Ask Jami: Do I Have to Take a Break from Writing?

by Jami Gold on October 9, 2012

in Writing Stuff

Newborn baby with text: Does This Mean Goodbye to Your Writing Time?

As I mentioned in a recent post, people ask me for advice. I’m sure this would drive some people crazy, but I don’t usually mind it. I can be a very opinionated person, and I’m willing to share. *smile*

When I get a great question I think could help others, I feature it in an  “Ask Jami” post. Today, I want to share my answer to a new mommy who’s finding it impossible to write.

Whether we’re a parent or not, or a mother or a father, sometimes life drains our writing energy, so I think many of us can relate to her situation. By the time we’re done with our day job, taking care of our family, and maybe extra schooling or other activities, we can be too exhausted to write. We’ve all learned to deal with that problem occasionally, but what happens when it’s a longer-term issue?

What if we’re a new parent, and we’re looking at months—if not years—worth of poor sleep and limited time? What if layoffs at work mean we’ll be working double for the foreseeable future? What if we have a whole semester of a heavy load of classes?

We fight for free time for our writing, but when we sit down at the computer, our brain can be too fried to concentrate. We miss writing, so we don’t just want to set it aside, but we’re falling behind on our writing goals. And then we’re frustrated about missing those goals. In cases like those, we can get downright depressed by our inability to write.

Three Tips for When It’s Impossible to Write

Here’s the advice I gave to the new mommy, and maybe these tips can help us all:

  • Take it easy on yourself.

When we can’t write because we’re insanely exhausted, we need to realize that this isn’t about us losing our writing mojo. Our ability to write will return when we get some sleep. So don’t stress about that “inability.” It’s not us. It’s our lack of sleep.

We can take the pressure off ourselves to get a certain number of things accomplished. Instead of creating word count goals, think of writing time as a reward for surviving the day.

  • Expand your definition of “writing time.”

Explore what writing we can do. Feel like brainstorming a completely different story? Do that. Feel like writing out an interview with a character? Do that. Feel like looking at pretty pictures for where our story could take place? Do that.

In other words, this is our reward time, so we can do what we feel like doing, not what we think we should be doing to get back on track. The forward movement and accomplishments will come, so we shouldn’t feel like we need to force them.

Besides, if we take the time to work out miscellaneous details (rather than going for word count), maybe the word count will come faster, later, because we’ll have all that information at our fingertips. Just because our activity isn’t getting-words-on-a-page writing doesn’t mean the time is wasted.

  • Change your writing process.

When we’re exhausted, our brain tends to be scattered and we can’t focus. Because of that problem, we might need to temporarily change up our writing process.

If we normally write linearly (writing scenes in chronological order), but our brain isn’t working in a straight line, then we’re making it harder on ourselves by sticking to our usual process. We’re asking our brain to not just focus on writing, but to focus on this one specific scene that it wasn’t thinking about, so now it has to refocus, and gosh, that’s just too much work. *smile*

Instead, if our brain is thinking about a scene from the end of the book, write that. Sure, we’re not there yet. Who cares? When our brain is scattered, we should write whatever it is focusing on so we’re working with it and not against it.

And if all that doesn’t help, remember that our lives are made of seasons. Right now might not be the best season for writing, but that doesn’t mean “writing season” won’t come back around. During our time crisis, we need to focus on what we can do instead of beat ourselves up about what we can’t do.

Has life ever gotten so crazy that you had to take a break from writing? How did you handle it? Do you get frustrated or depressed when you can’t write? Have you used any of these tips before? Do you have any tips to add?

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9 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Tamara LeBlanc October 9, 2012 at 9:30 am

Lately I’ve taken a break from writing. You know what’s going on in my life and to put it mildly, it’s been tough to concentrate.
But recently, this past weekend to be exact, at the Moonlight and Magnolia conference here in ATL, I got some amazing news.
I’m now agented.
YAY!!!
So, even though things have been rough, I’ve realized I MUST get myself toether and start writing again.
I love your advice. That new mom is a lucky girl to have thought to ask you fo a little help.
Have a great afternoon, Jami!!
Tamara

Reply

Jami Gold October 9, 2012 at 9:46 am

Hi Tamara,

Yay! Congratulations! *hugs* You must tell me the whole story, my friend. 🙂

And I hope this advice helps you and others in addition to that new mom. We all know that sometimes getting back into gear is the hardest step. Honestly, for most of us, if we can use these tips to get moving again, the writing–the real writing–will come back as well. Many times, it’s the frustration holding us back in addition to the lack of sleep, so exhaustion alone doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker for our writing. (In fact, if I let my subconscious muse take over, my voice is often stronger when I’m tired. 🙂 ) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Marcy Kennedy October 9, 2012 at 12:46 pm

I’m not a mom yet, so I’m probably not qualified to give advice on how to write with young children around, but I do know about working extra hours to make money and about being brain fried at the end of the day 🙂

My suggestion during those times would be to set aside long fiction and try writing some short stories instead. If you’re only able to write 100 words a day, you’ll still soon have a story finished, and that’s going to be a great feeling. Plus, once you polish it, you have something you can actually submit to a magazine for potential publication or enter into a contest.

Reply

Jami Gold October 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Hi Marcy,

Exactly! We all know what that “brain fried” feeling does to us. 🙂

Thanks for sharing your tip! Yes, sometimes we can’t wrap our brain around a long story, but we could manage a short one. We’ve heard the advice to break things into smaller chunks, and that’s the fiction version of the advice. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Laurie Evans October 9, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Feeling very fried at the moment. Don’t have a new baby, but family things are very hard & stressful at the moment, I need to give that my full attention. Gave myself permission to take 5 days off, and I even feel guilty about that! One more day off, then back into it. I have to say though, that some of my best ideas/planning come during days off, when I’ve let things simmer for a bit.

Reply

Jami Gold October 9, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Hi Laurie,

Great point! Yes, sometimes letting that frustration or guilt or whatever negative emotions go lets us brainstorm more easily. 🙂 Good luck with your situation and thanks for the comment!

Reply

Renee Schuls-Jacobson October 9, 2012 at 5:21 pm

When TechSupport was born, I just kept journals. Thank goodness I didn’t know about blogging in 1999. Because even though he was a good sleeper, I was kind of a basket case. As some of you know, my computer crashed in August and I lost everything.

Because I didn’t have anything backed up.

I know, right? Dumb.

Besides losing my non-fiction manuscript, I lost my 400 page fiction WIP and a lot of blog posts. Including guest posts people had sent me. All my photographs, contacts…you get the idea. I cried. I seriously cried. For days. I was paralyzed. But then I looked back at some old blog posts and realized I had some good stuff there. Stuff I’d never followed up on. It inspired me to write the continuation pieces while I waited for my new computer to arrive. It also gave me time to rethink my blog. Its mojo. I decided to devote mysf to one quality post per week. That works for me. And I can be happy if I am more productive.

I know some people say you HAVE to put out 3 posts a week, but — frankly — that was putting me on the fast-track to Burnoutville.

So I’m kind of glad for the crash. Okay, not really. But I’m glad I had time to take a break and think. And wrote with my hand, the way I used to.

Reply

Jami Gold October 9, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Hi Renee,

Ugh. I still can’t hear about your story and not stress at the thought. 🙁

But you bring up a good point. Sometimes when life forces us out of our habits with bad stuff, we find something good in the wreckage. A new understanding, a new priority, a new commitment…something. And sometimes a break can help us come back stronger than before. *hugs* Thanks for the comment!

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