybe yes, I´ve spent the last year thinking leaving it was unnecesary!

  29. Thanks so much for your lovely blog. Not surprisingly, I have “awarded” you a Sunshine Blog Award. See my article at The Starving Artist if you want to accept. http://devontrevarrowflaherty.com/2013/05/15/chain-awards-and-blogging-laurels/, or if you just want to have a good read.

  30. Miss Weiland,

    I totally agree that sometimes stepping away from the writing process is a good idea. Sometimes, working on something else results in a ‘Eureka!’ moment, wherein we suddenly see our story in a different light, or perhaps discover a different angle for our piece. Of course, one must make sure that the break isn’t too long. We might get too distracted by life and all its mundane things to come back to it. Great post!

  31. @bitter poet: Thank you so much!

    @Tama: We have to balance on that tightrope of maintaining discipline on one side and avoiding guilt on the other. It’s important to be realistic with ourselves. If we have a good reason to stop writing for a time, there’s absolutely no reason we should feel guilt over it. But if we *don’t* have that good reason, we have no business making excuses for ourselves either.

  32. It is so nice to read this article. At times I find it really hard to stop writing and let my story settle for a bit as I feel really guilty when I am not writing!

  33. In some respects, we should feel guilty when we *are* writing when we’d be better off letting the magazine sit. But then I think writers have enough guilt. 😉

  34. Great post. Wish I had it when I struggled with not writing — little babies, full time job —finally, I decided that I’d never write again, told myself that I was okay with that decision, felt relieved and ultimately soulless. Now I am writing again but doing it for fun instead of feeling the pressure of needing to churn books out. I’m rusty, but what joy. And the joy is what it’s all about.

  35. “Joy is what it’s all about” – couldn’t agree more. We’re often so driven by this need for “success,” in its many manifestations, that we lose sight of that basic joy. But success doesn’t always equal happiness. We have to be aware of *why* we’re writing and keep our priorities focused accordingly.

  36. Hi K.M.

    I’m a workaholic and often feel guilty if I allow myself a break, especially as many people don’t consider writing to be a ‘real’ job. But as you point out so perfectly – writing cannot be a job that’s done without a well deserved rest.

  37. I fall squarely into the workaholic camp myself. But burnout is dangerous. I’ve learned to take necessary steps to prevent it whenever I feel it threatening.

  38. Glad to see you enjoyed my article from The Writer. Keep writing…and taking breaks.

  39. I did! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  40. Every once in a week, I start to have that day when writing gets impossible. So after reading this post and evaluating my current routine, I have decided to make a day off in every week. All other professions have weekends, why don’t we too? Since we are bosses of ourselves?
    From now on, Friday is my day off (Just decided it out of blue)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I always take one day off per week, and I blog another day. So I technically take two days off from my fiction every week.

      • Cool…
        I always have difficulty organizing a time to blog. That’s why its growth is so slow. But I can’t take it from my writing time. Since I share net with my neighbors who believe that internet router also need rest like humans. So I decided instead of agonizing and complaining (without any results) it is better I just make this time to write.
        That’s exactly my writing time.

  41. Your article was quoted in a Hubspot article by Neil Patel!

    Am I glad I stumbled upon your brilliance or what! WOW – thank you for giving me this much needed reminder that, sometimes, it is okay to NOT write in order to write better! #HUGSS

    Kitto

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Cool beans! Thanks for letting me know.

      • Thank you so much for this post. This is totally the permission I needed to stop writing for a bit. I am working on a novel (my first) and I went strong on it for about 4 months and now I’ve had certain things come up that I’ve had to stop and deal with (health concerns and 2 deaths in my family). It seems the stress from this has submerged my creativity and the ideas just aren’t coming. I use submerge because they literally feel like they are just below my surface and I just can’t seem to access them now. Hoping this mini-sabbatical I’ve now decided to take will be just what I need.
        Thanks again!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Blog post on when to stop writing by K. M. Weiland: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/2013/05/5-reasons-you-should-stop-writing.html […]

  2. […] Every time I take a break from writing, I bounce back – always – with more enthusiasm and a flow of ideas about my writing life. Apparently I am not alone in believing that self-induced writer’s block is beneficial to the writing life. Some bloggers and writers have written about the benefits of taking a few days off from writing, citing the renewed vigor one experiences after taking a break from writing and the spontaneous flow of new ideas after a long respite from writing; explaining why it’s useless to pressure yourself to write when you can’t, and offering five reasons why we should take breaks from our writing regimen. […]

  3. […] lot of us probably do so when we finally put to bed a solid draft of a project. It’s good to walk away for a bit, take a breather, and approach the work with fresh eyes before doing a serious edit. That’s […]

  4. […] okay! It’s good to explore and take risks with your writing, but it’s also good to know when something you’re writing isn’t working for you. If you’ve tried one—or all—of these steps and your piece still isn’t working, shelve it. […]

  5. […] okay! It’s good to explore and take risks with your writing, but it’s also good to know when something you’re writing isn’t working for you. If you’ve tried one—or all—of these steps and your piece still isn’t working, shelve it. […]

  6. […] Another gem of advice puts it like this:   […]

  7. […] Another gem of advice puts it like this:   […]

  8. […] not the point). We need to make pauses in writing – sometimes long ones. Why? I’ve figured several reasons for […]

  9. […] 5 Reasons You Should Stop Writing – Helping Writers Become Authors […]

Speak Your Mind

*