1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Taking a break--how long is too long?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Caged Maiden, Oct 30, 2015.

  1. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    Hello Scribes!

    I know I haven't been around much lately, and I'd like to tell you why.

    First, I moved. That was pretty big in my life. Over the last year, I was terribly depressed and there are a number of reasons for it, but the main one is that we moved halfway across the country, away from my friends and family, away from my familiar places, and into a small apartment that was the most unpleasant place I've ever lived. It was really awful, and I don't mean that in a "I deserve better than this" way, but it had temperature control issues, the rooms were laid out poorly and we couldn't fit our furniture, and the upstairs neighbors were atrocious, doing 3am laundry and having shouting matches, throwing things around. It was really uncomfortable, and I suffered emotionally for it. So I got to a point where I totally shut off. I would lock myself in my bedroom and try to write, but I wasn't getting much of anything done. I think I was too unhealthy to be genuinely productive, and it showed in every way, not just writing.

    Fast forward, I got my real estate license and we bought a house, and we moved in August. This home has the space we need, the right amount of everything, and I've even got a job (though not the easiest to begin when you're coming off a year of deep depression). Anyways, things are looking up.

    But my writing isn't. I mean, I'm writing SOMETIMES, but the daily time I used to put in just makes me feel kinda down. I feel healthier and more energetic when I write for no more than 2 hours. I find at that point, my interest level drops off dramatically, and I want to go do other things. But the truth is, I'm having a hard time finding a fault with it. I'm feeling better than I did before, and maybe this is just a temporary thing while I recover from the bad year? My point is, I took a break for a few reasons (moving, computer broke and had to retrieve another hard drive, unpacking, decorating, being more involved in kids' school, starting my job and doing training), and while I wish my books were getting done, I'm sort of not able to go back to spending that kind of time on them anymore, because I think it's not healthy for me.

    Have any of you ever gone through something like this? Do you have any suggestion as to how much writing a day is a good balance for you? Because I tend to be an all or nothing kinda person, and I think it's that habit that most makes me susceptible to over-doing it with writing. But I don't want to take a break forever, just until I'm back on emotional level ground.
    kennyc and Russ like this.
  2. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    Hi Caged-Maiden.

    My name is Helio (aka, Jennifer in real life). I don't think we have met. I would like to electronically shake your hand (and perhaps give you a real smile :)

    I'm no where as good a writer as you, but I have been there :)

    What you have been through sounds like it was really tough. That was a lot to have to take in all at once, and having to do all that without the support and connection of your family and friends just makes it so much harder. You absolutely do not have to apologize to anyone (especially yourself) for taking the time to just re-connect to your own soul, start to lay some new roots (which takes time and emotional investment) and just reorient yourself again.

    I have been there. I used to be very heavy into non-fiction writing (mostly historical. I wrote and edited a lot of papers and educational materials on history.) I have been writing fiction for some time, mostly shorts, nothing seriously.

    Two and a half years ago I had my baby girl. She is my second child. She has some very severe disabilities that we didn't know of when I was pregnant. It has been a hard journey. I have been off work for three years looking after her. I have also struggled emotionally and have regularly slipped in and out of depression. I have lay awake at night imagining how I might end it all. I have driven along the highway and allowed myself to think about how easy it would be to just veer off the road. How much control I have to have to keep my hands on the wheel.

    What is important, first and foremost, is your health. You owe that to you. That is what you deserve. Everything else is second. Taking the time to know when to step back and put on your own oxygen mask is heroic.

    Welcome back!

    I can't wait to meet you!


    Jennifer (Helio)
    kennyc, Caged Maiden and Russ like this.
  3. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    I went through some health issues a while back. It wasn't life threatening, but it made focusing impossible. My resting heart rate was 110 beats a minute, and I'd go all googly eyed if I had to focus visually and mentally on anything for more than a minute. For two months I couldn't do much of anything but suffer in a chair while watching Mythbusters. I can honestly say, I got a glimpse of what type of suffering a person could endure that would make them consider pulling the plug. Not that I wanted to, but I got a good idea of what my own limits were.

    Any way, I didn't write for six months. And when I tried getting back on the horse, it was like pulling teeth. I used to be able to flop into a chair and go. It wouldn't take long for the words to flow. Now, I got into the chair, wrote a few words, and it was kind of like trying to drive a care across rough terrain with four flat tires and a one horsepower engine.

    I found writing novel length stuff very tough. But I found writing short stories was a bit easier. My output hasn't been what I like since, but after a long while, it's starting to come around again. Words are starting to flow like they did before.

    Two things I found that help me keep in the groove is one, editing. If I can't write that day for what ever reason. I just do a quick editing pass over what I wrote the day before to keep me in the story head space. The second, which was completely by accident, was set a time limit and write till that time limit is over and stop.

    This time limit thing was discovered when my laptop battery life span suddenly took a dip from 2+hours to just 1 hour. I do most of my writing outside the home for various reasons, so for a long while, I had one hour and then my laptop would power down. This forced me to focus and write fast. No dilly-dallying.

    When I finally got a new laptop battery, I found jumping in and getting done what I needed to get done was much easier. And things don't feel like such a slog any longer.
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2015
    Caged Maiden likes this.
  4. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

    Welcome back! The voice of wisdom and experience is always appreciated.

    I have nothing helpful to say other than that this all reminds me of a wonderful John Lennon lyric:

    "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." (from the song "Beautiful Boy")

    Hang in there.
    Caged Maiden likes this.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    All I can offer is sympathy and cheers, Caged Maiden, but you can count on those!

    I did have one thought. It seems only fair to allow yourself as much time to climb out of the hole as it took you to fall into it in the first place. So, if it took a year to hit bottom, then expecting to bounce back in a month (or whatever the real times are) is perhaps not realistic.

    I've had distractions, and interruptions, but nothing on that scale, so please ignore me on a whim. :)
    Caged Maiden likes this.
  6. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    Unhappiness can be a direct result of your environment. Depression can be a preexisting condition aggravated by your environmentally related unhappiness.

    Whichever direction your psyche is or was inclined, its addictive cure may have been to invoke literary proliferation.

    When you lived in the apartment, you were basically 'confined to quarters.'

    Human beings are possessed of the need to survive without the burden of creative boundaries. This splendid human factor is especially sensitive to counter productive diversions in those of us that fuel our passion for life through the written word.

    Because you are a person born with the need to be a writer, your recent years' quotidian of forum activity has anchored your quill to task.

    Now however, you are thrust upon the reality of labor intensive grind.

    It is a demanding life and suffers no mistresses of artistic value.

    The trick is to balance dollars to dramas.

    Self preservation is key.

    Forget the lengthy forum posts you used to post here and focus only briefly on the threads that move your WIP along.

    Work hard to pay the bills, be happy in your home, sleep intently through the nights, steal a well rested hour before dawn to brand words upon page and never lose faith in those that believe in your vision.
    Caged Maiden likes this.
  7. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    I've signed up for nano, and I'm rewriting my 7th novel, that had a few critters, but no one really liked. I've rewritten chapter one and have high hopes, but I'm not sure nano counts are realistic at this point. I'm using November as an excuse to try again, and using this novel as a jumping-off point, because I believe in my ability to write...I'm just not sure how well I can balance writing time and life time.

    I'm happy in my new life and the improvements we've made as a family, but I worry that writing will take over again, and yes, it was a distraction when I was unhappy, but my best writing comes when I'm energetic and inspired. Right now, I'm trying to balance hanging out with my husband and four kids, and spending time watching movies and playing a couple little video games (like solitaire when I need a long hot bath) rather than just using an unfinished novel as my go-to anytime I need a minute alone. I guess for me, it was too easy to open a document and waste a whole day doing nothing rather than doing the things I needed to take care of first, and writing second.

    Depression is a fact of life for me, since I'm bipolar, but the degree of my suffering last year was shocking (and atypical of my condition). I used to live a life of normalcy, but interspersed with a couple high days and a couple low days here and there. The thing that happened to me was because of my environment. I hated seeing boxes in my living room (evidence we were living in too small a place, and work was unfinished and in stasis) and seeing my kids in an environment I felt was less than they (or we) deserved. I sank really low, and to those of you who were my personal friends during this time, I can't think you enough for standing by me when I was so hopeless inside, I didn't know what to do and wasn't the best version of me I could be. I'm still scarred by it and mostly, I'm afraid of it. I don't ever want to feel that way again. Ever. It was too horrible.

    I think that's why it's really important for me at this point to do some time-blocking, and to pick a couple nights a week where I write seriously, after the kids are in bed, most likely, so I don't feel like I'm missing out on life while struggling endlessly to finish a project that I can't even focus on.

    One of the worst things about being bipolar is that I only do what I "feel" like sometimes, and when I'm just running from how I feel, nothing I do seems to matter anyhow. I'd spend way too much of my time alone, locked away with a computer, throwing all my emotions into a project, but then when I'd finish a new chapter, I felt it wasn't good enough, and I tied my overall sense of self and accomplishment with a fickle art. I mean, if critters didn't like what I'd done, it ate at me, and I punished myself for not being good enough, or not "winning". That probably sounds stupid, but it's how I am. I get all kinds of down on myself if I fail to put my best foot forward, and i'm sort of the kind of person who quits rather than pushes through the rough patches. Writing was something I felt I did well, and I hoped it would lead to confidence, but instead, it became a measure of my personal value, and as I'm yet unpublished (mostly because I haven't tried hard), I only felt burned because of how much time and effort I've spent on a losing venture, really.

    Now, I'm going to try another tactic. I'm going to outline better, stop a thread or plot line where it veers off track, and get some perspective before it all goes awry and I have that creeping self doubt take hold of my inner happiness.

    It may be a foolish notion, to continue to write while I'm still in recovery from this burdensome ordeal, but I feel like this is my moment to begin crawling out from under the wreckage I caused by being too disconnected from myself to even care what I was doing. I mean, I wasted a whole year! And I'm 35 now, so it isn't like I don't mourn the loss of that time. I look back, and I think that's the worst part of it...I put everything on hold, almost. I did nothing for a whole year. I didn't keep in touch with friends, or my family. I wasn't the best mother or wife I could be. Hell, I wasn't even a disciplined writer. I just existed, and writing was the only thing I felt freed me from my cage. (Ha, and that's not even how I chose my name)

    Anyways, thanks, folks. You guys are my friends, and my support network in this discouraging game of writing. I appreciate each and every one of you. I hope you know that. I maybe should have asked someone for help a long time ago, but I didn't know how. If anyone else here is going through something similar, please know you aren't alone. Writing and life should feed off each other and lift a person up, not work in tandem to bring them to their knees. I learned a tough lesson, about myself and my personality, and about my condition and how far I can push myself before the tank is empty and I become a shell of a human, incapable of even coping with minor stress.

    I guess that's what this whole thread was about. My need to understand myself and my limits. Deep down, I'm afraid that if I begin writing like I used to, it might contribute to the despair I felt last year. I'm ready to get back in the saddle, but I'm only going to walk this old war horse for the first few miles. I know I'm still a warrior in my heart (holy crap, this analogy is sounding like one of my books...), but I'm not ready to see battle again. Maybe one day soon. Maybe tomorrow. But for right now, we're just two old friends, walking a long road again together. At least we're back on the road. We'll get to the fight eventually, just as soon as our wounds are healed and we're both fit to fight.

    Thanks again. Anxiety and depression are a bitch, and I'm happy to report I'm getting over them at this point.

    In my real estate training today, our instructor asked us to write a goal. i'd like to share mine with you. She asked for a number. I wrote my number on my paper. It's half my husband's yearly salary, and I feel it's a reachable goal for my first year in real estate (I expect to increase it next year, to about the same as my husband's salary). I live in an area where 10 closings will exceed my financial goal. Then we had to give a reason that number was important. I said it was important to me to reach that goal because if I can't make that salary, I might as well just get an office job. Then, why was that important? Because if I took an office job, it'd be a waste of all my sales training, and the other life skills I've developed that make me an excellent salesperson. And why is that important? Because I want choices. I talked to my instructor after class today and shared with her my goals. I told her a story about when we lived in Albuquerque (8 years ago) and we were sitting on a ratty couch one evening, and I slammed my hand down on the ugly upholstery, and said, "Why are we sitting on this hideous couch? We make more money than this!"

    Well, the very next day, we went and bought new sofas. My teacher laughed. She said she understood what I meant--that when you have choices, you needn't be limited by hand-me-down couches or little apartments, or anything else that brings you down. (I realize that this may sound petty, but it was a huge part of my personal health and my emotional health, because it isn't about an ugly couch, but more about how I've lived with chronic pain for 7 years and been medicated for it for 4). I didn't have choices. I didn't have the things I needed to be healthy. I was anxious and sad, and I didn't try to improve my situation because I felt trapped in a financial situation and more seriously, an emotional one.

    So before parting, my instructor asked me how I felt about my choices and about my career, and what it was doing for me. I answered her, that today, when I paired up with a guy I had never met (for dialogue role-play), I shook his hand and told him my name, and he said he'd heard of me. I was sort of taken aback, saying, "really?" He smiled and said, "Well, yeah. You're the one who always talks in front of the whole room." And I thought about that for a brief moment. Every session, our group (of 10 realtors that form one of the "teams") has to share a success story, and I've gone three times now (in 6 weeks). Holy cow! I've had a success story...that I SHARED with my class...on a microphone no less...50% of the days we're in class. So I guess I'm feeling pretty successful, and not the least bit anxious in at least some part of my life! It really opened my eyes, that maybe even though I don't think I'm strong and capable, or even normal, people perceive me as something other than I feel on the inside. I've talked in front of a hundred people week after week, and shared the positive, uplifting feelings of success I'm having, and I'm not even noticing I'm doing it!

    Anyways, to those of you who made it through this impossibly long post, thank you. Thank you for listening, and thank you for sharing in my small feeling of success. It isn't writing-related, but I think it's important for writing to be only a part of my life right now, because I need to build my life from the ground up again. I wish you all the best, and hope for you all to feel successful in your endeavors, too. This is a hard choice, to be a writer. To pursue that inkling of inspiration all the way to the end of a work, and beyond into editing and querying, and perhaps even publishing. It isn't an easy road, and it gets better with friends, sometimes to push you, sometimes to commiserate. I wouldn't be where I am without this forum, and I'm deeply indebted to you.

    I'm honored to be a part of so many writers' lives, and to call those folks my friends.
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Many writing books talk about protecting writing time from other demands of life. They neglect to say that sometimes it's important to protect the rest of life from writing! Blocking out some time helps on both fronts.

    I had to do this. My wife and I retired at more or less the same time, two years ago. I immediately went into Writer Mode. After a few months it was really beginning to wear on our relationship, and the key was that she never knew how her day was going to go. Even though from my perspective I was writing only a few hours a day, from her perspective my writing pervaded and invaded the entire day.

    Since then we've agreed on days and hours. The writing beast is happier when it is crate trained. :)
    kennyc and Heliotrope like this.
  9. First of all, I just want to say welcome back!

    Second, it's really up to you to decide how long is too long of a hiatus. For me, I can't allow myself more than a week, or else I just lose interest.

    But with your situation, you just need to take however long you need in order to recover and get back into the right frame of mind in order to write.
  10. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

    I've always struggled with thoughts such as "this feels pointless" and "I must be useless considering ..." They often lead me down the pit of feeling totally fed up with writing, or rather, the stories I'm currently writing. (Life in general too, but I won't get into that)

    For productivity's sake I take significant breaks from writing. Hence why you guys might not hear from me for months or even years Sounds stupid I know, even counterproductive, but hear me out. If I kept plugging away into infinity, posting constantly on forums and always thinking about the craft, I'd end up with far too many projects. Every time I got fed up I'd have a new shiny idea to try and pick me out of my funk. And so on and so forth. By taking breaks I might not write as much but I'd tend to burn out less, and therefore not waste as much time on the shinies. I have no doubt I need more structured writing time, but for now that's not my goal.

    I also give myself permission to write more for the sake of writing rather than always pushing to publish. Less pressure, as far as my experience is concerned, produces my best most focused work.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is you've got to find the balance that works for you. Everyone and their neighbour tells us writers to keep going, to keep pushing at it. Maybe you need to give yourself permission to ignore the commonly given advice for a bit. Just take stock of why writing is the thing for you. Why do it? Where's the fun?

    I lost sight of that for a long time, and needed to rediscover my love for the act. Maybe that means I'm not cut out to be a professional writer? Honestly I'd much rather have a love for my craft and on the off chance get published than batter the thing to death and hate myself for it.
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2015
    kennyc likes this.
  11. Velka

    Velka Sage

    It's a little strange, yet serendipitous, this is one of the first posts I've read on this forum in over 7 months.

    I had it in mind to lurk about in the dusty corners for a bit and see how I felt about coming back into this writing community, and what that meant to me as being a writer. Life can be cruel and kind, and I found I needed some time to get my (professional, personal, emotional, etc) houses in order. I wrote, here and there, but I didn't even approach the breach, much less throw myself into it like I once did.

    Now I'm slowly wading back into my writing with a new perspective, and a clearer understanding of why I do this in the first place - it's something I enjoy, no more, no less. I like to create stories and characters and worlds and dialogue. I love words and the alchemy of putting them together to create meaning and emotion and experience.

    And that's it. It's something I do because I find joy in it, and while it can be frustrating it doesn't have to keep me up at night and leave me in awful shape the next day because I couldn't think of a way to plug a plot hole the size of a bus.

    Would I love to be published? Yes. Do I want it bad enough to sacrifice my sanity, relationships, performance in a day-job I love, and self-esteem? Nope, nope, nope, nope. If something comes of my writing I will celebrate, if all that it ever amounts to is a bunch of stories I've created for my own enjoyment and that of a few others, I'll celebrate that too.

    So now I write when it will bring me joy. Sometimes it's for a few hours, sometimes 20 minutes, sometimes a few days go by before I open Scrivner. By lifting this totally absurd self-imposed idea that in order to be good at writing I must let it consume me, I've found the work I've produced have vastly improved. Word count is in the toilet, but I don't care. I'm enjoying it again and I'll leave the bleeding on typewriters to Hemingway.

    I'm glad you've found balance Caged Maiden, and I wish you all the best in maintaining it. Life is too short to live solely in one's stories, and it's also too short not to create a few of one's own.
    Nimue likes this.

Share This Page