How Taking a Break can Improve your Writing
March 6, 2018
by Anna Wahler
At the moment, I’m taking a break from my current manuscript and working on a side project. It’s completely different from my long-term writing in a number of aspects. In the past I’ve had mixed feelings about leaving my manuscript alone for a while and devoting my time to other things. On one hand, I wanted to take advantage of the new ideas I had, but on the other hand, I felt guilty that I wasn’t spending my time on my main project. Here are a few thoughts on my process of working with multiple ideas at once, and how I was able to turn my distraction into something beneficial.
Why Take a Break?
There were a few factors that motivated me to take a break from my manuscript. Mainly, I’m in the process of getting opinions from readers, and until I can collect feedback on the story as a whole, I can’t determine the best way to proceed. Also, another idea came to mind that I couldn’t get out of my head. If you know how to look for ideas, they can be everywhere. Rather than stick it in a folder for later, however, I thought it would be beneficial to work with the idea a little more. In my case, I felt that what mattered to me was that I was taking a break because I wanted to explore another idea, not because I was bored with my existing manuscript.
How Much of a Break is Helpful?
If you care about making progress, it can be very easy to start to guilt yourself into getting back on track. I don’t think there is a simple answer to this. What you can do, though, is think about a few things.
- Do you care more about the side project than your main manuscript? I would urge you to give this some thought over time. It may be tempting to say yes, because if you’re anything like me, I can sensationalize my ideas and think that each new plot and character is the best idea I’ve ever had. Let them sit with you for a little while, a few weeks or so. Then ask yourself again which project you have more passion for.
- Have you often gotten distracted in the past? On one hand, if you find you’ve often lost your focus or momentum, and switched gears to new projects often, you might want to consider putting more effort into seeing one project through to completion. But if you’ve gotten through multiple drafts or manuscripts to a point you feel satisfied with, you know your work habits well enough to know you’ll probably return to your main project sooner or later.
- It can be beneficial as well to leave some miscellaneous project ideas in mind for later. That way you can avoid the end-of-project blues that might show up when you finish your main writing endeavour, or stop yourself from over-editing out of a reluctance to move on. I organize mine very methodically, but find a system that works for you. I keep loose ideas, vague concepts, photos, magazine articles, etc in a large filing pouch with tabs labeled with subjects. As soon as I feel I can devote a level of seriousness or energy to an idea, or find myself overwhelmed with notes, I start putting ideas into a notebook.
Thoughts on Maintaining Productivity During a Break
My alternate idea was a new experience in many ways for me. To start, it fell into the fantasy genre, even though many other elements were based on the USSR in the 1950s. It was also a short story, even though I wanted to leave myself the chance to expand on it later. In order to get a better sense of the particularities of short stories as they contrasted with novels, I made an effort to read more short stories, paying attention to the way they were structured.
Another feature of my story that was new to me was that I was basing my story on an existing work of literature, adding twists on the characters,and changes in setting. For as long as people have been writing great novels, people have also been adapting them, and putting their own spins on their themes and plots. Some of these adaptations have also gone on to become successful, while others have become victim of ridicule and are considered cliches or rip-offs. To try and give my story a good foundation, I looked at different analyses of the novel I was working with, (Dead Souls. By Nikolai Gogol) to see what connections scholars and other writers found that I hadn’t made yet. I also realized that time period and audience would be an important factor. Dead Souls was written in the mid 1800s, and is still considered a great novel today. But the readers of the 1800s and the readers of 2018 and onward have very different tastes. There are certain elements of style that change in fiction, ones that we permit classic authors to ‘get away with,’ but which might not sell well today. I read a ton of contemporary reviews of Dead Souls to see which aspects were still the most interesting for readers now, and which strained the attention spans of today’s’ audience.
By exploring topics which I wouldn’t have otherwise read into, I felt like my time spent on this side project wasn’t wasted.
Having a new idea is one of the most exciting things that can happen to a writer. The indecision of trying to figure out how to juggle a new idea with an old one sure isn’t. Ultimately, I’ve found that writing is about going with what you are most passionate about. Then that passion can be felt by your readers!
PS—want to help me get my short story Censored Souls ready to enter into a fiction contest at the end of March? Contact me to read the story and offer feedback!