Every time I take even a very small, reasonable break from writing, I have a frustratingly difficult time starting back up again.
I took one day off of writing last week — I had a doctor’s appointment that pretty much put me out of commission for the day, which was fine — and haven’t been able to get back up to my normal productivity level since. I was going strong for almost two months, and now I just can’t push myself to return to that pace.
This struggle reminded me that my biggest fear of all as a writer is that at some point I will try to give myself a break from writing for a day or a week or even a month and once I do that I won’t be able to write ever again.
Is this an irrational fear produced by my combined anxiety and inability to not create things? OF COURSE IT IS. I know I’m not going to suddenly lose my passion for writing simply because I take time off. I’m bad at taking time off, but I am aware it’s not going to ruin my entire life if I do.
But sometimes I can’t help but wonder what would happen if tomorrow I just … stopped writing. Like forever. And I’m sure I’m not the only one whose curiosity has ever been piqued by this possibility. What if? What if someone who has been writing consistently for years just doesn’t write anymore?
The thing is, this probably happens more than you realize. Sometimes writers just decide they’re done.
How much would your life really change if you just walked away?
Just so you know, I’m neither encouraging you to quit writing nor telling you that you can’t. I’m a neutral party here. What you do with your creativity is completely up to you.
But the thing about writing is that it’s a form of creativity that can technically be as fluid as you want it to be. You can write every day for three months and suddenly end up with a full-length novel and then decide you’re not going to write again for the rest of the year. If that’s how your process works, keep doing what works.
What I’ve personally found, however, is that the longer I spend away from writing, the harder it is to return to it. Maybe you don’t have that problem, and if you don’t, that’s wonderful. I’m happy for you!
Let’s also keep in mind that NOT writing … is totally acceptable?
Would it really be the end of the world if you never wrote another word? It might feel that way. And to you writing might be so intertwined with who you have become that you can’t so much as imagine what would happen if you no longer had words to rely on.
First, keep in mind that if you were to stop writing for good, you would be okay. A creator is not any less of a person because they decide to stop doing something. It’s very common to fall into the trap of confusing your passion for writing with your identity. You do not have to be a writer, or JUST a writer — you don’t have to define who you are based on what you do or used to do.
Second, it’s OK to take a break — stop writing, figure some things out, and then come back when you’re ready. It’s a misconception that you’re a total failure if you “quit” or that if you don’t write every day you’re somehow not a “real” writer. You’re allowed to take a day off, a week, a month, a year if you want. Everyone has their reasons for walking away, even temporarily.
The only reason I ever warn people about doing this is when they’re taking a hiatus for the wrong reasons. Reasons like, “Someone on Twitter said my book was bad.” Reasons like, “I’m not making any money and it all seems pointless.” Things that a little patience and persistence could gradually fix.
I call that “rage quitting.” I don’t recommend it. But at the same time, it’s your life and to you I’m just a stranger on the internet. You can do whatever you want.
Third, it might be time to take a closer look at what’s tempting you to walk away from your writing. This could determine whether you want this to be a permanent change or a temporary adjustment.
For example, after taking some time to think about it, you might realize that writing really doesn’t fill you with the kind of excitement or sense of purpose it used to. Or, more often than not, it’s causing you the kind of stress and/or anxiety you are making a point to eliminate from your life if possible. The truth is, if you don’t want to write anymore, you don’t have to. No one can force you, not even yourself. Don’t do it.
But if Life is Happening and you’re feeling overwhelmed and you want to write but you just have other things and your mind you need to focus on resolving, by all means, put your writing on hold and go take care of what needs taking care of. Don’t worry about not writing. It may not be the most important thing in your life right now, and that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be right now. You can come back to it later.
And if you’re afraid that you never will, if you’re scared that once you stop you’ll never start again, flip it around. Ask yourself what makes you want to keep writing, the reason you don’t want to ever stop. Perhaps there’s more than one. You want to keep going because it makes you feel alive. Because it makes you feel like you’re contributing to the world, or that you really do have important things to say in this world.
Hold on to those reasons as you’re debating whether or not you’re okay with putting your writing to the side, either for a little while or forever. Maybe you’ll find that reminder you need to keep going no matter how hard or discouraging it may be. Maybe you’ll be able to be at peace with the choice to walk away and never look back. As long as you can be happy with your decision, it’s the right decision for you, and that’s all that matters.
Write if you want to write. Don’t if you don’t.
Be okay with the choices you make. If it comes down to it, create when you’re feeling inspired and don’t when you aren’t. Maybe that’s the key to success after all — not forcing it. Just letting whatever happens happen.
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.