Tuesday, September 13, 2011

When to Give Yourself a Break

You might have noticed that after my last post, which was about sitting down in your chair and just banging out the words, I unexpectedly vanished for a week. Sorry about that. I'll try not to do it again.

Today's post, however, is on the opposite topic from last week's - there are times when we just need to let it go and relax and not panic about wordcounts, and I think it's important to recognize them.

Obviously, if you have a deadline hanging over your head - whether that deadline was issued by a teacher or by someone in the publishing industry - you had best get that stuff written, polished, and handed in. But I think we are incredibly hard on ourselves. Of course, we have to be, in some respects, but a lot of times I think writers are very unwilling to let themselves take breaks.

Writing is very often a matter of finding the time when there are only a set amount of hours in the day and twelve hundred things to accomplish. Whether you're squeezing your writing time in around homework, your day job, taking care of your kids, or some combination thereof, it's really hard. And it is important to squeeze in that time, because if we are serious about this, then there are some sacrifices we have to make in order to put writing in our top priority section.

But at the same time, we shouldn't kill ourselves over it. Between the homework and the extracurriculars, I do need to sleep sometime, and if I don't get enough sleep, my writing is terrible anyway. I do not write for myself every day - last semester, I wound up having one day approximately every three weeks when I had finished all my homework for the next day and allowed myself to write for a few hours. I don't really work well in snippets of snatched time, so being able to chunk out a few days like that worked. I got some writing done and I had a break from homework - I didn't feel guilty about neglecting something important because I felt like writing.

And even when I have ample time - over the summer, for instance - I don't write every day. I write far more often, of course, for hours and hours at a stretch, two or three days at a time. But there is only so long I can spend staring at my computer screen, pounding out the words in my tiny little closet of a bedroom, before I start feeling more like a machine than a person, and I need to do something else for a little while. I go on week-long reading sprints. I surf the internet ad nauseum. I go for walks, drag my friends to my house, get roped into watching Project Runway marathons with my mom and sister. And then I shut myself in my room again and start pounding out the words.

Obviously, this doesn't work for everyone, but I think we should all remember that it is acceptable to allow ourselves some breathing room. I don't think we should feel guilty because we don't eek out those words every day by getting up at dawn to cram in writing time before everything else starts to happen, or by staying up far too late after everything else is finished.

Everyone has a different method for working their love of writing around their lives. All I'm saying is that finding the time to write is important, but we shouldn't stress ourselves out about it too much. We have enough stress to deal with as it is.

How do you fit your writing life around your real life? Do you write every day?


  1. I try to write every day. It doesn't always work, but I try to. I've found setting goals makes it easier to write every day, or at least to get a certain amount of work done per week even if I'm not writing every day. That way it's more flexible to work with the other things I need to do in my life.

  2. I think putting pressure on ourselves can usually lead to big fat writing fails, so I try to go at my own pace (apart from in Nano, but that's a different story).

    So 500 words a day (minimum) is my requirement. If I don't meet it, no biggy, but I definitely feel better when I do. When essays and uni crap is due, I usually use writing as a procrastination tool, so more writing gets done :P

    Great post!

  3. Thank you for this post! Slowing down and giving myself a break is something that I'm completely horrible at. I write both YA (under this name) and romance (under a pen name), and I constantly feel squeezed for time, since I need to promote the books I already have available plus keep writing new ones.

    I usually set a goal of 1500-5000 words a day, depending on what else I have to do that day and how many projects I'm working on. I often have 2-3 projects going at the same time, though sometimes one or more of those is revising or publisher edits.

    I do tend to put too much pressure on myself, and I'm starting to realize that isn't a good thing. I've just missed two self-imposed deadlines, but since they were self-imposed, I don't feel too bad about it. I'm still meeting my publishers' deadlines, and I'm not stressing as much.