Take a Break: An Unpopular Piece of Writing Advice

I am currently sitting in a cafe. I do this regularly whenever I have the day off from work, like I do today.

Not only that, but I have finished all of the other errands I had to run, including the minor things like laundry and applications to jobs and fellowships I had to turn in before their respective deadlines.

Thus, I should have no trouble getting some writing done today, which is why I am sitting in this cafe right now with a delicious mocha.

That said, it has been almost two hours, and I have not written a word.

It’s strange, too. I’ve been thinking about this trilogy of short stories for days now, daydreaming at work about the characters and plot, consistently annoyed by my other obligations for keeping me away from my creative process.

And yet, here I am, with nothing to do, unable to put down a single word, either in my notebook or a Word doc. And I can’t help but ask myself “why?” I have the time now. So why can’t I do it?

There is a common piece of writing advice claiming that true writers write every day, or at least every chance they get. I have heard this from interviews with authors, none more extreme than Danielle Steele who literally works for 20-22 hours a day. I have heard it from professors in my MFA who said they volunteered to do the laundry and would take their writing tools with them to take advantage of their time alone. The point is that if you don’t make an effort to write every day, then, by definition, you cannot be a real writer.

I don’t believe that. I’ll go even further than to say that it’s a dangerous piece of advice.

Yes, I do believe that writers should make an effort to finish their projects. But no, I don’t believe they should do it every chance they get. I have previously written how writing (and art in general) is a form of expression, a way to release all the stress and tension one may have during the day. It could be hard to not be an artist as much as it is to be one.

But I failed to mention how we are also not machines that are meant to produce every day or every chance we get. Because that’s capitalism talking. And sometimes we can be too tired to even express our exhaustion.

As much as I love my art and projects, I am also exhausted. I work a minimum-wage, part-time job that can hardly pay the bills and rent. I am taking medication for severe bouts of depression and anxiety. I am constantly in fear and doubt over my future and career.

To claim that I’m not a writer because I don’t “write every chance I get” is only adding to the shame and feeling of failure that I constantly feel. It’s dangerous and arrogant to make others feel that way, to be on the high horse for having the time, the money, and privilege to write comfortably. Writing is itself already difficult. So, why add to the stress?

There’s a mental trick my therapist taught me in which you imagine someone you care about going through the same situation and imagining what you would tell them, asking yourself why you wouldn’t tell yourself the same thing.

Sometimes we can’t write. Life gets in the way. And not everyone has the luxury of writing comfortably. The way my life is going, I don’t think I can ever afford to apply for residencies.

But that doesn’t make me less of a writer. I write when I can and choose to. I write when I am in a good spot. I write when I know I can give it my all rather than a half-ass job because my head is somewhere else. Because the ones who ultimately suffer from all this are the writer, the writing, and the reader.

So, take a break sometime. Enjoy a nice walk down the street. Go hiking. Watch a movie. Read a good book. Your book isn’t going anywhere. It can, and will, wait for you, whenever you’re ready.

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