Sometimes Great Beginnings Start with Stops

I’ve been writing for many years. If you want to be very specific, the first creative work I specifically remember making of my own accord was a three-page poem about wolves that I wrote in the third grade. I kept going after that, writing predominantly for fun until I suddenly found that writing was an excellent way of processing everything going on in my life as well.

I didn’t start seriously writing novels until the year after I graduated from college. In the months leading up to writing that first manuscript, I wrote basically nothing. I had been depressed with difficulty in finding a job (Yay, Millenials!) and deciding whether I wanted to pursue graduate school to become an English professor.

For years, I had written nearly every day, but over this span of arduous months…

I stopped.

And from that stop came a new beginning.

Since then, I’ve drafted six novels in about the same number of years, steadily improving from quaint narratives that seemed fun to a story crafted in the style of Indigenous oratory mythology featuring a teen trying to decide who they are amidst a world full of people with countless expectations. (To those familiar with my Iri, that last one will sound familiar.)

I’ve written a thousand poems, too, in margins or texts to myself or actual dedicated notebooks that I lose sometimes.

What’s my point?

Maybe we don’t need to be so hard on ourselves when we take a break.

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Crazy, I know.

Burn-out. Fatigue. Exhaustion. I’ve seen them a million times. I’m sure that by the end of this week (I’m drafting this on a Tuesday), I’ll have seen at least one person posting about it on Twitter, asking if it’s okay that they haven’t written in an hour or day or week.

Of course, it’s okay.

Stopping is not always failure. A lot of VERY famous and wonderful authors have quotes about the merit of “writing every day.” I’m not here to dispute that. And I’m definitely not here to encourage your (or my) procrastination.

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Don’t be like Mabel. Well, be like Mabel, but not when it comes to procrastinating.

The point isn’t to stop writing when it gets hard or you don’t know the solution to a problem. Often, the best and only solution to writer’s block is to keep writing anyway. Even though it may be bad. Even though it feels icky.

Stopping as a way of avoiding our challenges only makes those challenges seem more imposing. Before long, you can create a scenario where you never write at all, even though you have all the talent and ideas in the world. The mountain you’ve created seems so vast that beginning anew feels pointless.

I’m not advocating for that.

What I want you to consider are the occasional breaks from creative output that we ALL need to settle back into who we are. These may be evenings goofing off. Or a week away. Or a month spent pursuing something completely different. The usage of the “stop” matters less than how you approach it.

What matters most is that you commit to yourself that you’ll come back. The fine line between learning from defeat and giving up is whether you’ve chosen to try again.

Life is complicated. Being creative adds more complication, especially for those that use their creative works to tangle with difficult topics. It’s normal and healthy to want a break. To need a pit stop amidst all this goingoingoingmorefollowersmorewordsmorechaptersmoreEVERYTHING.

To summarize this rambling, I’ve been consuming a few books recently about the video game industry and the effort that goes into game development. The making of Stardew Valley certainly aligns with these ideas. A single developer devoted himself to the work over the course of years, and regularly found himself drowning in a growing frustration with the process until he took time to step away. To catch a breath.

A word I hear a lot in these books is “grit,” meaning a dedication to a goal regardless of setbacks or obstacles. Many people celebrate grit, and I agree that it plays a huge role in the successful pursuit of dreams.

But remember that grit doesn’t mean you can’t take a break every now and then. Grit does not require you to make yourself miserable for the sake of word count or imagery or “showing-not-telling”.

And remember: (if you’re not a full-time creative writer yet) your day job is not a break. So don’t do that, “I’ve been working all day, that’s enough of a break from my creative output, so it’s time to write for 12 straight hours before another shift.”

That’s burning the candle from both ends and also putting it in a microwave. Be kind to yourself.

If I’ve learned anything from my journey so far, it’s that everything comes with time and practice. The harder I am on myself, and the more I give in to that feeling that I will never be enough, the worse of a writer I am.

So every now and then, take a break. Try to see things for what they are rather than what you think they might be.

As a character says in a lovely TV episode named “The Visitor”: “Well, I’m no writer, but if I were, it seems to me I’d want to poke my head up once in a while and take a look around, see what’s going on. It’s life. You can miss it if you don’t open your eyes.” You can miss it if you never blink, too.

Take care of yourself. I’m rooting for you.

Thanks for reading this rambling return to posting more regularly. Also, apparently, a return to alliteration. I’d love to hear what you do to take breaks from writing. As you may have guessed, I love to dip into gaming as a way to unwind. How about you?

Answer in the comments below or find me on Twitter: @Dreamertide

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