November is over, and for many writers, that means the end of National Novel Writing month. With so many of our community members coming down from the massive writing sprint that is the month of November, and with all of us heading into the holidays, it seemed like the perfect time to talk about choosing to take a pause – but not to quit.
It only takes a glance down my Instagram feed to see that a lot of my friends are struggling with momentum. I’m seeing a lot of NaNo participants feeling burnt out, querying authors dealing with that game of emotional ping pong, and all around a sense that the days are both shorter and more full.
So in the time when the world seems to get hectic, it’s easy to set aside our writing, particularly if we devoted a lot of energy into it recently. And personally? I think that’s perfectly fine. As a working mom, taking a pause is not only helpful, but often necessary. But it’s taken me years to figure out how not to let a break turn into a full blown hiatus.
So how to pause, and not quit?
In the past my burn out came early and often, because of a lovely little tendency to push myself too hard. Burn out breaks were the toughest to come back from; I felt like I was failing when I took the time away I needed. Those feelings fed that pesky imposter syndrome monster, and the time away from my work in progress only grew longer with my doubts.
So my first tip for the proper pause? Self-correct before you burn out! A long-term writing strategy looks different for everyone – finding yours is key. If you are working long hours and chasing kiddos, your time to devote to your writing will likely look nothing like the time of, say, your friend who has gone full time with their writing. And that is okay! Your life is unique, your time is precious, and you cannot give more than you have. The adage that you can’t pour from an empty cup is a good one. If you’re starting to feel like your schedule has you fraying at the edges, take a long look, and cut back where necessary. Maybe your word count or time goal is too much in this season of your life; alter course, and avoid the crash and burn.
If cutting back isn’t cutting it, or if you find you’re lacking inspiration to drive the story forward, a full pause may be what you need. It’s okay to give your manuscript time to breathe! This is suggested often in between drafts, and for good reason – we need space and time to look with a critical eye on our own work. This, too, goes for when you’ve lost the story. Sometimes you need to step back in order to see the path forward. Don’t beat yourself up over it (don’t feed the imposter syndrome monster!) – give your creativity the break it needs, but do it with a plan.
What has worked for my tired brain in the past is simple, though it took me a while to figure it out. First, and most important: I set a limit to my pause. Maybe it’s a week or two, maybe a month, maybe it’s a set event I know I need to get through before I can devote time back to my work in progress – I choose a date and physically mark it on my calendar. By that date, I promise myself that I will return to my WIP, and see if I’m ready to get back in front of the story.
The other tip for this time off? While you’re making sure not to feed the imposter syndrome monster, do be sure to fill your creative well. Feed your creative creature? Insert appropriate silliness here – but the point is, do things that help to keep your brain in a creative place while you allow it rest. Read! Watch movies and
shows you enjoy. Make art in other ways. Stay creative, even when resting, and you’ll be less likely to stray too far from your own creative goals.
Personally, when it comes to reading during a writing pause, I like to break genre from my own. I find it refreshing. Sometimes I’ll reread, which I find relaxing, and also allows me to note things I love about the books I keep returning to. And often enough, a funny thing happens. After a little while away from my genre and my work, when I can breathe and focus again... I suddenly can’t get my story out of my head. Scenes start popping up in my brain willy nilly (and usually when my hands are wet, as with all the best ideas). Plot holes fill themselves in. The path forward is suddenly clear. And just like that, I’m ready to
dive back in... usually well before that looming date circled on the calendar.
So if you find yourself feeling over-stressed, a burnout looms, or your creativity is waning – maybe it’s time to take a pause. And that’s okay. Hopefully these tips will help you take a break on your own terms. Just don’t go away for too long – the world needs the worlds you’ll create when you come back!
Do you have any other tips that help you to pause, but not quit? We’re all so different, and no one’s brain works in quite the same way. I’d love to hear what works for everyone else!
Be kind to yourselves this season, friends. Read good things. Write better ones. And remember... you’re not alone. We’re all on this crazy writing journey together. And I couldn’t be more grateful.
Meet Kear Anne Simmons
Kear Anne Simmons is a writer from southern New Jersey, who is working on finishing her first complete novel. Complete, because she has started several throughout her life, only to discard them like loose socks who could not find their pair when she realised they weren’t the stories she was supposed to tell... at least not yet.
She is a mother to a sweet little pixie of a toddler, a wife to her video game-loving soulmate, and they all share snuggles with a cuddly black dog named Chance and a possibly part-demon but oh-so-lovable black cat named Jynx. When not toddler chasing, she can be found curled up writing or reading, hoping for a good thunderstorm. Find her on Instagram @kearbetweenchapters and on Goodreads.