I am such a huge proponent of taking breaks that sometimes it gets in my way. Sometimes a weekend break turns into a week break, and then expands into a whole month. I think it’s worth mentioning that I have been working on developing a strict routine and being more disciplined when it comes to writing, but that does not diminish my love and enthusiasm for breaks!
When people talk about developing routines, working in breaks is always a really important part of that. You need to let your brain disengaged so new ideas can flow in uninhibited. It’s similar to the rest periods you would take when lifting or training for a marathon. But they talk about breaks in smaller terms, like an hour or two in your day. I’m talking about whole days or weeks!
After I finished a draft of something, I put it in a drawer and forget about it for about a month, usually. During that time I like to take a full week off from writing and catch up on reading and TV shows I love. Then I’ll work on new or other projects I have going on. Throughout all of this I will always have ideas come to me for the draft I have on the back burner. Many new thoughts pop into my head — new plot ideas, changes to characters, solutions to annoying problems, etc. I write those all down, but I keep my eyes off that locked away draft. Then, after the draft has cooked for a while in my mind, I will go back to it and dive into another round of revisions. I cannot stress enough how helpful this is for me.
But longer breaks are also helpful during drafting and revising. Don’t take a full month off in the middle of drafting, obviously, but a day could be very beneficial. I usually try to write every day and approach the first draft of something (my Garbage Draft, as I call it) with the attitude that I just want to get it done. I just want a fully completed version of this idea down on paper, and I don’t care how bad it is, so I don’t usually take any breaks. I just plow through. But while revising I’ll allow myself breaks. That happened to me last week.
I’ve been aggressively revising my Garbage Draft of the manuscript that I wrote for NaNo last November. It has so many problems that I’m literally throwing out more than 90% of it and really diving into the story I want to tell. One of my biggest issues is my ending. It’s kind of a big climax with a physical fight and struggle, but the emotional resolution is severely lacking. I’ve been trying very hard to figure out what I really want to happen here, and where my characters should really bring the story, but today I was stuck. I was also exhausted. Working a day job and getting up early to write and then staying up late to write can really wear on a person. So this morning I noticed that I had hit a wall, so I decided to just let the day go. I wasn’t going to be very productive anyway. I listened to some music and day dreamed for an hour before work instead of writing.
Jump to work. It was Friday, which generally means it’s slow in my office. I was sitting at my desk, staring off into space, drooling, when I suddenly got zapped with inspiration. I realized that my ending blew because my peripheral characters and antagonists weren’t very well explored. I didn’t know them as well as I should. So once I realized that little detail it didn’t take me long to figure out what their real goals were and why they put my protagonists into the position they were in. And through all of that I came up with one brilliant idea. One spark of genius that I am so proud of. And just like that, my exhaustion melted away and I felt excited to jump back into revisions when I got home. So I guess last Friday didn’t really end up being a day off, but that’s kind of the point.
If I had pushed myself and forced out (bad) ideas, I would be stuck with something that still didn’t work, not to mention that I would have been too stressed out and disappointed to allow the big realization slip into my brain at all. The moral of the story is that having a strict routine is very important, but knowing when to back off and give yourself a day to think is incredibly important as well. But don’t abuse it! You still need to get work done. But don’t push yourself too hard beyond what you’re capable of at the moment (unless you’re on deadline). Basically, don’t run on a sprained ankle.