Not too long ago, I used to have a big problem whenever I didn’t write something — anything — for even a single day. Not writing caused me major anxiety and stress, so much so that if I forced myself to write something — anything — I’d freeze the minute my fingers touched the keyboard. Performance anxiety overwhelmed me, doubt crept in, and then I’d stress out over being stressed out, and that vicious cycle would get me nowhere near my page count.
At the end of the day, I’d feel like a big fat failure, suffering from major FOMO syndrome — fearing that all the other writers out there were doing more than me. Being more. Having more. They were zipping through first drafts and edits, selling pilots, getting green lit, and basically just being overall more successful humans than I am.
Or so I thought.
Here’s what I’ve discovered — after suffering from many a meltdown:
Not writing for an extended amount of time is, actually, extremely valuable. In fact, downtime is downright necessary for a creative person.
1. It Gives You Perspective
Stephen King says, “A manuscript should take a season to write.” That’s why he will put a physical copy of his latest work in a drawer and forget about it for at least six weeks. Why? Because it gives you space between you and your writing. There’s no sense in going over and over that script that’s been giving you a headache all week.
Sometimes that major block you’ve been encountering is a sign that it’s time to step away from the computer and focus on something else completely different. This will help your mind percolate additional ideas and flesh them out more.
On the other hand, you might return to your story, only to realize that it actually wasn’t that great. When you take a break from something that you’ve been holding onto so tightly, it can help you finally release it so you can move onto something better.
2. You Get to Live Life
One of the greatest gifts of being a writer is that we get to live to write, and (hopefully) write to live. Sometimes it becomes difficult to remember the first part because of deadlines, life stresses, and responsibilities, but living your life to the fullest is essential to your writing. Trying new things, traveling, exploring, forming relationships — even dissolving relationships — makes you a better writer.
Because even when you’re on a road trip with a pal, or going to that dreaded dinner party with college alumni, your writer’s subconscious is storing and creating new ideas that will only help your writing.
3. It Will Make You More Productive
Mental fatigue is a writer’s worst nightmare. Sitting at your computer, forcing yourself to write something — anything! — despite feeling physically tired and creatively depleted will only extinguish your creative spark — and probably make you sick in the process.
Instead, consider taking a brief sabbatical from your work. According to a study referenced by Entrepreneur.com, “A total of 61 percent of surveyed employees viewed time off as improving physical health, while 55 percent said it improves mental health.” Disconnecting from writing — whether it’s for an hour, an afternoon or even a week — can do wonders for your mindset and energy levels.
Indulge in another creative activity, dive into meditation, or pack up and escape to the mountains for a weekend. Afterwards, when you return to your script, you’ll feel revitalized and raring to go.
So, if you’re feeling stuck, tired or uninspired, don’t be afraid to stop writing. Turn off the computer, step outside and connect with the other three-dimensional people. Your page count will thank you.
Now when I’m tired or uninspired, and I just don’t feel the urge to write, I simply don’t. And I don’t even feel guilty about it!
Brianne Hogan is a freelance writer and screenwriter (and sometimes actor) based in Toronto. She has a degree in Dramatic Literature and Film Studies from NYU, but has probably learned more about the art of screenwriting from watching Netflix all day. Her byline’s appeared in Creative Screenwriting, Elle Canada, HelloGiggles, among others. You can follow her on Twitter @briannehogan.