Defeating the Guilt Monster: How to take breaks from writing4 min read

by Aug 11, 2017Writing0 comments

Writing is not a 9 – 5 job.  That’s part of why we love it.  But it does cause problems.  I mean, why aren’t you writing now?  Why are you reading this?  Why did you take time out to make a sandwich, or see your friends?  Or pee?  All of that is prime writing time, and now you feel the GUILT.

Yes.  You should be writing.  Writers must write.  But just because you can fill all your time with writing, doesn’t mean you should.  But how do you combat the overwhelming guilt monster telling you to put down the Lego and get back to the laptop?

One of the best ways to silence the guilt monster is to remember the benefits of taking breaks.  Even if we ignore the health benefits of reduced eye strain, lower stress, and relaxation, there are benefits to your writing too.

For starters it can improve your perspective on your story.  I once spent most of a day writing mad action sequence after mad action sequence.  It wasn’t until I took a break and came back to the story that I realised my heroine had lost her father on page 2 and had no reaction for the next five days.  That was a massive mistake to go back and fix, especially as I’d written pages of material that was, in some cases, not salvageable.

If you take a proper break (you can even set a timer to assuage guilt), then you’ll come back to your laptop ready to jump into the story again.  If you just stay at your laptop trying to write you’ll waste more time checking Facebook and Twitter than you would taking a real time out.

Breaks are when you are more likely to come up with the next great idea.  There is some neurological basis for this.  Two main brain “modes” you can switch between are “diffuse” and “focus”.  Focus mode does what it says on the tin.  You attack a problem head on.  Xgfp is stuck at the top of the space castle on the space rock.  She has a tooth pick, some gummy bears and a dead space racoon.  How does she get down?  Think, people.  Focus.

Focus mode puts a lot of pressure on you and it doesn’t always work.  Lots of problems can have answers you arrive at from a more lateral position.  And that’s where diffuse mode comes in.  While we do other tasks, while we daydream, while we look like we’re not doing much, certain regions of our brains are working through problems and coming up with solutions that seem to have come out of nowhere.  But it’s not magic.  (Sadly.)  As your brain meanders loosely around a problem it can form connections to other free-floating ideas that your focussed brain would logically ignore or outright reject.  There are so many ideas that focussed thinking would has never come up with.

So take your tooth pick, gummy bears and dead space racoon.  And take your breaks.  It’s good for you and it’s good for your writing.  No guilt.  End of discussion.

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