• The Writer’s Hiatus: Why and How?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 14 comments
    Mar
    30

    TL;DR version: Do you take a hiatus from your WIP between drafts? Why or why not? During that hiatus, do you think about your WIP or do you try to erase it from your mind? How long should these hiati (yeah) last? Should you work on another writing project during a hiatus, or put the writing implements away? Share your thoughts below!

     

    I’m working with a fiction writer who has just finished the third draft of his book but is now taking a break — “going on hiatus,” he says — before beginning the fourth and final draft.

    (For more on drafting, and on swooping versus bashing, join last week’s super fun discussion.)

    It always sounds so appealing to me, this going on hiatus business. Part of it is the word itself. Perhaps simply because they both start with the same letter, and because I’m a simpleton, “hiatus” summons images of Hawaii. It also makes me think of Carl Hiaasen (hia, hia, simpleton), who for a while was my vacation reading.

    Also, according to Merriam-Webster.com, the word comes from a Latin verb, “hiare,” meaning “to yawn.” (Is this post making you hiare yet?)

    But of course it has since come to mean a gap or an interruption in an activity. And for many writers, a hiatus has become a standard step in the writing process.

    It goes something like this:

    1. Finish a draft.

    2. Put that draft in a drawer. (Literally and/or metaphorically.)

    3. Don’t work on it for [x] weeks/months.

    4. Pull it out, reread it, and have a nervous breakdown.

    Let’s take a look at this, step by step.

     

    Finish a Draft

    Yay, you’ve finished a draft!

    This didn’t have to be its own section.

     

    Put it in a Drawer

    If you have a printed copy of that draft or have been writing by hand, put it in a drawer.

    Make a ceremony out of it, if you wish. Music, food, booze. If the cops show up, you’re doing it right.

    If your WIP is only on your computer, consider printing it out, just for the ceremony. Otherwise, put that draft in a drawer metaphorically. You shan’t be working on it for a while.

     

    Hiatus Begins

    So, for how long should this time away last? Stephen King in On Writing recommends six weeks. “During this time your manuscript will be safely shut away in a desk drawer,” he writes, “aging and (one hopes) mellowing.”

    Do you have a standard hiatus length, or does it change from project to project, perhaps based on feel? I’m guessing the latter. That’s how I operate. I put that junk in the junk drawer and don’t go back to it until the timing feels right.

    But what to do in the meantime? Should you think about it, or should you try to put it out of your mind?

    “Your thoughts will turn to it frequently, and you’ll be tempted a dozen times or more to take it out,” King writes. “Resist temptation.”

    My take? I don’t actively think about my project when it’s in a drawer, but if a random thought about a character or scene flutters through my mind, I’ll follow it, I’ll write it down, and I’ll put it in the drawer.

    What’s your take? Actively think about your WIP (but don’t work on it) while on hiatus, or try to erase it from your mind as if it doesn’t exist?

     

    Hiatus Ends

    Every good hiatus has to end someday. Hiati can’t go on forever, gang!

    Pull that shizz out of its drawer, sit down, and read it. (King recommends doing it in one sitting, for what it’s worth.)

    But this is key, I think: Read it like a reader, not like a writer.

    And especially not like its writer.

    This will put you in a better position to notice plot holes and similar glitches. Think of how easy it is to find the faults in plot, character development, consistency, etc., in that mystery novel you bought last week. This is because you’re reading it like a reader. You have no little to no emotional stake in the writing itself

    If you read your work like its author, you’ll likely miss some of these things because you’ll be focused on the writing itself. “I should’ve used a semicolon instead of a comma here”; “This line is garbage, I suck”; “This line is brilliant, I’m brilliant.” It gets in the way.

    After fixing major holes is the time to revise and edit, including that line-level work we’re so inclined to focus on.

     

    Or Does It?

    The major danger with a hiatus is that the work will become so yesterday’s news that when the hiatus is over, you have little to no interest in returning to it.

    Has this ever happened to you? Did you get past it, and if so, how?

     

    Your Turn

    Nothing new to say here, really. I’m curious to know your experiences with writing hiatuses, and what rules you establish during a hiatus.

    Share your thoughts with us below.

     

     

    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

    0 0 votes
    Article Rating
    Subscribe
    Notify of
    guest
    14 Comments
    Oldest
    Newest Most Voted
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments
    Mark H

    I’ve never taken a Hawaii-atus. I’ve never been
    that deeply into a project. So why am I answering? I
    don’t know, just to be FIRST, I guess.

    If you don’t work on your WiP during a hiatus are
    you supposed to work on something new, or
    not write at all? I don’t think I got that answer
    from this. Is it a total vacation from writing?

    David Duhr

    Hawaii-atus. I’m stealing that. Unless you copyrighted it. (Copywrote it?)

    King suggests starting another project during your hiatus, if that helps. Makes sense to me. No reason to quit writing entirely, unless you feel the need for some sort of recharge.

    Mark H

    Did it eat my comment? I still want first.

    David Duhr

    Pipe down, you got first! But your comment went to sp*m first, for some reason. Maybe you shouldn’t have included a link to a Nike retailer in China.

    E

    Ugh! I had a nice answer all typed up, and my dog rested his ear on the delete button. Ah, the writer’s life. Suffice it to say that I always let my work rest and mellow. Yes, I do jot down ideas when it’s mellowing. Yes, I do think a lot of it looks like slop with pearls in it when I take it up again. I look at it with fresh, more objective eyes and (hopefully) some growth as a writer. Works every time. I don’t have any hard and fast rules about the process, just an intuitive sense.… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Yup, this sounds like the perfect hiatus. No rules, just intuition. That’s a good thing to let spill into the writing process as well. Anarchy! It’s underrated in the arts.

    But what is “Patience, Pauline”? It seems like a reference to something, and I can’t figure it out, and it’s going to keep me up nights.

    Will you work on a different project while you’re hiatusing(!), or take a break from writing?

    Jill-Ayn

    I usually let a book sit for a week before re-reading it. But I NEVER stop writing. Usually I plan the next book during my time off. My husband says, “Aren’t you going to take a break?” My reply, “Never! When I die, I want it to be with a pen in my hand.” (Poor hubby. Now that he’s semi-retired, he wishes I weren’t a writer. Oh well . . . .)

    David Duhr

    It’s good you can put that hiatus to productive use. For some writers it can be tough to switch gears like that, especially when there’s only a week between projects. Sounds like you’ve found a system that works.

    Yeah, sorry hubby, but writers never retire. We just take occasional… well, hiatuses.

    Barbara Mealer

    I find a hiatus is an important part of my works in progress. I have multiple things I am working on at any one time. Some are left alone for several months. When I look at them again, I see all sorts of errors and changes needed to make it better. With each major revision, I’ll let the work sit, forgetting about it and then reread it as a reader before making further changes. I still use beta readers as they see things I won’t as it is still my work and I know where it is headed. I find… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Yeah, I can’t imagine you taking a hiatus that doesn’t involve working on other projects. Does it ever cause a problem, going back and forth like that? Does a character from one book ever accidentally pop into another before realizing he/she is in the wrong place?

    Glynis Jolly

    I had a forced hiatus with my first WiP, the one I was working on when I got my one call from Justine. What happened is I thought I had saved it to a folder when I had gotten just past the climax of the story. When I could not find it, I freaked, of course, which led to me to clicking when I should not have. The click deleted my WiP. I tried to reconstruct it but I was so out of sorts I gave up. A year and a half later I found the backup copy of it.… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Wow, what a horrifying experience that must have been. I can’t even imagine. And then finding it again! It’s like those movies where the dog is left behind in California and a year and a half later shows up at the owner’s doorstep in Maine. (Is it like that at all? Probably not.)

    It’s not often we get second chances, so I hope you do return to it someday and see what’s there.

    James M Mcgee

    I WRITE FOR WEEKS AT A TIME, BUT ONLY FOR SEVERAL HOURS, THEN I STOP FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON, FOR A WEEK OR SO. THAT WOULD BE MY HIATUS. NO BIG TRIP TAKEN.
    WHEN I GO BACK, I RE READ AND DON’T CONTINUE WITH THE STORYLINE, BUT MAKE CHANGES TO THAT WHICH WAS WRITTEN.THAT MIGHT ALSO BE MY HIATUS, BECAUSE I DON’T CREATE MUCH THEN. ONCE DONE REWRITING, I BEGIN TRYING TO CREATE AGAIN. I DON’T KNOW ABOUT TAKING A HIATUS FOR A REAL LONG TIME, BECAUSE I THINK I WRITE JUST TO DO IT.

    David Duhr

    So you take several breaks during a project, none of which are scheduled? That’s interesting. Maybe by the end, several short breaks end up being the same as a long one anyway. Different tactic, same result. Thanks for sharing.




    Find WBN on Twitter


    14
    0
    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
    ()
    x