As I am writing this, it has been about a week since I worked on my book. Yeah, the one I’m almost done with but still haven’t finished because I might be procrastinating on purpose? I love this story — can you blame me for not being ready for it to end?
There is nothing wrong with taking a short hiatus from something you have been working on even before you have officially finished it. It can even be healthy and good for you, allowing you some time to clear your head and the chance to return to your project with a fresh perspective.
Can I be honest with you? I hate taking breaks from my work. Even short ones.
Not because I’m addicted to my work (though I suppose that could be questionable), but because I kid you not, every single time I stop consistently working on something, all the information and brain power normally dedicated to that project stores itself away into some hidden eventually accessible pocket and all of a sudden there’s all this room for … more ideas?
And guess what happens when you make room in your brain for more ideas? MORE IDEAS COME SPRINTING AT FULL SPEED TOWARD YOU WITHOUT ANY HESITATION WHATSOEVER.
I forget this prior to every break I take, of course. I think to myself, “Oh don’t worry you’ll be just fine, let your brain rest and think about your project pressure-free.”
And then there I am, sitting at my desk clocked into my day job working on things completely unrelated to my personal creative endeavors and BOOM.
No warning, no consideration, ZERO respect. One minute I’m editing an article about Meghan Markle’s shoes and the next an idea for a novel is unraveling inside my brain and there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop it.
HI, EXCUSE ME NEW IDEA I WASN’T PREPARED FOR, CAN YOU … NOT??
To be completely clear, neither Meghan Markle nor her shoes inspired this idea and I will give neither credit for any future successes the idea may produce.
But seriously. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about my new “discovery” since it smashed itself into existence without asking permission first. I’m going to throw all humility to the wind and say it’s not a terrible idea. It might even be a GOOD idea.
Or, better yet …
THIS IS THE BEST IDEA FOR A STORY I’VE EVER HAD!
Except of course it isn’t. It’s just another idea that has come along to beg for my attention as all of them do.
But it SEEMS like a really good idea because it’s shiny and smooth and nice and it’s giving me those puppy dog eyes, you know, the ones I never believed ever actually had any power until I acquired my own puppy and realized I quite literally cannot resist those eyes no matter what I do to ignore them.
There are many writers out there who, in this situation, would struggle to decide the best course of action to take here. When met with a new idea in the midst of an almost finished work in progress, do you start a new project without finishing the old one first and try to work on both of them at the same time? Do you abandon your WIP in favor of something completely new and exciting?
Do you tell your new idea to go roll off a cliff and leave you alone forever?
In my experience, you do exactly none of these things — at least you shouldn’t (I may be guilty of more than one of them, though I won’t specify which).
I’ve encountered enough “spontaneous idea appearances” to know that you should neither kick your new ideas to the curb nor file away your old ones in favor of the new (in most cases — there are, as always, exceptions).
Instead, you should always find a way to store and preserve your new idea until you finish the current one.
I personally accomplish this by letting the idea marinate in my brain for a little while — usually up to a day, but not much longer. I then sit down, open an existing document that houses every idea I have had this year for a new thing, scroll down to the bottom, and write a one to three sentence description of what the story is about.
Then I save the document, close it out, and leave it alone. I return to the project I had already been working on and do my best to let the more recent idea settle down.
When I do this, I no longer feel pressure to remember and/or begin working on the idea that has just come to me. It still lives in my brain — every once in a while I will remember it, get excited all over again, then let it fade back to almost non existence until I remember it again.
This is probably why I’m so tired all the time, honestly. It’s kind of like my brain is always running in “sleep mode” and never actually shuts off, because all these not so patiently waiting ideas are just hanging around waiting to be explored.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m very lucky to have this problem. Of all the writing-related things I struggle with, formulating ideas is usually not one of them. If I give my brain enough room to let the creativity in, it does — and when it does, I know it’s going to be an interesting ride.
This is, of course, why I recommend not letting yourself take too long of a break while you’re working on something. It’s not necessarily that you will lose interest in your work in progress … a newer, seemingly more interesting idea just might come along and try to convince you it’s THE idea most worth your energy and time.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t take breaks. You absolutely should.
Just be cautious, and know you have been warned. When you least expect it, new ideas will find you. And once they find you, they will never, ever leave. Ever.
Whether that’s a good thing or not, of course, is up to you.
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.