Take a break to make your writing better

Maybe you’re working on some content marketing, a press release, blog, white paper, or that piece which is finally thank God, your big break at The New Yorker, an essay for your favorite journal, your novel or short story. We all know the feeling. There is a deadline. It looms. The clock ticks louder and louder. Emails arrive from the boss, the client, the agent, asking when you’ll be delivering the work.

You look back at the computer. The empty white screen glares, mocking you. You wonder, with a sinking feeling in your gut and perhaps a racing of your heart,where’s that go-getter, that deadline meeting genius you told them you were?

At times like this, we tend to stay glued to the desk, keep longer hours, drink more caffeine, energy drinks, work harder to make something, anything out of our fingertips, our keyboard. We believe that if we just keep our butts glued to the chair that we can somehow force what is needed out onto the page.

And maybe, sometimes, that could be true. Maybe we can get something out. But really, how good is it? Work made this way doesn’t come from fire in the belly or a passionate heart. It gets born but feels dead. And the process is no fun. At. All.

And worse still, this kind of brain-freeze and forced march reaction can become a pattern. It’s a sort crazed, creative death-spiral. We think perhaps being an accountant might be more fun.

At this point you may need a major intervention. A real break. Some way to break up the rocks and crust of bad habitual patterns and rediscover the real beating life buried under all that frustration.

For a major re-boot, I recommend a creative retreat of some kind; one that will allow you to let go of all the stress to which you’ve become addicted against your better judgement and which will help you rekindle that flame of creativity and joy, releasing the inner creative genius which always knows how to play, experiment, dance with a devil may care, throw caution to the winds zest for being alive.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hop a plane for 16 hours to an exotic locale (though if you have the time, go ahead on and enjoy). There’s a number of things you can do other than that.

Here’s a few ideas.

Some are in the moment things you can do and others involve a greater commitment of time. Each is fundamentally based on the idea that stepping away from the task at hand is the best medicine and further, that you engage in something which occupies the mind in a manner both relaxed yet focused.

You’ll note that none of these involves technology or media of any kin,d as they tend to create more stress and increase distractibility. I mean, for goodness sake, think of how fast your Twitter feed spits out new stuff at you. All those banner notifications.

  • Go for a nice mindful walk in which you completely and luxuriously immerse yourself and your senses in connecting to your moment by moment experiences. (One of my favorite writers who I am told, goes on a walk daily, is Paul Auster. It certainly seems to work for him.)
  • Do some exercise. Maybe you’re a runner or like to do yoga or swim. It doesn’t matter so much what it is you do, but that you fully engage in what you are doing.
  • Do as author Dani Shapiro suggests and fill your ears with beautiful language by reading something truly magnificent. I also advocate reading aloud and really letting that gorgeous language soak in. Roll around in all that amazing sound. I like to read things which may be related even slightly by subject matter to what I’m working on, but sometimes letting go completely and just reading some poetry can be a powerful way to throw the switches. Get some Rumi. Hafiz. Robert Frost. Mary Oliver. Connect with your spiritual side even for a few verses.

There is a channel between voice and presence,
a way where information flows.

In disciplined silence the channel opens.
With wandering talk, it closes. 

For something which will offer you a more profound opportunity for change try a local retreat of some kind where you can unplug from your devices, relax, retrain your mind, and open the heart, creating space for compassion and creativity.

Check out what might be offered near where you live and work. You may find options that extend from anywhere from a few hours to a whole weekend or even a week. I recently attended an amazing retreat at Kripalu  for a weekend of writing and meditation with Dani Shapiro. I came back a changed woman.

If you’re in Chicago or thereabouts, you might want to come to one of these.

What works for you when you’re feeling stuck? Love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Write on.



Author: Hillary Johnson

Improvisational documentary and fine art photographer.

2 thoughts on “Take a break to make your writing better”

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