A Writer’s Break

By Susan Malone

We all need them. But odd advice, no? When the prescription is usually write, write, write. Read, read, study, learn. Write, write, write.

And nothing is more important than the above, no? But once you’ve finally finished that novel or book-length non-fiction, and hopefully have sent it off to that developmental editor, taking a break from writing follows next.

Working with a true editor takes time. And the very best thing you can do at this point is to forget entirely about that work, and inhale long and deep. And not a drive-around-the-lake kinda breath, or a quick trip to Starbucks. Nope, now’s the time for an extended one; a place for your mind to cool a bit from the frenzy and let the chaotic miasma unravel and come back to rest.

Otherwise—and I promise you this—you’ll maim the baby on the page. This is where writers so often tell me they want to revise the manuscript one more time even though they’re unable to process the words and find themselves doing some version of paragraph one above. But they just can’t let go, can’t back away, are afraid everything is not exactly right and if that’s the case, the writing police will find and cite them for some awful unforgivable infraction. Yep, the root of all this is fear, and fear such as this does not accomplish one good thing.

Writers freak at this extended break! Eight entire weeks? Of not working? And I know I have just sprouted horns in their images of me. But, in a word, yes. Once you’ve devolved to circling your brain with words you don’t remember knowing, that break is mandatory.

I always take this time to just read. You know—all those books and stories you’ve been meaning to get to but haven’t had the time? The perfect antidote for not writing is reading great books. Of course, in my world, that’s pretty much the perfect antidote for everything up to and including a nuclear holocaust, but that’s another story!

Or see all those friends/family who’ve been wondering if you still exist or have literally become a vampire since you’re never seen in daylight and your skin’s turned ghostly pale. You know—those folks you ostensibly love and who’re now doubting that fact.

In other words, go play. Take a cooking class. Hike Mt. Everest (okay, you’ve ostensibly just done that, so maybe scale back to the Appalachian Trail) Let your creative psyche decompress and heal and remember what joy is. Partake of life and all its abundance again, and feel the gratitude that comes with that. Which is exactly how you dispel the guilt piled on by the demons of writing who crucify you for not working. Being grateful shuts them smooth up.

Because when the time comes to dig back into rewrite and revision, when the novel editor sends back your manuscript dripping in red blood, with a critique that reads like a mini-book, you’re going to need your resources. Being fresh, feeling strong, champing again at the bit to dive back into book development will serve you in more ways than I can count.

And the funniest result of your extended time off? When you get back to it, your subconscious creative mind has actually been working all that time, and what bubbles up from there is better, stronger, more wonderful and delightful than you ever thought you could write. Now, that’s something be thankful for.