• Rewards & Breaks

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Strategies     Comments 3 comments

    I have two tools to keep me on track throughout my day and through my writing process: rewards and breaks. Rewards are quite obvious: they come after I’ve accomplished some task (sometimes it’s big like an entire story arc, other times it’s small like finishing an initial storymap). Breaks are a little more difficult because I have a hard time diagnosing when I should take a break and when I should muscle through a rough patch.

    For me writing is analogous to a water faucet–sometimes writing comes like turning on a modern faucet, turn the handle and water pours out. Other times writing comes like turning on an old faucet, turn the handle and after a few false starts and some rusty water you’re in business. And sometimes writing is like turning on a faucet that has no water supply: it always feels like it’s about to pour out but all that’s really there is the sound of sucking.

    Obviously when you’re at the third option it’s time to take a break, but how do you recognize it? If you’re staring out into space and/or you’ve rewritten the same paragraph a few times, now is probably a good time to take a break. How long of a break is up to you–but anything longer than 24 hours is procrastination.

    Sometimes you really want to finish this one task before you take a break. I still get frustrated that when I’m unable to finish a task, I feel like I haven’t earned the break. But here’s something to think about: breaks aren’t earned, rewards are earned. Federal law requires all employers (with only a few exceptions) to give their employees a break during the workday–breaks are that important. They are a time for your mind to relax so you work better. Instead of trying to earn your next break, take it when the opportunity arises.

    Far be it for me to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, but I recommend doing something completely different than the task you’re having difficulty with. If it’s typing on your computer, don’t take a Facebook or Twitter break. If it’s writing with a pen and paper in your quiet space, don’t reach for a book and stay in the same spot. Go cook dinner or wash some dishes or do a load of laundry or make your bed or exercise or meditate–anything to switch gears and let the writerly part of your mind relax. Once you’ve cleared your mind and possibly accomplished some menial task, take another shot at writing. If you’re still having difficulty you can try to write about your inability to write what you want, or you can give yourself the night off with no regrets and come back at it with a fresh mind tomorrow.

    What about you guys? Have any good results from taking a break? Any disasters from not? Any stories to prove me wrong?


    Jacqui Bryant’s love for reading, ability to create adventure, and general curiosity for all things unconventional in life may outweigh her ability to write well. But she hopes not.

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    Christopher Savage

    It’s a fine line, inspiration versus determination. Hopefully they coexist, but I do know in my writing that that’s not always the case (or even half the time). I find that I need to surround myself with familiar, comforting things. For instance, I like to have a cup of tea (or some drink) nearby, so that I can take a sip and allow my mind to catch up to whatever is happening on the page. Also, I know I write more consistently late at night when the day’s activities have played out. Rewards and breaks are still essential, but for… Read more »

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    I have many days on which I don’t take breaks, and my mental health suffers for it. Working scheduled breaks into your day can mean the difference between a short story, article, chapter, etc. that progresses and one that dies.

    Ever heard of the Pomodoro Technique? Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjYe8ij8H-c&feature=BFa&list=UU11ROplaSwDp1atm8pLQoWw&lf=plcp

    Jacqui Bryant

    I’ve heard of that technique before, but it was called the kitchen/egg timer technique. I’m definitely calling it the pomodoro technique from now on. Sounds much more intriguing.

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