At some point in your journey, you’re probably going to need to take a break from writing. You might even want to take a break from it.
And virtually everyone I know who takes a step back from writing feels a whole lot of guilt.
There’s an immense sunk cost to building a writing career, no matter how robust or fledgling. It’s one of the most mentally challenging endeavors you can undertake. You must endure any number of rejections, big and small. You probably needed to adjust real life relationships and say no to things in order to chase your dream.
It’s a psychologically risky business. And when you pause to pursue something else, the questions mount.
What was all the sacrifice for if I’m just going to give it up? If this is what I long believed I was meant to be doing, why am I not doing it? Am I really going to stop this far short of my ultimate dreams?
Let me try to assuage those questions. This happens. Do what you need to do. Writing will be there when you need it.
Gut check the pause
There will be times when needing to stop writing is fully self-evident. Life emergencies, mental health challenges, hitting the gas pedal on your work life, etc. If that’s the case, you can skip to the next section.
But if you’re stopping because you’re discouraged, take a moment to gut check whether it’s really the right course of action.
Sometimes a pause in the face of discouragement can be just the thing! Some time away can refresh you and recharge your batteries.
But sometimes acute discouragement is a sign that you’ve let other voices get in your head and have lost touch with why you’re doing this. Maybe your expectations for what you’ll “get” from writing have gotten misaligned and you need to recalibrate.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: don’t ever ask anyone if you should stop writing. There are no crystal balls, this is your dream, and only you can decide how best to invest your energy.
And if you’re thinking of walking away from writing, it might just be time to reset your expectations and get back in tune with your goals. Maybe you need encouragement–especially self-encouragement–more than you need a pause. Maybe you need to give yourself permission to follow your dreams.
But if you really, truly need a break? Take it!
Nothing is lost
Trust that nothing is lost. While it can be a bit tricky to get back in the saddle, it’s not like you’re going to forget everything you learned. You can also always revisit projects in the drawer later on, and the passage of time can help you see them in a new light.
In the mid-2010s, I took a break from writing and this blog in order to throw myself into a job at a certain macroeconomic hedge fund that you may have seen in the news lately.
Did I “damage” my writing career by doing that? Should I have kept my eye on the prize on books my entire life?
I don’t think about things in that way. I did what I needed to do at the time, and what I experienced away from writing has been enormously influential in my present creative life. I don’t spend energy looking back.
Now I’ve returned to writing with gusto. Maybe I’ll need a break again in the future. It’s all an ebb and flow.
I’ve never seen a writing career that has proceeded in a neat, orderly, line. There are always bumps in the road, false dawns, and turbulence.
You will be at your happiest and most productive if you stay in tune with what’s really driving you and not let yourself get swept into unrealistic expectations. Try as much as possible to enjoy the stage you’re at. Block out the outside voices and listen to yourself.
And if you’ve realized you’re not enjoying writing anymore, there are other things that are calling for your energy, or you want to see what’s over a different horizon, go for it!
Sometimes you just need to step away from writing. Trust that you can always come back.
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Art: Landscape With Mountain Lake, Morning by Caspar David Friedrich