Anyone who’s ever spent a few hours trying to wrangle their words onto a page knows that writing is hard work – never mind those of us who are nuts enough to do that on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis. And yet, even after more than a decade of doing this work, I find that because I love it, I rarely think to take a break, even when I’m really stuck on a project and boring down on it like a teenager in the grips of unrequited love. And to make matters worse, it feels like the more I dig my heels in, the further the object of my attention drifts away from me. One great thing about writing, though – as opposed to love, say, or politics – is that it responds really, really well to taking a vacation.
I don’t mean the sort of vacation you take when Ed McMahon (Sheeran?) shows up with a million dollars and you leave the milk out and hightail it out of there faster than you can say “fortheloveofgodgetoutofmyway.” This is not a bad sort of vacation to take, though it’s best not to stay too long in a place where you arrive in a sweaty and desperate panic. That’s what we might call a temporary solution. Because while it might make you feel like throwing your computer against the wall and making a dramatic exit, your writing is a part of you, and needs to be honored as such, even if you sometimes need to just shut it down and walk away to get a little perspective.
The type of vacation I’m thinking of is one that keeps you connected to yourself as a writer, but puts you in a new scene where no one knows you and you might need to pick up a new language. For those of you with darker, more subversive streaks, you might think of this type of vacation as the writerly equivalent of taking a mistress. Either way, this kind of vacation involves your setting that stubborn, no-good, totally unreasonable project you once thought you could hang the moon on aside and taking on another.
Yes, you read that right.
Start something new – and make sure it’s categorically different from whatever you’ve been obsessing over, er, working on. Maybe you’re a fiction writer who takes on a biography; or a journalist who starts a mystery series; or an academic who starts a novel. The most important thing to keep in mind is that this secondary project, or dalliance, should feel like everything the intractable project is not: fun, undemanding, different, and entirely free from expectation.
You might find that you don’t even need to refocus for long to find your way back – or you might find that what you once only thought of as a vacation spot might be where you need to live for a while. Either way, it’s incredibly refreshing to release your creative energies into unexpected and unexplored spaces. Because the most dedicated, most productive kind of creativity must allow for a healthy amount of play. Otherwise, you become like the kid who’s always making everyone play dolls and lines them up and doesn’t let her friends touch their clothes or dirty their shoes. So please, give yourself a little breathing room. Remember that it’s rare that great things come out of unrelenting pressure, and that the most beautiful voices sometimes emerge from the most unexpected of places.
Art: Vincent Van Gogh, The Yellow Books