Shelley Widhalm

Taking a writing (and running) break

In Getting Unstuck in Writing, Reflections on Writing, Writing, Writing Discipline on November 13, 2016 at 11:00 am

As a writer and a runner, I learned, albeit slowly, that breaks are important.

Breaks offer relaxation, a time to heal and a way to spur new creativity.

I pulled a muscle in my hip three weeks ago, but, being stubborn, I thought I could still run … when I couldn’t. Over the past week, I ran slower and slower, taking my mile down to a minute a lap at the gym, where 14 laps equals one mile. That’s pretty darn slow for someone who’s been running for five years.

As I forced my running, I got to the point where my back started hurting, and then my knee, my ankle and my other hip. Basically, it was a bad idea to run. I had to get a massage on Thursday and, with my hip still hurting, accept the fact I now can’t run for a few days.

I did the same thing earlier this year with my writing. I forced it, thinking, “Well, I’m a writer; therefore, I should write.” The ideas dribbled away, and, as was the case with my running, I felt stuck and unable to do it.

Luckily, I had to do lots of editing work on a novel I’m revising and some short stories, and I promised myself I’d only write when I was with my writing friends or felt the inspiration. I made it a matter of casual writing fun, though I recognized that daily discipline is important in writing with breaks just as important.

Taking a break is a way to relax and let the mind go, allowing for the subconscious to make connections that the conscious mind can’t force.

It’s a way to get new ideas or find new approaches to a project.

It’s a way to gain objectivity, because it’s hard to see the whole story or novel when caught in the middle or in the midst of the details. Stepping back lets the details or parts of the project become one overall piece, instead of the next part of the writing puzzle. It refreshes your mind for better critiquing by having a new view of the work that’s already been done.

And it’s a way to vary routine, so that things feel new, fresh and different.

Forcing writing can cause boredom, making it feel like a chore, affecting the quality of the work. The quality is evident when it comes to revising, because the work requires more layers of editing from line to content.

Taking a break is a way to come back to the work with a clear mind and a new perspective and, hopefully, an understanding of why it wasn’t working before. As with running, it’s a way to heal the mind, so that the writing becomes faster and better, just like I’ll be when I get back on the track—or, at least I hope so. Otherwise, it’ll look like I’m on a walk!

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