Writing takes a lot of perseverance. Sticking with a story until the end, juggling revisions on top of daily life, sending query letter after query letter, managing rejections…until finally the perseverance pays off.
It’s always easier to give-up, to just say “I’ll get ‘em next time.” But we know of so many writers’ stories where they pushed on for years, never giving up, and their time came. That’s what we always hear too, isn’t it? “Your time will come,” and perseverance can’t help but ask, “When?”
I think it would be easier for me to talk about how important perseverance and persistence are because in writing communities they’re just sort of staples—we know we need them, but that doesn’t make the process any easier. One of the things I think writers have the hardest time with is this: relaxing.
Before I really dive in, here’s this caveat: sometimes, you just can’t relax as fully as you’d like. There are a lot of different circumstances that affect people in different ways, and thus, the way they can relax. I’ll be approaching this from the idea of writers… well writing, and feeling like they can’t stop.
With the emphasis on persistence, it can be difficult to justify taking a break. One moment, it seems like you haven’t been writing for an eternity and, suddenly, because of that you’re a failure as a writer. The thought process (at least in my experience) moves from failure to, “I better write to make up for all those words I missed the day before while I was being a failure!” Obviously if a friend came and said this exact thing to us we’d say they’re wrong, but it can be extremely difficult to say the same about ourselves.
Because of that negative voice in a lot of writer’s head (imposter syndrome heyoo), I think it’s so incredibly important to learn how to relax. It’s not something that comes naturally to a lot of people and we have a lot of associations with relaxing and laziness. “I didn’t write for three days, I’m so lazy” or “I have to stop being lazy and actually write something, I’m so behind.”
The main difference between not-writing and (actually) relaxing is your mindset. “I should be working but I’m watching Netflix—wow I should really be working, oops next episode” versus “I’m only going to pay attention to this YouTube video and ONLY this video for the next 10 minutes.” What I think the latter statement is missing is the guilt of not working.
Guilt is a tricky thing to shake off, which is why I truly think relaxing is a learned skill. When I was in graduate school, I had to train myself to focus on something fun like a YouTube video for the allotted time. I had to allow myself to only focus on that relaxing time and not feel bad about it.
I found that when I took a break, I was able to recharge and refocus on my work. Grad school was stressful enough without beating myself up in the process, and this goes for writing as well. When it comes to writing, I’ve talked about letting scenes simmer before. Honestly, it can be extremely difficult not to beat yourself up when you’re having a bad writing day, week, month. But just like in grad school, nothing good ever came from beating myself up about it. Always without fail, the moment I relax and stop berating myself is when that breakthrough I needed finally arrives.
Relaxing and taking a break do not mean that you’re lazy or not a real writer. In fact, taking some time, whether it be ten minutes or two weeks, can actually help your productivity. I’m not here to tell people HOW to relax, but rather to try to. Taking a few breaks or not writing for a week doesn’t mean you’ve given up on your book, or that you ever will. It means you’re not letting your persistence run out—after all, you need it!
So if you’ve been wanting to take a break, but haven’t known how and need that extra push: Do it. Take that break, you’ve earned it.