Wednesday, October 7

Just Say No to Writing (When You Need to).

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

There are times in a writer’s life when writing needs to take a back seat to life. We have obligations, crises, or just too much on our plates to deal with and something has to give. Because writing is so important to us, we often feel guilty for setting our work aside, and push ourselves beyond what’s smart (or comfortable) to maintain our writer’s schedule.

For some, we’re up against hard deadlines and we have no choice but to struggle through it. An editor or agent needs our manuscripts, we have a release coming up, or we have events we must attend and prepare for. Or, writing is our main source of income. Much as we might wish we could, putting writing on hold is not an option.

But for the rest of us, there are no hard deadlines and our writing can wait until we’re better able to focus on it. Sure, we might want to keep writing, but it’s putting too much pressure on us and everything is suffering.

I’m in one of those times right now. It’s been a productive year and I have gotten a lot of work done, but it’s also been a year filed with scary family medical issues, multiple conferences and events, a tall stack of obligations (both personal and professional), and most recently, preparation to move to another state next month (Central Florida). I needed to set a few of my obligations aside before I lost my sanity.

So I turned in my last fiction project to my agent, and gave writing some time off.

Dealing With an Overly Full Schedule

When things get overwhelming, it’s okay to prioritize. Make a list of the things in your life that you need to do, want to do, and ought to do. List them in deadline order of “must do or else.” The stuff at the bottom? Ignore it unless you have time and everything else has been completed, or set aside a small chunk of your week to handle those items.

For me, social media is the first thing to go when I get swamped. I’m not a huge social media person to begin with, so letting it slide doesn’t make me feel guilty or like I’m falling behind. If you notice I’m not on Facebook much, or my Twitter links dwindle, you can be sure that I have a full to-do list on my hands. Email also gets triaged, and emails that aren’t timely or a priority might sit a few extra days until my designated “don’t forget these items” time once a week.

There are a lot of “writing” related tasks we can cut back on when we need to.

(Here’s more on cutting back while still getting things done)

Say No to Things You Don’t Have Time For

If you’re like me, it’s hard to say no when someone asks you for help, but you can’t do everything. If that favor is going to put added stress on you, it’s okay to say no. People understand when you’re too busy, because they’re busy too. Ask if that critique can wait, admit you can’t get to that blurb, skip that conference that you were iffy about anyway.

If the thing you don’t have time for is your novel, tell it no, too.

(Here’s more on taking a break from writing)

Scale Back Where You Can

There are some obligations we can’t ignore, but we can scale back a little and still maintain our sanity. Look for places where slowing down will help free up some time without abandoning something you really don’t want to put aside. And if that’s writing—let it be writing. There’s nothing wrong with cutting back on your weekly word count goals if you need some extra time elsewhere in your life.

I’ve temporarily cut back on the number of posts I do per week several times since I started this site, and you’ll notice quite a few more visits to the archives during October as packing and travel take priority in my life. The first week or two in November might be downright silent around here.

The Writing Can Wait

The writing will still be there after a break. That’s the beauty of writing, we can do it whenever and slide it into our schedules as we see fit. If we need to skip it for a month or two (or more), then it will happily sit in it’s box until we return.

I’ve not written a single word of fiction since I turned in my manuscript at the end of August. I did no writing beyond this site in September, and October will likely be a lot of re-runs. I have a few non-fiction projects I plan to finish by the end of the year, but (baring any unexpected edit requests from my agent) it’ll be January before I’m back to my novels. And that’s okay. Right now, fiction’s on holiday. Most of my writing is, actually.

Don't beat yourself up if you need a break from writing. Life happens. We get busy, we need time to deal with the unexpected, and most of all—we need a breather. If that has to come from your writing (and it’s not your main source of income), let it.

Have you ever taken a break from writing? Does a break sound good to you? 

Looking for tips on planning and writing your novel? Check out my book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. It's also a great guide for revisions! 

Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.

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  1. I'm taking a break from my WiP right now. I'm not happy with my level of skill so I'm taking the time to do writing exercises in hopes of bettering my writing proficiency. It means I'll probably have a set my deadline back but as you pointed out, that's flexible -- at least for me.

    1. Sounds smart. Take some time to work on your skills, so when you go back to your WIP, every session will be more productive and produce better writing :)

  2. Thank you for the validation! It's difficult not to beat myself up between long pauses of writing. I'm glad I'm not alone.

    1. You're not, and I did the same thing for a long time. I'd feel so guilty if I wasn't writing, even though I knew it was just making me miserable and I needed the break.

  3. Excellent, excellent post. I can't completely stop writing because it is how I earn my living (along with editing), but I've really had to let social media go this year. I had family emergencies and health issues, and I just couldn't keep up. It's been a struggle to not feel guilty about it, but when I look at it objectively, social media is what I could let fall by the roadside without any series repercussions.

    1. That's exactly how I felt, too. There's only so much we can do in a given day (or week). I have a set of things on the "if I have time this week" list, and now when I get a few of them done, I feel ahead, not behind.

  4. Love this, Janice. So validating!

    1. Thanks! Took some time to get here, but I feel better for doing it. :)

  5. Thak you for sharing this excellent and affirming post. I too have had to deal with unexpected medical issues and during one episode, it took me away from writing for close to two years. boy, did I struggle with guilt. My WIP has sat on the shelf longer than it should, but I've finally learned to listen to my needs and those of my family first. Thanks for sharing and being such an inspiration.

    1. Most welcome. Writing is a wonderful thing, but not when it takes over our lives in a negative or detrimental way. Do what you need to do to be healthy and happy, and then add the writing. :)

  6. I've found no way to not feel guilty when I'm not writing. At it's worst I feel deep shame, which makes me feel worthless.

    The war I seem to wage these days is against the idea of tying my self-worth to my productivity. To somehow be okay with incremental movements towards my goals.

    It's a work in progress.

    1. It really is, and I struggled for a long, long time before I got to this point. What helped me was realizing that writing while guilty or stressed just produced bad or mediocre writing. I served my story and my love of writing much better when I wasn't exhausted or distracted by other things.

      I hear you on the productivity. That one I'm *still* working on myself. Everyone has their own process and pace, but it's hard not to feel like a failure if I'm not writing 10K words a day and publishing multiple books a year. And that's insane! I try hard now to focus on realistic and achieve goals so I don't put undue pressure on myself. That's not good for me or my writing. Sounds like you're on your way to doing something similar, so I hope it helps yo, too!

  7. Thank you for this. Things have changed a bit for me in the last few years, and lots of big milestones are ahead for my kids, too. It's been hard at times to give myself permission to take that break, and I feel a little guilty about maintaining my membership in my local writers association. But the membership helps me to keep that part of myself in mind and to remind me that it's important, even if I'm not actively doing it every day.

    As for needing help to say "no" sometimes.... I used to have to remind a friend of mine frequently that if she took on any more activities, she may as well have said "no" to what she already committed to because she couldn't possibly have the time to do a good job on them. Sometimes saying "no" to new things is just reaffirming your commitment to what you've already taken on. I don't know if it helped her any! but maybe someone else could use that...

    1. That sounds like a good reason to maintain a membership to me :)

      I love that "no" attitude! So true, and what a great way if thinking about it. "Sorry, no, I need to focus on the commitments I have in the way they deserve."