“I Need Some Space”: Taking a Break from Your Writing

Have you ever walked away from a writing project for a while? Did you ever go back? If you did, what did you find when you returned?

I’ve always believed that walking away from a project for a short period of time is a good idea. It gives you the chance to clear your head and then you can return to the project with some distance. Distance allows you to proceed with a new perspective and, ultimately, produce a better piece of fiction.

But, there are lots of risks associated with walking away from a project, too.

This week, after a lengthy hiatus, I started re-familiarizing myself with my work in progress, NightWind, with the intent of continuing and finishing the project, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Walking away from a project for a while is hazardous, not because I might never come back to it, but because I don’t know what I’ll find when I DO get back to it. Although my time away was simply due to life getting busy, I knew that I’d return to my project at some point. And with my writing room intact and the time and ability to refocus on my craft once more, I’m ready to forge ahead!

I’ve been gone so long from this project (about 3 months), that I have to go through and read the entire manuscript to figure out what I’ve done and where I’m going. So, what did I find when I finally started reading?

My prologue and my first chapter are simply cringe-worthy. But, after that, things aren’t so bad. The main issue, though? I’ve been writing really lengthy chapters (think 5,000+ words each). I don’t know why I thought this would be useful or work. But it simply doesn’t. It’s old-fashioned and boring and makes the story trudge along. Shorter chapters will make things lighter and assist the flow of action, at least that’s what I’ve convinced myself.

First drafts are always rough, of course. I wish it were possible to skip those first-draft woes (I haven’t even technically finished my first draft yet!). But, as I began my evaluation, it became glaringly obvious what my next steps should be.

The good news is I don’t have to scrap anything, at least not right now. Instead, I want to reform what I’ve already produced into shorter chapters. It’ll be a lot of work, but I think it will be worth it in the end.

Walking away from my project was necessary because life happens, but it also was really useful in allowing me to gain some distance and, therefore, some perspective.

As writers, we tend to be very close to what we create because we put so much of our time and ourselves into each story and character. Sometimes, when I walk away from something and then return to it later, I’m surprised and pleased by what I read. Sometimes I think, did I do that? Wow! That’s pretty good. And there’s definitely been some of that as I’ve been working through what I have of my first draft. And it’s nice to have some of those positive nuggets. It keeps me going. But, that’s not always the case. Sometimes distance reveals the shortcomings in our drafts. As writers, we can’t be afraid of hard work. It’s going to take some effort to get where I want my story to be before publishing. And that’s okay.

Have you ever stepped away from a project for a while? What was your experience like when you came back to it? Please share in the comments!

5 thoughts on ““I Need Some Space”: Taking a Break from Your Writing

  1. Yes, I’ve stepped away from a project or two before. Mostly because my characters, sometimes, refuse to work. They get lazy! 😀 Other times … because life gets too darn busy. With school and midterms and all kinds of essays in my Literary Theory course, writing can be a little arduous. I do jot ideas down for the project I am working on, and I’m constantly thinking about the project. So, I may not be physically writing, but mentally I feel I am 😉

  2. I can totally relate! Whenever I come back to a project after a long time off it’s always rough going. Neither the content nor the style is anywhere near as strong as I remember. But revisiting a project with “fresh eyes” has always served me well and has allowed me to produce a better final manuscript in the end.

  3. It took me 15 years to write my debut novel. I walked away many times. The only issue I can report is that my writing voice changed some after each absence. I ended up self-publishing the book to close the chapter of my life and start new writing projects. The inconsistencies of voice became part of the growth and journey of my main character. Someday I may rework it all to give it a consistent voice, but for now I am content with the finished product. And I’m happy to say that I have written more in the last six months than in the last 10 years.

    1. Congratulations on a prolific 6 months!! I hadn’t thought much about the writing voice changing after a hiatus. That is an interesting point. Thanks for sharing!

  4. We have lots of good ideas that just aren’t “finished”. They are good ideas, or we wouldn’t have started on them, but they just haven’t “figured themselves out” yet. And it’s perfectly OK, in our opinion, to walk away from an idea- so long as you then go to something else. And who knows, maybe that will give you an idea that turns you back to your prior failure to fire. But you should always be thinking, and when possible, writing, about something.

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