Taking Writing breaks, especially when you don't want to
Hey PubCrawl readers! Happy Friday! I'm here today to talk about writing breaks and giving your creative soul time to recharge, complete with craft links (at the post's end)!!
I am a big fan of taking breaks. I am also the world's most stubborn person.
I've talked about this a bit here before, but 2016 was a really rough year for me. I had been querying for a few years at that point. About a book a year. I kept receiving comments from agents etc that made me know I was so close. Around that time I was also an editorial assistant and my work was really taking off…taking off in that I had a lot of it... I had also just come out of an long relationship, which made me even more prone to dive deeper and deeper into my writing and my job. I'm already super Type A and that was the year I also became a workaholic.
Not to mention, I think it’s so easy for us, as writers as creative people to just go go go all the time without stopping. We have all of these goals and ambitions and living the creative life is hard enough as is, so many times we work so hard because our output is often the only factor we can control. Before I knew it my anxiety was off the charts. I'd all but abandoned all the steps I’d taken re: mental health in previous years. All I did was work. And yes, sure, writing is fun. But, writing can also be work. That said, writing, for me, was not paid work.
So, in order to better control the rest of my life, I did the scariest thing I’ve ever done--I stopped writing, for most of that year.
Before that decision was made, I hit a really low point.
Like I said, I’d been querying for years and I didn’t understand why I didn’t have an agent. I knew SO MUCH about the business...about publishing, especially kidlit publishing. But, the rejections remained the same: great premise, meh execution (nicer than that though, haha). I was writing across multiple genres, age categories...I was a versatile, creative writer. What was going on?
Well, as I would learn, what was going on was that I was 1) incredibly busy and 2) a horrible reviser.
In that near-year that I took off, I did not produce a novel. But, I loved writing then as much as I do now so I went to conferences and read a bunch of craft books and got to know other NYC writers and read a bunch of books and did a lot of editorial work in my job. That said, I considered 2016 to be a failure and when I entered 2017, I was reinvigorated to make myself a published author.
Fast forward to this year. I have an amazing agent who gets my work. Aside from Pete stalking me online, haha, that happened because I took a risk and abandoned another project I was working on that just wasn’t right for me and decided to really go after something ambitious. And in going after that ambitious project, I realized 2016 wasn’t a failed year. I did some of the best craft work I’ve ever done.
I leveled up.
I pinpointed every single weakness in my writing and I aimed to fix it. I started doing a bunch of freewrites and honed my writer voice. It was then I realized I had been writing the wrong voice all along/had been too busy trying to mimic others. I recently, accidentally while looking for something else, found two chapters from an old fantasy manuscript of mine. It was the project I had started in 2016 and never finished and those two chapters needed work but the voice, oh my god. See, I had the skills all along, I just hadn’t honed nor did I have the confidence I do now. I was too busy chasing everyone else. Too busy trying to get an agent, trying to get published by x age, trying to set these unattainable goals and labeling myself as a failure when I didn’t reach them that I wasn’t listening to myself and what I wanted. I also, via diving into editorial work, became a much stronger reviser. Through reading submissions and writing rejections for my bosses, I learned to pinpoint what about a story wasn't working and how to fix those elements.
It is only now that I realize 2016 saved my writing career. Even when there are bad days, days where my CPs have to talk me off from deleting my drafts, I still know deep down that I have the skills to pull the story off. My writing break gave me back my confidence. Confidence I had when I was just starting out, because then writing was pure fun vs. a means to an end (a book deal).
Now, fast forward to earlier this week. I found myself in a really low point. Not because my book is terrible, but because I simply haven't taken a break from working on it in a really long time. I effectively burnt my own self out. So, at the urging of those wonderful writer friends of mine, I took a break. And as I do whenever I take breaks, I try to return to "Origin State Patrice," the writer who just loved writing. Not deadline focused Patrice. Not editor brain Patrice. Just Patrice the girl writing for fun, the girl who was so mad dude love interests weren’t turning their girlfriends into vampires that she wrote girl-led vampire fiction before it was cool (yes, I’m that nerd). This break won’t be a year. I don’t need a year break and also I love my story too much to step away for that long. But it will be as long as it needs to be for me to to remind myself what I love about my book and to read some craft books and have fun. Because, I'm a craft nerd and that's part of what I love most about being an editor. I am learning that I'm not someone who can write or revise every day. I need time in between, days off to read craft books, to read for fun, to binge watch The Crown (omg I finally started this year and I'm so obsessed), and just to live my life and have fun without guilt.
The thing is this: as writers, it is our JOB to work on our craft. I want my debut to be ambitious. I want every word to have its place. I want every book after that to get significantly better. In think it was Susan Dennard who said that she uses each book as a mini craft workshop. Even though she’s often on deadline she tries to really critically look at each book she’s written and find a way to level up. I love that, it's so important.
Don’t be so worried about selling your book now and getting an agent that you don’t produce the best book you can. That you burn yourself out and don’t take breaks. Take ALL the breaks you need. (Side note, if you're an unagented writer: find an agent who gets that. My agent is always reminded me to say no to doing ALL THE THINGs and it's wonderful to have someone like that on your team.) Lean on your writing friends for support, champion and celebrate them vs. only being concerned about your own work. In the end of the day, it’s you not your book that matters more because without you, there is no book.
In closing, here are some fun links and books I’ve found/often return to on said breaks.
Chuck Wendig's guide to creating characters - I love how stripped down this is, really gets at the heart of who characters are
K.M. Weiland's post on Character Wants vs. Needs
^I adore both these blogs, but these posts especially.
John Truby’s Anatomy of a Story – just started reading this, it’s my read for this break. Recommended by Susan Dennard and Akshaya Raman. As they’ve said, it’s a bit detail heavy but definitely a great solo storytelling workshopping tool.
"Therefore & But" rule - This was recommended to me by my agent, and it’s one of my favorite storytelling / revision devices.
Malinda Lo's Five Foundations of World-building - As a plus, peep Holly Black's rules for magic mentioned within...so good.
For the Murky Middles
Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell - I used to hate middles and wanted to get better at them, this helped to reframe my thinking on middles, on how important they are, a ton
Some Favorite (Critical) Reads
Image Music Text by Roland Barthes. I know it's theory/literary criticism, okay I'm a nerd. But, hear me out. This essay collection is amazing and includes "The Death of the Author" which is something I cite in nearly every editorial letter and think about when revising. It's ever-relevant when it comes to thinking about reviewers interpretations of works and how a work should be able to stand alone and apart from the author. I have this book because I enjoy some of the other essays, but you can probably find "The Death of the Author" online
Dracula by Bram Stoker. Yes, Dracula. I love all things Gothic. Go read it. It’s so good. And Stoker’s use of language, I die ;)
For General Tips
My Resources for Writers page (collection of links from around the internet, I need to update this with new ones...)
Susan Dennard's For Writers page
(P.S. shoutout to Shveta Thakrar, Karen Strong, and Akshaya Raman for always being there to lower my stubbornness <333)
Have you taken writing breaks? Any craft resources you'd recommend?