Do you want to know a top-secret writerly secret that only writers know? Writing is hard. And not always in a fun, challenging way. A lot of the time it's simply really effing hard, in that way that kind of eats at your soul and erodes your self-confidence and makes you question why you chose to inflict this misery on yourself in the first place. But somehow, you are even more miserable when the misery of writing is absent from your life.
Even so, there have probably been and will continue to be times in your life where writing is simply too much to deal with. And you know what? This is OK. I've hurled all sorts of nastiness and negativity at myself whenever my creative output has dropped off for any significant period of time, no matter what the reason. I've branded myself as a failure, or a quitter, or someone who just doesn't "have what it takes."
But despite these dire predictions, I always start writing again. And although the first couple of weeks back can feel a bit like running an obstacle course on a low-gravity planet while drunk on schnapps, once I've gotten past the initial hump, every single time I've come back a stronger writer than I was when I "quit."
So don't give yourself a hard time if you take some time off — whether it's on purpose or just an inevitable side effect of life. Time off isn't always procrastination; it can even be productive. Here's why:
Sometimes You Need To Work Really Hard At Something Else For A While
By "work at something else," I mean that 100 percent literally. Some writers are fortunate enough to make a living off their writing, but a lot of us aren't, and even those who got there eventually usually didn't start that way. It's taken me years to be able to earn even some income by writing, and most of my money still comes from other things. And sometimes, if you're going to pay rent and buy groceries, those other things have to take priority. Sometimes you'll be able to fit your writing in on the evenings and weekends, and other times it will just be impossible because your other obligations are eating your life. It sucks, but it's adulthood. And in the meantime you're probably experiencing new things and meeting new people, which will give you more to draw from when you can turn your attention to writing again.
Sometimes You Need To Just Live Your Life
Maybe your nightmare, soul-sucking mess of a job has calmed down a bit and suddenly you find yourself with actual free time. Holy crap, free time. In the past couple of months you've used this exotic luxury to start three new short stories and you're so so so motivated and then holy crap, it's suddenly spring (remember what spring feels like?) and people are drinking outdoors and going to concerts and your boyfriend wants to go camping and suddenly writing sounds a lot less appealing because HOLY CRAP, there is ACTUAL SUNSHINE happening on the regular. Remember what sunshine feels like? Oh my god, weather that is warmer than 50 degrees. I want to weep just thinking about it.
So you know what? Don't stay indoors and write all summer. Buy a cute dress. Go to the bar. Flirt. Take that cross country road trip. And tell the little voice in the back of your head that's all like, "You should be writing right now, self" to STFU because sometimes you deserve to have fun and not feel guilty about it. And while you're out there living, you're gathering observations and experience and energy that you'll bring back to your writing.
Sometimes You Need A Break From The Madness Of Your Own Mind
If you're starting to feel like your ideas are stale, or you're bored by the sound of your own voice, you're burning out. This is OK and normal, but not a productive state in which to write. So get some distance from yourself. Go out and do more living, and less thinking. Read some writers whose work is nothing like yours, or see some movies — listen to other voices and get lost in other people's minds for a while. When you're moved to pick up the pen again you'll come back with a firmer grasp on what makes your point of view specific and different, and what you can contribute that those other voices might be leaving out.
Sometimes You Need To Let Things Live In Your Subconscious For A While
This is the great rule of revision in particular: stepping away will allow you to see your work with "fresh eyes." If there's a particular project you're having trouble with you can work on something else for a while, but sometimes the issue is a bit broader and requires you to take some distance from all writing activities. For example, your brain has become desensitized to a stylistic problem that pervades your writing, or there's a broader thematic issue at play in all your current work that you can't quite bring into focus. Stepping away for a couple of weeks or even months (deadlines permitting) allows you to consider your own writing much more objectively, which will lead to literally instant progress.
Sometimes You Run Out Of Things To Say
This may feel like a huge disaster, because how can you be a writer if you're not bursting with fascinating and worthwhile ideas every second? But this isn't a failing, it's just a side effect of life, or another form of burnout. Once, when I was giving myself a really hard time because I hadn't felt compelled to write in a few months, a mentor said, "Well, you'll start writing again when you have something to say."
At the time this was too vague to be encouraging and sounded like code for, "You're boring," because that's how I felt about myself. But he was literally 100 percent right. So once again, just live your life and do things you find interesting and stop freaking out. You'll encounter people and ideas, and you'll learn things about the world, and you'll change, and because you're a writer you'll suddenly feel the urgent need to process all this stuff by writing. And you'll come back to your craft with even greater urgency and conviction, because you'll be driven not by a sense of obligation, but by the need to say something.