The Importance of Taking Breaks

I’m an all or nothing kind of person. I like to be busy, I’m always open to learning new skills or trying new things, and I’m usually working one more than one project at a time. Boredom is a rare and unsettling feeling for me, because I always have something that I know I could be working on.

I’m also the kind of person who can over-work myself without even thinking about it, who tackles just about everything with the same intensity and perfectionism, and who really, really sucks at dialing back the work and taking a break.

It’s strange. My default state definitely tends toward laziness in a few important ways. I’d rather lie on the couch with a book than get up and go to the gym. I sometimes cancel plans or refrain from making them in the first place because the logistics of said plans–who I’m meeting, and where, and how long it takes me to get there, and how much effort the trip will be–are too exhausting to bother with. When I was in school, I loved the freedom of empty summer days stretching ahead of me. I’ve always enjoyed travel because leaving my responsibilities and my stress at home is intoxicating.

But in my day-to-day life, I’m terrible about penciling in time off or giving myself permission to leave empty days on my planner and just not DO so much. And that really needs to change.

I’ve gotten a lot of my energy and motivation back in the last year or so, and the place where those changes are most noticeable to me is in my writing. I still struggle with turning off my inner editor, and I still have to give myself a good, solid kick in the pants before I can sit down and start drafting anything. But the words are flowing more easily than they have in ages, and I’m flush with too many new ideas and possible projects to juggle at once. It feels great to see progress in my work, and great to be working, but progress also makes it really hard for me to stop.

Many of you know that I’ve been revising¬†Facing the Music, my YA contemporary MS, for a number of years now. I’ve seen more high points and low points, productive spells and dry spells than I can even keep track of in the story, but more and more often I’m noticing that the dry spells appear because I’m burnt out. I’m either doing too much or pushing too hard, or trying to meet impossible goals because I feel like I have to. And all of those things make it hard for me to stay engaged and motivated.

So, what’s the solution here? For me, it was making the decision to only work on any of my projects as much as I feel like working on them. If I can’t stomach revising, I’ll draft. If I’m struggling with drafting, I’ll revise. If I need inspiration, I’ll read a book or watch a movie or listen to some really excellent music. Occasionally, I’ll unplug all together and let my stories rest while I do something else.

Last week, my BF and I took a long weekend trip to a place we both loved as kids. I left my laptop at home and I didn’t write¬†for four straight days. I hiked and played games and got outdoors, and I came back refreshed and rejuvenated and ready to get back to work.

Knowing that I’m allowed to take days off is one thing. But feeling like I can take days off and that everything will be okay has made all the difference in the world.

What about you? Are you good at taking breaks, or do you struggle? How do you make the most of your down time?