Pushing yourself is important. Without drive and determination, nothing great would ever be accomplished, and the same goes for writing. Writing a novel isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of dedication. But there is such a thing as pushing yourself too hard. When you’ve been working on the same piece for months on end, the words might start swimming on the page while the characters all blend together. This would be a good time to step back and let your work in progress breathe.
What does it mean to “let your work breathe”? Basically, letting your story sit without concentrating all of your efforts on it. Take some time to explore other hobbies and let your mind wander. Read other books, watch some TV, paint, jog, whatever, just allow your mind the freedom to do what it needs to reset. Then when you go back to writing again, you’ll see your story with a new vigor.
Distance proves to be a great tool for handling writer’s block. Changing your scenery or exposing yourself to a space outside of your usual writing area can expand your horizons and change your perspective of your story. Something as simple as taking a walk can generate new ideas and solve problems that previously proved detrimental.
Giving yourself distance from your work can greatly improve your writing abilities. It’ll allow you to clear your mind, then come back to the project with a fresh set of eyes. By taking a step back, you open yourself to other stimuli, and you might find an answer you couldn’t before. Say you couldn’t figure out a character’s motivation. Getting out, talking to people, and absorbing other media might unlock that secret.
Distance helps with editing in particular. If you start editing the second you’ve completed your draft, your current perception of the story might skew your editing abilities. Darling might need killing, but there’s a chance you won’t recognize that without fresher eyes, and distance can provide that. In his book On Writing, Stephen King recommends writing a first draft, then leaving it to stew for several weeks — preferably four to six.
The challenging parts of giving yourself distance come from recognition: recognizing when you need distance, and recognizing when to return to the project. When working on a piece, sometimes we don’t want to stop, regardless of how drained and stuck we feel. We tell ourselves, “if I stop now, I’ll never finish”, but if you’re just beating your head against a wall without making real progress, you’re doing more damage than good. Admitting you need to take a step back requires courage and discipline.
The same goes for returning to your work in progress. The most important part of writing is to finish, and there is a danger of leaving a work unfinished if you step back. Starting up again can be scary as well — what if your point of view changed too much, or there’s too much to be fixed? In times like these, take a deep breath, and trust your instinct. Nobody knows your story better than you do, and only you can tell it your way. Then get back to it.
When giving your work in progress a rest, take all the time you need. Be patient with yourself, and do the things you love to help you relax and reset. When you are ready, get back to work. You’ll be amazed at how your story transforms after taking time for yourself.
is a writer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Graduating in May 2020 with a degree in English Literature with a Writing Emphasis, Ian writes comics, poetry, and scripts. He is currently an intern for The Brain Health Magazine and aims to work in the comic publishing industry. In his spare time, Ian plays Dungeons & Dragons, board games, and bass guitar.