Most of the writers I know aren’t only writers. They work day jobs, raise families, do volunteer work, have a life that requires tending. You know how those everyday pressures are sometimes enough in and of themselves to make you want to scream. Add deadlines (self-imposed or otherwise), long hours in front of the computer trying to get that scene just right, lost sleep because you woke in the middle of the night with an idea that would not let you go, querying, fielding rejections and acceptances, and a writer’s life can get pretty demanding.
Clearly, it’s important for writers to take breaks, if nothing else just so they can stave off stress-induced freak-outs. At work. In front of others. Ugh. (Why no, that’s never happened to me. Blink, blink. Why do you ask?)
But there are other reasons, too.
When your brain is that overworked, it doesn’t function at its best. You end up trying harder and producing less. Mini breaks (and sometimes longer ones) are necessary to renew your drive and refresh the quality of your words.
Sometimes staring at a computer screen makes you forget there’s a world outside your WIP, one that you did not design. The Earth still spins on its axis. The sun still shines. Rain still falls. Birds still sing and grass still grows. Your city still operates. Stuff is happening all around you while you dwell in your fictional realm. Those real-world events and activities hold relaxation and distraction, as well as delights and surprises filled with potential fodder for new story ideas or prompts for your work in progress. You’ll never see them if you don’t come up for air.
Another reason to take a break is that the fiction market is ever-changing, which means you have to stay on top of what’s selling now, as opposed to last year. Time away from writing can be used to further educate yourself. Sign up for classes, either online or in your local writers center. No matter how long you’ve been writing, you know this craft is one you could build and hone for the rest of your days and still have a lot to learn. Perfection is a journey, not a destination.
A side benefit of taking classes in real space is the support network you inevitably build with other writers in your area. Those people know what you are going through. They share your pain and your joy. They get it. Online forums can offer this too, so if you don’t have real-space classes or groups in your area, check them out online.
You can also use your time away from the keyboard to read the work of others in your genre. But don’t stop there. Read other genres, too. You never know when you’ll come across something that will spark an idea for your own WIP, or that will help you figure out how to do that plot twist or character development you’ve been struggling with in chapter twenty-seven.
Read reviews of other works, ones you liked and ones you didn’t. Know what readers want and what they’re saying about the books that are out there. Write your own reviews. Being able to define precisely what worked and what didn’t in another’s story will help you do the same in your own.
If time is a big factor in your stress level, try setting a time limit every day. I saw in another writer’s blog one suggestion that this might help writers who tend to overwork themselves. Instead of struggling toward a word-count, set a timer and write for only, say, an hour, two tops. Write as much as you can, as best you can for that period, but when the chime sounds, stop. Get up from the computer and do something else. Next day, do it again.
Even if you live to write—and let’s face it, only those who love this craft would choose it willingly—take this advice. If you allow yourself to burn out, the joy of it may never return. No one wants that, especially your future readers. You owe it to them—and to yourself—to take a break.