27 June 2012

"knowing when to leave": necessary breaks (from writing)

Given yesterday's post regarding the hectic nature of my summer schedule, I am so happy to be focusing this week's personal update on the topic of taking necessary breaks from writing. Let me start by saying that sometimes, we writers need to take a break from writing. 

Let me say that again:

In case you missed it ... Sometimes, we need to take a break.

"i won't cry, i won't cry ..."
The other day as I was sitting and looking at my editorial calendar, I found myself stricken by an unexpected, almost inexplicable, urgent need to cry. I managed to fight off tears, but I started to ask myself: Why? Why, suddenly and seemingly out of the blue, did the prospect of writing a blog post, and an article, and work applications, and poems, and editing a novel, make me want to put my head down and sob?

"let me break it down like a fraction for you ..."

In my mind there are three reasons for an experience like mine, which basically amount to this:

1. Overcommitment. Sometimes we as writers overextend ourselves. Sometimes without knowing it ... sometimes knowing full well what I'm doing. Sometimes I find it so hard to say "no" that, in my mind, the only alternative, is one too many "yes"s. 

2. Fear of commitment. One of the big paradoxes of my life (particularly my writing life) is that I love schedules and plans but I hate routines. I hate the point when it feels like I'm doing things by rote, especially when it comes to things I write. For many writers, reaching the point of "writing as habit" is a point of sheer dread.

3. Foolish commitment. I was just discussing the other day with a fellow writer our mutual tendency to say, "I'm going to do this." We had both committed to what amounted to 10+ part series on our personal websites, despite both knowing that we'd get either frustrated or annoyed with that series after approximately ONE part of it. Don't get me wrong ... every seed I sow into this site is sown with love. It's just that sometimes I realize I have foolishly grabbed a bag of seeds instead of a handful, and the sowing process begins to involve hurling the seeds into the ground. Taking up tasks we, as writers, don't really enjoy is a huge threat to our writing lives!

"knowing when to leave ..."

My dad introduced me to Dionne Warwick's version of Burt Bacharach's "Knowing When to Leave" some time ago. The song is pretty obviously about knowing when to give up on a relationship or a bad spot in your life, but I think the lyrics "Knowing when to leave can be the hardest thing that anyone can learn" applies pretty well to the writing life, too. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting we as writers just drop all our writing and call it quits. But maybe I don't need to pressure myself to post a particular blog post. Maybe I can write one poem instead of the ten I told myself I'd write. Maybe instead of saying "I'll write for an hour," I can say "I'll write for ten minutes, and if I get the urge to keep going, so be it." 

Maybe it's okay to leave well enough alone, even when it comes to writing words.

Think about where you are as a writer. Have you reached the point of needing to take a break? Don't be afraid to schedule some "me, myself, and I" time. (And hey, if you feel even a little guilty about it --- which you shouldn't, but if you're like me, you might --- just think of it as time you're spending gathering great ideas and insights for later writing!)


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Check out these previous Personal Update Wednesday posts from Our Lost Jungle:


  1. Yes, that's my untrained dalmation side. i bound up to people, into ideas, projects and think "sure i can do this," hmmmm; re-evaluate; love to all who check in and to you;

    1. I love that, the "untrained dalmatian side" ... There is something seemingly so impossible about turning down those great opportunities that present themselves!

  2. Isn't it funny how we overcommit and overextend ourselves then wonder why we are overstressed?
    Giving oneself a timeout is crucial. One of my mentors kept telling me that even when I'm not writing, I'm writing. Your brain doesn't turn off. You are constantly thinking, ruminating, living. Then you can go back to the page.
    Great post, Khara.

    1. Great comment, particularly the thoughts on the fact that one's brain "doesn't turn off." I love that thought that even when we're not writing with a pen, writers are actively engaging in the writing process!

  3. Most definitely. But then after a while you come back and you say, "shit, I really need to buckle down and write more." Sometimes circumstance forces you out of writing habits, and you get seduced by all of the other things in the world: but if you can force yourself back to the pen/keyboard, it's like falling in love all over again.

    1. So very true, Joseph. And ultimately that joyous reunion with the rush of "falling in love" with writing is so worth the wait!

  4. Who me? Of course, I'm guilty with coming up with solutions that bloom into an open field of possibilities...and hours of work. Does this feed my short term goals? My long term goals? My ego? My guilt? I try to weed out the ones that are yeses to only the last two questions. But I've surely got a basket full of posies left that need some rearranging.


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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