When to Take a Break from Writing

BY CHELSEA ENNEN • June 27, 2024

When to Take a Break from Writing

The only thing you need to do to be a writer is write. 

It can be hard for most people to fit writing time in, though, especially if you’re a parent or have a busy day job. Most writing advice focuses on getting up early in the morning to write before your kids are awake or closing your office door to write during your lunch hour. 

Depending on what stage your manuscript is in, the work of writing can change. When you’re sketching out your ideas, writing might look like free association scribbling as you hash out plot ideas and characters. When you’re deep in the drafting mines, writing looks like cramming in as many words per day as you can manage. When you’re editing, writing looks more like, well, editing. 

But is there ever a time when a writer should stop writing? 

You Just Finished a Manuscript

You did it! You climbed the mountain, completed the marathon, crossed the finish line—you wrote a book. But not just that. You wrote, rewrote, edited, rewrote and edited again, got notes from test readers, and edited one more time. Now you’ve made the call that it’s time to put your pencil down. 

What to do next? Take a break! 

Finishing a big project is an important time to take a break. Even top-tier athletes take some time to rest after the Olympics, and giving your mind time to recover will help your creativity in the long run. 

Take that writing time and use it to work on sending your book out to agents, or think in very vague terms about what you might like to work on next. For bonus points, take a few books off of that TBR pile.  

You’re at an Editing Crossroads

The whole point of sending your work out to multiple readers is to get multiple perspectives. But sometimes those perspectives are so different that they’re leading you to write two different books. Maybe one reader thinks that if you fleshed out the romance a bit more, then you’d have a compelling romantasy story on your hands; but maybe your other reader thinks that you have an ensemble cast that, with a few direction changes in your plot, would make a great crew for a heist. 

This kind of big-picture feedback would most likely be coming your way after you’ve hashed out a first draft and are asking for some initial thoughts. Later on in the process, everything will be much more solid, and for anything that’s not, you’ll have more gut feelings on which direction you should go. 

But a first draft is a natural time to take a step back if you’re getting dramatically different suggestions of where to go next. Take a break from your story, consider the options in your mind, and when you come back, one or the other will naturally seem more appealing to you. If you just keep digging into the writing, you’ll likely end up trying to make all the changes at once, or you’ll agonize over whether you made the right choice. 

You’re Changing Genres

Let’s say you’re a dedicated domestic thriller writer. Always have been, always will be. At least, until you started that high fantasy doorstopper your friend has been begging you to try. Sure, you only flipped through the first few pages because you were waiting for a library hold to come in, and that copy they gifted you was just sitting there. But a few days and a few hundred pages later, you’re hooked.

Now all you can think about is dragons, your mind is swimming with magic, and you can’t stop drawing alternate fantasy world maps on cocktail napkins. 

Before you start a new epic fantasy draft in earnest, take a little time to do some deep reading. If you never read The Lord of the Rings, now would be a good time to check it off your list. And then you’ll need to bring a big box over to that friend’s house so you can borrow all their other contemporary fantasy favorites. 

Making a dramatic genre change is an exciting time, and it’s also a perfect moment to pause writing and focus more on reading. There’s nothing wrong with playing around with character sketches and plot ideas, but you’ll find that reading more books in your new genre will help you come to the page with better ideas for a more serious attempt at a full book. 

You Need a Break

Writing is hard work. We do it because we love it, but we love it the way that athletes love lifting weights or performers love the stage—it’s rewarding, it’s thrilling, but it’s impossible to do it all the time. And what’s more, the breaks you take will help you come back better than before. 

If you’re craving a break, that’s reason enough to take one. It won’t be long before you crave your fictional worlds again, and you’ll preserve a positive relationship with your craft. 

Chelsea Ennen is a writer living in Brooklyn with her husband and her dog. When not writing or reading, she is a fiber and textile artist who sews, knits, crochets, weaves, and spins.

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