Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Rest ≠ Failure

I'm about 29,000 words into a rough draft of a book. I love the characters. I know the overall story arc. I love how it's coming together. And I'm stepping away for the moment.

I've reached point in this draft where I feel like I'm banging my head against a wall. It's not that it isn't working. It's that I'm burned out. My creativity has run dry and the words I'm dragging out of myself are uninspired.

So I'm taking some time - maybe a few hours, maybe a few weeks - to take the pressure off my brain and let myself rest.

Guys, I can't stress this enough: taking a break is not the same as giving up. Rest is not failure.

Repeat after me: REST IS NOT FAILURE.

This is a lesson I'm still learning. Even after I've hit this place time after time after time, I still want to be productive every minute of every day. If I have a spare moment, I should be writing. I should be cleaning. I should be doing. Go, go, go! 

This is so, so not healthy.

Purposeful rest is probably the single most important thing you can do to boost your creativity. Get up from your desk. Walk away from your computer. Leave your house/coffee shop/office. Let your brain shut off and just breathe.

Purposeful rest is not a waste of time or a waste of potential. It's a vital part of the process. Go for a run or climb a tree or take a pen and journal and do some free writing someplace you always mean to visit but never do.

Pretend you're a tourist in your hometown. Visit a museum or eat a restaurant the locals avoid. Take the time to notice the things that make your location special.

Leave your cellphone in your bag and listen to the world around you.

Do whatever it is that make you feel alive and whole and refreshed.

Let go of the guilt, let go of the compulsion to constantly pursue productivity.

This draft isn't going anywhere. When my brain resets and inspiration strikes again (as it always does), I'll be ready to sit down and finish Abby's story, giving it the kind of focus and energy it deserves. In the meantime, I'll be giving myself and my family the kind of focus and energy we deserve because in order to be the best writer I can be, I must be the best human I can be and that requires rest.

Do you have any tips for finding rest? Any ways to let go of the guilt that comes with it? Any stories about what happens when you don't? Kick back and relax for a while in the comments!


  1. Needed this right now. Yes, yes, yes! (Also, HUGS). <3

  2. Thanks, Jenny! I really needed this :-) It's so hard to just stop, you know? It's so hard being a mom and a wife and a writer and working and everything else that goes along with all of it; family dramas etc. With so much going on, it's no wonder writing loses it's zest. So I applaud you for saying something, and I am taking it to heart.

  3. Yes, I definitely think everyone needs to take a break sometimes! I saw Laurie Halse Anderson speak once and she said authors need to "fill their creative wells" by taking a break from writing to take in art in whatever form inspires them (music, paintings, other books, tv shows, whatever). So you do whatever you need to do to feel inspired again!

  4. Fantastic post, Jenny. As I said on Twitter last night, this just happened to me last week. I got notes back from two of my most trusted CPs, and felt SUPER overwhelmed. So, rather than jumping in to changes, I sifted through the notes and took out the ones I wanted to use. Then, I set it aside. Because there were problems I didn't yet know how to fix. For a whole week, I didn't work on the novel. Instead, I thought about it a lot. I read a book. And during my designated writing time, I picked a few SNIs I'd hidden away and wrote some short stories. These helped SO MUCH. It was a quick way to get the satisfaction of finishing something and knowing it's good. It totally boosted me. Plus, it's still writing. Last night, after more thinking and research and looking through my notes, I finally jumped back into revisions. And it was fun again :)

    Sometimes we just need a break, and that's okay.
    We need to remember that.

  5. Love this, Jenny. ((hugs)) to you for doing art right! Sometimes it's not about slogging through no matter what. Sometimes it's sooo much better to step back and take care of yourself first.

  6. Completely agree! Being burned out is different than a writer's block, IMO. With a writer's block, one mote of inspiration can break down that wall.. but when you're just burnt out, you're burnt out, and -- at least for me -- it takes longer to heal.