Knowing When to Take a Break

20 Jun

by Susan Dennard


As some of you may know, I took a break from the internet for 1.5 weeks. No, I didn’t completely leave the internet behind, I just stopped tweeting and only answered emails of Absolute Importance (e.g. from my editor or agent! Okay…and my mom).

I needed that time off–like desperately needed it. My brain was at a breaking point from using precious time each day to answer emails, to answer blog comments, to write blogs, to maintain twitter conversations, etc. Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE doing these things. In fact, I’d way rather do all that instead of my work…

And therein lies the problem. My heart wasn’t in my writing.


You read that right: my heart wasn’t in my writing! But it took me a week long internet break to even figure that out. You see, it wasn’t the Internet and all you amazing online friends that were keeping me from my work.

It was ME keeping me from my work. So during my internet break and without the usual culprits to distract me, I still wasn’t getting any work done!

Now, I’ve talked about when forcing your story is bad or when the solution to a writing slump is BICHOK, but this was different.  I wasn’t forcing SCREECHERS or SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY–I adore both those stories!  And no matter how much I sat down and BICHOKed each day, I wasn’t making a whole lot of progress…  As you can imagine, I was really scared I’d lost my writing mojo forever.

And then I decided to take a drastic measure: stop working.  For two full days, I was going to give myself the luxury of not doing any work.  I read, took bubble baths, watched crap TV, and read some more.

You know what?  It totally worked. At the end of the two days, I came back to my computer completely revitalized.  Or, at least, I was able to focus… My heart, though, still wasn’t in the work–which was, at this point, SCREECHERS.

And so now I’ve decided to take another drastic measure: work on something completely different.  I don’t like not finishing what I start–not when I still adore the story.  But at the same time, the quality of what I’m trying to force onto the page…well, considering I wrote one scene, rewrote it, and then rewrote again and am still unhappy with it, I’m kind of wasting my time.

So for the next two weeks, I’ll focus on other important things–other books, my blog, etc.–and after that, I’ll try BICHOKing SCREECHERS again.

And who knows?  Maybe inspiration will strike again during that time.  Either way, just the prospect of this other-stuff-break has lifted my mood enormously! 😀

What about you? Do you ever need a break from a particular story or your work?


Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

19 Responses to “Knowing When to Take a Break”

  1. linda June 20, 2011 at 3:51 AM #

    Welcome back, Susan! Glad to hear that you feel better after your break. 🙂 I can relate to that feeling of being stressed out about something I’m working on and being frustrated about my lack of productivity. Telling myself to take a break and chill out totally worked for me, too. Once I stopped putting so much pressure on myself, I felt way more motivated to work on it again. Hope you feel more refreshed and inspired after working on other things!

    • Susan June 20, 2011 at 4:00 AM #

      Thanks, Linda!! I am absolutely THRILLED to hear you had such luck once you chilled out–yay! I think you’ve hit the nail on the head: it’s about taking pressure off yourself. Once you do that, the motivation and focus seem to come back in droves!

  2. Carradee June 20, 2011 at 8:31 AM #

    I’m still in the new-ish stage to this writing game (my number of novels with a draft completed don’t yet number a dozen), but I’ve noticed that when I get stuck like that, the issue ends up being that something’s wrong with it. Maybe the scene is going the wrong way, or someone acted out of character 2 scenes past—but something isn’t right.

    Just a thought. 🙂

    • Susan June 21, 2011 at 6:56 AM #

      Um, I’m not even close to a dozen either!! In fact, I’ve only written 3 full novels, and only one has been fully revised (SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY)! 😀

      You’re so right that sometimes we get stuck because an aspect of the story is off–that has definitely been an issue for me. For SCREECHERS, the novel is finished…I’ve just lost some of my enthusiasm for all the revising! I need to set it aside for now, work on other creative projects (and all the “business” aspects of writing–of which there are SO many!) until my enthusiasm returns.

      Thanks for the suggestion!! ❤

  3. Meredith June 20, 2011 at 8:50 AM #

    Great post, Sooz. I can relate to this (as I’m sure can most writers). We’re human, after all, and no one is able to focus on one task all the time. It certainly can be scary to take a break from a project—because GAH, what if I can never pick it back up!—but sometimes you just don’t have a choice.

    • Susan June 21, 2011 at 6:58 AM #

      Um, YES. That’s been my biggest fear–“what if I don’t pick it back up!?” I’m hoping, though, since the book is written, that this break will just help me recharge my story-love. 🙂 I took a multi-month break from SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY when I was revising it (actually, it was exactly 1 year ago that I picked it back up to work on again!), and it was exactly the “medicine” I needed.

  4. Ladonna Watkins June 20, 2011 at 10:46 AM #

    Great post. It is ture I think as a writer you need to step away and doing something else for a bit.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Susan June 21, 2011 at 6:58 AM #

      Definitely true, Ladonna. Sometimes doing anything else helps! That’s partly why I take daily walks–just to clear my head. 😀

  5. Linds @ Bibliophile Brouhaha June 20, 2011 at 11:57 AM #

    Wonderful post! I don’t write, as in I don’t write for a living. I just maintain a book blog, and I love writing reviews (I get very personal with my books). However, sometime in early April, I lost my appetite for it and simply decided to take a break. It was the best thing I did! Even though I feel like I am catching up a little now, the time away really gave clarity on how I wanted to run my blog. Reading’s a must, but blogging’s a hobby. I have to keep it interesting for me to continue with it.

    In short, I agree with you – thanks for the post!

    • Susan June 21, 2011 at 7:00 AM #

      It’s true that we wind up with that “catching up” feeling! I always think, “Gah! I could be done now if I hadn’t taken that break!” But ultimately, time off helps us (as you say) “keep it interesting”. If we have the luxury (i.e. no deadline!) to take time off, then there’s really no reason not to! Better to step away and not start hating your story/blog. 😉

  6. Ellen June 20, 2011 at 12:04 PM #

    I’m totally in that position right now. My current WIP is going nowhere fast, and I’m not sure whether to blame the subject material or my motivation. I may have to try taking a break from it for a little while, because right now everything I’m putting down on the page is crap.

    Good luck on your break-taking or new writing projects, and I hope you get your mojo back soon!

    • Susan June 21, 2011 at 7:01 AM #

      Good luck, Ellen! I hope it’s just motivation, but if not…well, if it doesn’t fit, don’t force it! 😉 I also hope your mojo returns soon. 😀

  7. Amity June 20, 2011 at 12:05 PM #

    I used to feel guilty for abandoning a project, but there isn’t reason to! Sometimes you have a lovely story which your writer’s self isn’t ready for yet. I started my WIP in 2009, and I was totally in love with it…but it was hard. It tackles some serious issues and isn’t a romance. The ending isn’t my normal happy ending. It’s a sad book tinged with hope. I wrote 60K yet couldn’t finish it, and finally I had to stop beating myself and I put it away (I spent MONTHS forcing my butt in chair & going in circles).

    Now it’s 2011. I’ve finished two other books. My writing has matured enough to do this novel some justice. The love I had for it never died. It is STILL difficult to write. It’s going to be a nightmare to revise. But I needed my writing to be two years older to get the subtlety right.

    If SCREECHERS is in your heart, you’ll come back to it. And it will be great when you do, because it will finally be time for that book. In the meantime, write the words and the stories that will someday make SCREECHERS possible!

    • Susan June 21, 2011 at 7:03 AM #

      Aw, thanks, Amity! ❤ You're so right that if the story is in our hearts, we'll come back to it. I do love SCREECHERS, but right now–as you say–I'm not doing it justice. And your story…well…WOWZERS. You already know how amazing I think it is!! I'm so glad you're working on it again!! 😀

  8. Lara Dunning June 20, 2011 at 7:11 PM #

    All last week was so busy and then I got sick so needless to say I did no writing. Part of me felt guilty, but part of me felt relieved. I need time to think on the next step for my character. It’s always good to break the “write everyday” rule once in awhile. Sometimes I feel I’m so bombarded with technology. It’s at my job, at my home, on my phone, on my tv. It’s never ending. So sometimes you gotta put on the breaks and just not do any of it . The sit back and remember the good ol’ days. LOL

    • Susan June 21, 2011 at 7:04 AM #

      Absolutely, Lara! The technology bombardment can really wear us down! And I’m glad to hear someone else with a “write everyday rule” is taking a break! I feel a lot less guilty about it–and more sure that I’ve made the right choice. Admittedly, I’m still writing, but just not on what I had expected to be writing in June!!

      And sigh…the good ol’ days… 😉

  9. hannahkarena June 20, 2011 at 10:27 PM #

    I need a break from stories all the time. I do best writing down everything I can think of about a new story idea, leaving it alone for awhile, writing the first draft of another story idea, and then returning to the first one. In that space of time I’ve usually gained enough objectivity to revise, expand, and continue writing the first story with renewed energy.

    • Susan June 21, 2011 at 7:05 AM #

      Wow! What a crazy yet intriguing method! It’s so not something I would normally try, but…I kind of like it! Since I’m working on something else, maybe that’s exactly what I’ll do–write this new first draft and then go back to SCREECHERS after.

      Ack, so cool! Thanks for the idea! 🙂


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    […] by Susan Dennard ~~ As some of you may know, I took a break from the internet for 1.5 weeks. No, I didn't completely leave the internet behind, I just stopped tweeting and only answered emails of Absolute Importance (e.g. from my editor or agent! Okay…and my mom). I needed that time off–like desperately needed it. My brain was at a breaking point from using precious time each day to answer emails, to answer blog comments, to write blogs, to ma … Read More […]

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