Taking a Writing Hiatus (i.e. Back Away from the Computer, Ma’am)

Dear Copy Bitch: We’re kindred spirits: I’m a copywriter by day, and at night (for the last three years anyway) I’ve been working on a memoir. Lately, I just can’t seem to do either well, even though I try forcing myself to write through it. I’ll admit that sometimes I work seven days a week, but I’ve always seen this as dedication to my craft. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just blocked. Would love to get your take. Thanks. Love the blog!

—Miami Memoirist

Answer: Sometimes the most important thing you can do when the writing isn’t clicking–be it client copy or creative writing–is to step away from the computer. Or throw down your legal pad. Or cast aside your journal.

Listen, I don’t believe in writer’s block, and I’m the biggest proponent of “Ass in Chair” and banging it out and working through it because I know that nine times out of ten, you can. But then there’s that stinky tenth time. You know, the one that causes neck and back spasms that leave you drooling on the carpet. The moment when you just. Can’t. Write. Another. Word. (Again, I don’t think this is a block; it’s your mind’s way of telling you it needs a rest–there’s a big difference.)

So step away. From the whole gosh-darn thing: from the room in which your computer purrs, from the house in which your writing festers, and get thee somewhere else. Anywhere. The park, the movies, the bookstore, your best friend’s house. Just get out. Leave it alone. For as long as you can manage (ideally 24 hours, but I realize this isn’t always feasible–even a morning or afternoon can do wonders). Try not to think about it (ha!). Seriously, though, give yourself permission to breathe and to take a break and to allow your mind and body a Take Five.

Go back to it the next day and see what happens.

Then, start carving time like this into your schedule. If you draw peace and inspiration from spending one morning a week with the dogs at the dog park, then book it. If you love film and feel that a Wednesday matinee is one of the best things since George Clooney’s birth, then block out that time (and don’t feel guilty, either. This is one of freelancing’s perks. Take advantage of it). If you need yoga three times a week to keep the mental muscles happy, okay. Dedication to craft is commendable. But so is dedication to your own sanity.

(On a completely unrelated note, I wish I could go back and mark the moment–the precise moment–when I went from a “miss” to a “ma’am.” Seems to me there should have been a helluva lot more hoopla involved.)

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