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When To Take A Break From Your Writing

The unstoppable force that is you and your writing have finally stumbled upon the dreaded immovable object: writer's block. Try as you might, you cannot force yourself through! The words do not appear on the page, and the screen is left a sickly alabaster that taunts you. You could employ techniques to smooth over this proverbial bump in the road:

Go for a walk!

Switch up the times in which you dedicate to writing!

Write other things!

Draw inspiration from whatever you're reading at the moment!

You could absolutely do these things and many more to get back in your groove. But let's pump the breaks here and ask ourselves another question: Should we?

It sounds sacrilegious for a writer to tell other writers they may need to put down the pen for a bit. I've always liked playing devil's advocate, though, so hear me out.

Writing is an amazing function of the human body. Writing something down fires certain neurons in our brain in specific ways and allows for stress to be released, our memory to become sharper, and our creative thinking skills to be expanded. Yet, those who write know that writing can often be frustrating! Searching for the perfect word, having a sentence flow well in a paragraph, trying to articulate your argument more clearly, etc., etc. These issues occur without fail, but you can't let yourself lose sight of why you write in the first place.

Writing is something that most do for enjoyment and use as a reflectionary tool (think journals and diaries), or to work through a complicated mix of emotions, be they sadness, anger, or even anxiety about the future. It is known as a cathartic hobby, with most of the authors of lore being incredibly problematic in other aspects of their lives and finding an outlet in prose (looking at you, Hemingway). But when the act of writing is the cause of your anxiety, it may be time to put the pen down for a while.

When writing becomes unenjoyable to perform, lacks your usual flair, is impeding your mental health, or otherwise takes away from your enjoyment in life, you need to take a step away. It doesn't matter if it's the first page of your new book, or the last page of something you’ve kept hidden in a closet for twenty years: if it is causing you to sacrifice how you feel about yourself ("I'm so pathetic, I've only written three pages this month"), making you question your abilities ("I'll never finish this story, should I even write anymore?"), or impeding your life with stress ("I promised myself I'd have the first chapter done by February and it's March"), then I would urge you to put your pen back in its holder and think about why you write to begin with. The answer to that question is deeply personal and as subjective as subjectivity gets, so it's okay if you need to take a long while to figure it out.

And while you're pondering, try not to think about what you haven't done; rather, think about your accomplishments. Think about that literary magazine that accepted your poem earlier this year! Think about that journal entry months ago, of that wonderful day where sunlight flooded your porch all morning and you had the day off.

Focus on what's gone right, and you may just find yourself on your way back to healthy, constructive writing that benefits your overall being.

Stammi Bene!


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