Taking Time Off from Writing and Returning to it with Ease and Grace

Written by Claire L. Fishback, PMP

Book Coach & Story Strategist

November 21, 2022

I have to tell you, it took me a looong time to write this post, probably becasue talking about guilt gets into psychological territory. There’s always fear around giving psychological advice, or medical advice, or even legal advice, or any advice to be honest!

So I have preface this post by saying: I am not a licensed therapist. Everything I’ll be talking about in this episode is from my own experience (and the experience of one of my friends) in dealing with guilt and should not be taken as medical advice. If you or a loved one are struggling, please be sure to seek help from a licensed professional.

Disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to it.

Time is a dictator.

Time is fascinating. We don’t have enough of it, sometimes we have too much of it. We run out of it. It flies by while we’re having fun, or creeps slowly when we’re bored or waiting for something.

Time dictates when we get up, when we eat, when we go to bed, when it’s time to go somewhere or leave… it sort of controls us, doesn’t it? We are prisoners of time!

I’m envisioning a busy city street with people in business suits dragging their bodies down the sidewalk while a clock hovers above them, scowling like an angry sun.

We often have too much to do and not enough time to do it all, and that can cause some panicky feelings to creep in.

I, for one, have what I call a Time Crisis every once in a while. I’ll talk more about that and how I get through it in another episode, but essentially I feel like I’m running out of time to do everything I want to do.

And by running out of time, I mean I feel like the Grim Reaper is breathing down my neck, just biding his time until my time is up.

There it is again! Biding his time. My time is up. Can time be down? I don’t think so.

We also spend time, as if it is a currency we can’t even earn back.

And furthermore, what’s this nonsense about making time?

You can’t “make” time

Making time is the biggest backhanded advice ever created. Okay maybe not ever, but you know those people who say, If you really want to do something, you have to MAKE time to do it.

I don’t like this concept, because implies if you can’t “make time” it must NOT be important, which is why Toucan20 is so powerful. You don’t have to make time. You can find it easily in your day, as I talked about in this post.

It really grinds my gears when people say you have to make time. And usually the people who say that probably don’t have kids, and a day job, and passions and hobbies to pursue, or a healthy lifestyle to keep up, or a dog to walk… you get it, right?

Another thing about time is, we take it off. As if it is a cloak or a robe.

And now, we are on to what I really want to talk about. With the holidays fast approaching, you might be busy with extra activities that aren’t usually part of your average day. Your writing time might slide onto the back burner to make way for holiday activities and planning and stress.

So, you decide to take some time off. And maybe every time you look at your computer, or notebook, or stone tablet, a little twinge of guilt enters your mind. Maybe shame. Maybe self-doubt. You might feel wrong or lost or despondent or like you might lose your talent. Like you aren’t fulfilling your higher purpose.

You might feel like time is running out to become who you want to be.

To help me with this episode, I had a chat with a friend of mine, who just so happens to be one of my Toucan students and an author of historical fiction, Judalon De Bornay. Her latest title is Great Crossing.

I asked Judalon how she feels about taking time off from her writing, and she told me she feels like her life sands are draining into the bottom of the hour glass and she needs to NOT take time off.

Look at that, my friend. Yet another metaphor about time! The hour glass! The sands of time slipping away!

But she also told me when she does take time off, she feels this freedom from anxiety that writing often brings her. She said, when she writes, the writing takes control over her. It’s all she wants to do. She neglects other aspects of her life.

She’s imprisoned by the writing. But when she takes time off, she also feels anxious because the manuscripts call to her.

She spoke of the prisms of ourselves. How we have these different pulls of obligations of want and need.

Judalon’s words about writing:

“Having to get into all those different prisms of self and behavior that you are having to deal with. When we have jobs and other people are dependent on us, for us to be successful and professional in our work contributions, then we really can go negligent and we can’t.  Having to get into all those different prisms of self and behavior that you are having to deal with. So therefore, if you compartmentalize to the point where you can just ignore those little abandoned manuscript voices and cut yourself free, then you don’t have the the anxiety attached to them. However, just like any beloved child or pet. Or anything you love, it’s always there. It’s always niggling at you saying, Please, please come back to me. Come back.”

This was in relation to historical fiction: It becomes your stalker and you’ve gotta give into it. You just have to, to make it good.

I can definitely relate to this. Anxiety while writing, anxiety while taking time off from writing, feeling the pull of the manuscripts. The control the writing takes over me.

Nanowrimo started while my husband and I were in Mexico City over Halloween. I wrote my first words on my new manuscript in the hotel.

While at breakfast, inspiration struck! I use Dabble Writer during NaNoWriMo, because it automagically updates my word count on the NaNoWriMo site, so I pulled out my phone and started writing. At breakfast! My husband thought I was texting, so I had to explain, no no, I’m writing. I had an idea.

Luckily, he understands and he’s used to this kind of thing. He knows when I’m in first draft mode, this type of thing happens all the time. If I’m out somewhere and don’t have my phone, I use his phone to send myself a text message.

Back to this anxiety, though. Because there’s also a sort of freedom when taking time off. There’s no need to find time to write each day. No deciding if I’m going to exercise at lunch or write or walk Kira my beloved pittie mix. And that, my friend, is what really makes me feel guilty, like, wait, am I really a writer? Am I really meant for this? I enjoy taking time off from writing. And I feel like I shouldn’t enjoy it. So I get anxious about enjoying it.

Then, the moment I get back to it, I feel this sense of relief. Like, yes. This is the warm cozy blanket I should be wearing around my shoulders all the time. This is what I do and who I am.

Case in point, I have taken the better part of a year off from working on a novel length manuscript while I get my author coaching website and business up and out into the world. I have been keeping my finger on the proverbial pulse of fiction by writing short stories for my fans.

The fear of losing it (not my marbles, my writing talent)

Before November 1st, while NaNoWriMo was drawing near, a fear started creeping in.

What if I can’t write novels anymore? What if I’ve lost that ability? What if all I have left in my creative well are short stories? Or silly poems? Or podcast episodes? Or blog posts?

The moment I started thinking about my NaNoWriMo project, I felt that part of me unfurl like a sleepy dragon, shake the dust off its powerful wings, stretch, and prepare. The moment I wrote the first line of my new manuscript, that dragon took flight.

What is the point of this story? Well, my friend. Guilt accompanies taking time off. Anxiety accompanies taking time off.

But you should not feel this way. We should not feel this way. Sometimes taking time off leads to greatness.

I have another writing friend, Diana Blakely, who took years off from writing. She just started up again not too long ago, and holy cow, her writing actually improved while she took that time off. I don’t even know how that’s possible, other than perhaps she matured over that time like a nice aged cheese.

It’s quite impressive. She has a YouTube channel if you want to check out her work.

So, let’s talk about how to take time off from writing during this often tumultuous time called The Holidays AND how to get back into it once your break is over.

How to take time off from writing

  1. Decide you’re going to take the time off.
  2. Write down everything you know is going to happen in your novel next. Maybe even take some time to summarize what has already happened.
  3. Decide on a date you will get back to it.

On your first day off, if you feel any kind of guilt or shame or any self-doubt or other negative feelings or thoughts creep in, recognize those thoughts, see them, let them flow, then forgive yourself for having those thoughts.

Because though I always preach about You Can Toucan write more in less time and write every day with this cool method called Toucan20, I also know that sometimes we have to choose to let something go in order to manage stress.

Here’s an example. Not too long ago I was looking anxiously toward the future. February 2023 is going to be insane for me. I have a free trip to go on (can’t pass that up!), I have my grandma’s book launch in Coronado that month, and I had some volunteer obligations that month. I looked at my list of things that I had to do. Plus, I’m planning to launch my Busy Author Toolbox course in February, too!

Obviously, I couldn’t pass up a free trip. And my grandma’s book, which is her memoir that I am producing for her posthumously, is an important work according to the Coronado Historical Society. And it’s important to me. My course is also important to grow my Toucan business.

So, the thing I had to let go of to ease my anxiety around the first part of the year was the volunteer work. It pained me deeply to give that up. I felt a lot of guilt and shame around doing that, but once I did, I felt so relieved. A great weight lifted from my shoulders and I knew I had made the right decision.

Writing is an important part of your life. I know that, you know that. Just because you are going to possibly put it on hold during the stressful holiday season (or any other stressful time in your life) does not mean you are not a writer.

Follow the guidelines I said before.

Decide the timeframe – start date and end date

Write down everything you know about your story so you can get back into when you do come back.

Your next steps to get back into it with ease and grace

  1. When your decided upon end date arrives, use the tools from the Plan for Anything posts (Part 1 & Part 2), or get the Resource Library (it has a quick reference guide for the tools, plus a Guilt-Free Time Off Guide that goes along with what I’m talking about here).
  2. Log a single Toucan20 session
    1. The reason I say a single session is because, as with every habit we have or practice, it is very difficult to get back to it after a period of time away. I’m immediately thinking about exercise regimens in particular, but the same thing happens with writing. For me.
    2. So if you only have to write for 20 minutes, that is a nice gentle way to ease back into your regular habit.
  3. Continue to log a single Toucan20 session at the minimum for the next seven days.

I grant thee permission to take time off (if you need it)

Now, I know as a writer we often seek advice and thinly veiled desire for permission from outside sources. From friends, family, fellow writers, strangers, anyone really. I often go to my friend and USA Today Best Selling Author LS Hawker for advice and permission. I also seek it from my twin sister.

Therefore, this is me giving you permission to take time off if you need it. You have my permission! Just be sure to follow the steps I talked about and get back to it when you say you’re going to.

I also, however, must pause here to say that sometimes being able to escape to our writing and our fictional worlds can save us from stress.

More on that in this post here.

Until next time… Set your timer, Go write!

 

GET IT FREE IN THE RESOURCE LIBRARY!

Get the Guilt-Free Time Off Guidelines and Tools. The Resource Library is chock full of useful cheat sheets, guides, workbooks, and planners. More added as I make them!

Get it in the resource library!

Get this resource AND MORE in the FREE Resource Library!

Get the worksheet, workbook, guide, or other tool mentioned in this post FREE in the Resource Library. The Resource Library is chock full of useful cheat sheets, guides, workbooks, and planners. More added as I make them!

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