So you’ve finally done it! You’ve just finished the writing project you’ve been pouring your heart and soul (and tears) into for what feels like forever. YES! GO YOU!
Except … there’s one problem.
You kind of have this idea for another project. Something completely different than the thing you just finished working on.
Should you jump right into it? Or should you wait?
I know of many successful writers who do, but also many who don’t. There are pros and cons to both sides of this argument, besides the fact that every writer has their own preferences
You came here for a definite answer to a tough question. Unfortunately, the answer may not be as simple as you’re hoping it will be.
Jumping right into the next thing could keep you motivated. Many writers choose to move right from one project to the next because they’re able to use the excited energy they’ve gained from finishing something in their initial efforts on the next one.
Some do this because they are afraid that they will lose momentum or motivation if they don’t start something else as soon as possible.
Both of these mindsets are completely reasonable, and you’re not “wrong” if these are the reasons you’ve justified not taking a break between projects. I don’t often give myself much time to “recover” from one project before I start another one either, but that’s just my preference.
However, I do recommend that if you do start a new project right away, you take things slow. It’s tempting to go all out and write thousands of words within the first few days, but you should do your absolute best to limit yourself and take it easy even if you do keep working. I bet you can guess my reasoning behind this recommendation.
It could also lead to burnout. I call it “creative burnout” and I’m no stranger to the phenomenon. I work more than I should and this has led to issues on more than one occasion in the past few years alone.
Most people think burnout is your inability to function because you’re so overworked, but the reason it’s so dangerous is because the true definition (in most cases — everyone is different) is much harder to detect. For creators, burnout occurs when you’ve completely lost all interest in and motivation to do your work, but you continue doing it anyway despite not being fully “in it.”
Eventually if this continues the quality of your work starts to decline — you’re continuing to work at the same pace and quantity you’ve already been working but you’re basically on autopilot. Some people get to a point where they just shut down, but I hope you’ve never experienced this because it is not a pleasant feeling. There have been times when I’ve burned myself out so badly that I couldn’t even speak. (Please get help if you are experiencing this — it is not normal.)
While you don’t necessarily have to take a full-on break between finishing one project and starting on the next, you do need to pace yourself and pay attention to your body. If you feel comfortable continuing to work, and doing so is going to excite and energize you, go for it!
However, if you notice you’re mentally and physically exhausted and/or feel as though you SHOULD start on something new but are dreading the possibility of actually doing that, you might benefit from stepping away from your keyboard for a few days and just letting your brain recover.
The battle between our minds and our bodies can be frustrating. We all experience moments when we DESPERATELY want to write something but just can’t summon the energy required to do so. Sometimes, you have to listen to your body. If you’re worn out, there is no benefit in pushing yourself too much further. It’s OK to test your limits every now and then, but please don’t hurt yourself.
No matter what, give your recently finished project a break.
You should allow yourself a gap between when you finish a first draft and when you pick it back up again. First of all, you don’t want to start on a new project while trying to focus on improving the quality of the old one, at least not right away. Yes, there will be times you’ll have to edit one thing while actively writing another, that’s just the nature of the writing life. But don’t force yourself to do this immediately if you don’t want to.
Second of all, you should give yourself some time to recover from the massive effort you just put into completing something. Let’s say the project you just finished is a 100,000 word novel. Maybe this was an excellent experience for you and you feel proud and excited to have accomplished something so amazing.
But no matter how much you may have enjoyed that project, it took a lot out of you, even if you’re not feeling that quite yet. You’ve likely spent months on this thing. You’ve probably lost sleep or had to cancel plans with friends or have fallen behind on all the new Netflix shows everyone has been talking about. You could continue on as you are. But you don’t have to.
My advice: Give yourself at least a week to let your project breathe before you go back to it for revisions or edits or whatever you’re going to do with it next. But the exact time frame doesn’t matter as much as making sure you implement it.
It could be three days or three weeks or three months. It’s really up to you. You don’t want to stay away from your project so long that you completely lose interest in it and/or start to move beyond it, but you also don’t want to start editing before you’ve given yourself time to “forget” some of it. It might take some experimenting to figure out the length of time that works for you.
Ultimately, you have to do what’s best for you. Whether this means starting on a new project right away or giving yourself a set amount of time to rest and recharge, the only “right” way to go about this is to do it the way that’s going to benefit you as a writer and as a human.
We spend a lot of time relying on experts to tell us the “right” way to do things because we are afraid of failing. The problem is, with most things, what works for one person might not work for you. The advice I give on this blog is so carefully worded and presented because I’m trying so hard to convey that just because I do something a certain way doesn’t mean everyone has to. And yet people still yell at me because “their way” is apparently so good it makes my way wrong? I’ve stopped trying to understand that logic.
With writing advice, you have to take bits and pieces of what people recommend and form your own strategies from those recommendations. As long as it’s benefiting you and not hurting anyone else, this is absolutely acceptable. Find your own way. Just don’t criticize other people for doing things differently than you, please.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.