I Think I Need to Take a Day Off

by Brett Battles

It happens to me every couple of weeks or so, especially when things are really flowing. And things have been REALLY flowing for the last month. In big part that’s due to this new place (new to me) that I’ve found to work it. Instead of feeling done after writing for four hours, I how can stretch it out to six or seven or sometimes even eight, getting so much more done per sitting than I ever considered before.

Which is great, but…

…then comes that day when things…jusst…slooooow….dowwwwwwwwwn.

All of a sudden I’m just not feeling it. The plot points I need to keep straight in my mind get all jumbled together. Characters voices become muffled sounds in my ears. And the keyboard of my laptop feels like a torture device as the tips of my fingers struggle to find the right keys.

That’s when I think I need a day off. And today is one of those days.

Actually I’ve felt it coming on for about a week, but I’ve been ignoring it. Unfortunately, it has refused to go away.

But, see, I’m loathed to give in and take that day off.

Here’s the deal: I make this schedule in my mind…so many pages per day means I should hit page A by date B, and page C by date D, which then means I should have a finished draft by date E. I can get hung up on that. I can end up seeing that as the path I MUST travel, with no deviation being tolerated. Even as I think this I know it’s stupid. I’ve never been able to stay completely to schedule, and yet I always finish. Still I when I begin to feel that need-for-a-day-off feeling, the organized part of my mind shouts, “ NO! You can’t do that! The schedule. Just look at the schedule. If you take a day off, that means you’ll push the end date back. REMEMBER??? You made a promise to yourself not to push that back. I don’t mean to be a pain here or anything, but nose to the grindstone, buddy!”

This voice makes sense to me. I mean I really want to get this book done by the end of March. It’s actually ahead of my deadline, but I have other things I need/want to work on and the year is only so long. And then there’s the next Quinn book, Quinn #5…its plot is starting to boil in my mind. I feel the need to at least get that started soon so I can channel that energy. And if I’m completely honest with you, I’d actually like to get it as close to finished as possible before the end of the year, too!

So, yes, maybe I shouldn’t take a day off. Maybe I should just push through. Surely this feeling will pass. All my instincts will kick in. I’ll remember the plot points, I’ll hear my characters again, I’ll feel excited, I’ll…I’ll…

….eh…I’ll be kidding myself.

 “If you don’t take a day off now, you’ll end up taking multiple days off in a week or two. You’ll actually lose more time.”

That’s the other voice in my head. The voice of reason.

At least I want to think of it as the voice of reason, because what it’s saying is true. (More true, that is, than what that other voice was saying.) I’ve seen it happen to me before. A day off now hurts a lot less than three days off later.

My point is sometimes we just need to recharge our brains. When that happens we can’t worry about schedules or desires or deadlines, because without that recharge we’re doing our stories a disservice.

Now don’t go around saying I gave you permission to not write. That’s not what I’m saying. In fact, I don’t have the power to give you permission about anything. My God, if I had that power, I’d raise and army and take over some small country. Preferably an island nation. In the Pacific….near the equator. With lots of beautiful, single––

Wait, I digress. What I am saying is you have to know yourself. Don’t let…eh…“you” get away with anything, but know yourself enough to realize when you might need to recharge. Honor that. Sometimes that’s as important as writing and creating. What you must not do is stretch this little recharge into an unplanned writing vacation. That is not acceptable.

Take that day off, then it’s back to AIS (ass in chair).

So that’s what I’m going to do. Take a day off. But maybe I’ll wait until next week…no, no, today! Wait, maybe tomorrow…crap. I’ll figure it out.

So, do you give yourself time to recharge?
If so, what are your favorite ways to achieve this?

And, come on folks. I’m getting a little embarrassed here being the guy who gets the fewest comments. At least Rob’s post yesterday was crappy (though humorous), so we should at least be able to beat his comment total, right? Help a fellow writer out.

And be sure to wish our own Pari a HAPPY BIRTHDAY today!

Music (for no apparent reason) ARE YOU GOING TO GO MY WAY by LENNY KRAVITZ

27 thoughts on “I Think I Need to Take a Day Off

  1. Rene

    Yes, take the time off! I always need a little break if I’ve pushed hard to finish one, before I can start the next. The brain does hit overload.

  2. Stephen D. Rogers

    A funny thing happened last week. After I got home from work, I just couldn’t settle down. Completely unfocused. So I drove to McDonald’s and set up shop there.

    Wowza, kazoo. I wrote at double my normal rate for an hour and a half. Then, I hit a wall, and it died.

    The drive home was enough recharge to write for another three hours (although at the slower pace).

    But it was strange to sit there at McDonald’s and recognize that I was done. Wiped out. Spent.

  3. Louise Ure

    Funny how we never add in those days off when we do our original calculation of “X pages by X date.” Self-sabotage if I’ve ever seen it. (But I do it, too.)

    Happy Birthday, Pari!

  4. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Brett

    Having the day-job means I’m regularly dragged away from my desk to go on shoots, and I find time in the car or on location is probably the best way for me to get sticky plot points sorted, or work my way out of a corner.

    Apart from that, if I’m into a book I try not to take days off. Can’t let myself off the hook that easy.

    And Stephen – “But it was strange to sit there at McDonald’s and recognize that I was done. Wiped out.”

    Are you sure that wasn’t something to do with the food?

    And Happy Birthday, Pari!

  5. Christine Cook

    Julia Cameron, author of the ARTIST’S WAY, calls this need for a time-out “time to refill the well.” The idea is, when we’re really going along well (which is what sounds like is happening to you right now), you keep dipping into your reservoir of thoughts and ideas until the well runs dry. And then you want, nay, NEED to refill the well.

    Cameron recommends artist’s dates to refill the well. These are little one hour play sessions where you go out and do something fun and relaxing. She recommends doing this once a week, whether you think you need it or not, to keep the well filled.

    Methinks you need an artist date, my good friend.

  6. Dana King

    I don’t really have much to add to the above, but your plea for comments has touched me in a deeply personal way.

    I think Louise had the best idea: build days off into the schedule. You don’t have to take them, at least not when you planned, but they’re nice to have.

    What I do is to set a minimum amount of work I have to accomplish each day, but I can go over if I’m on a roll and want to. Gradually easing ahead without adjusting the original schedule means the occasional day off will make itself available, as you can skip a day and still be on track.

    Happy birthday, Pari.

  7. toni mcgee causey

    I take days off whenever I need to. Half of the time, that’s when I stumble across some fun fact, some interesting person, some crazy thing that helps me brainstorm a plot point or gives me some detail I didn’t realize was missing ’til I heard it. “Writing” isn’t just when words hit the page. “Writing” is all that other stuff you do in order to put the words on the page. You can’t do one without the other. You can’t have time off without the butt being in the chair at some point and getting the work done, and you can’t create something out of nothing for the rest of your life without experiencing life to go into the stories.

    Happy birthday, Pari!

  8. Lee Child

    Brett – like Dana I was deeply touched by your call for comments. And I took a day off Tuesday. I used it to write my chapter for ITW’s new serial thriller for Audible, The Copper Bracelet. It followed your chapter. You ended it with a version of my most frequently-used line. Did you know I was following you? If so, nice segue. If not … weird.

    Tomorrow I have to go to a library benefit. Next week I have to go to England for my parents’ diamond wedding. The last three books I have kept a diary to record progress, which reveals I need between 80 and 90 “good” days to do a book. But finding 80 or 90 clear days is hard. I hope to be done by the end of March. Although this time around my main stressor isn’t time, it’s content. The damn thing wants to wrap up short. Usually I do between 115k and 120k words. This one, I’ll feel lucky to hit 100k. Brother, can you spare a plot point?

  9. Allison Brennan

    Brett, for me I have to write every day or the day AFTER I struggle because that day off didn’t really hurt anything, right? I can take another day off, right? But it’s a personality thing. I can pretty much justify any procrastination tool. I also have the knowledge that if I write something really crappy, I can go back and fix it.

    Lee, when I’m running short I usually kill someone, or if my characters are getting along really well, they find time to have sex. Congratulations to your parents! What a fantastic celebration.

    And Happy Birthday Pari!

  10. Brett Battles

    Lee…no I didn’t know you were going to be next until after I had finished. So it would have to fall into the “weird” category.

    I really appreciate the comments, and hope they keep coming!

  11. Jake Nantz

    Mr. Battles,On my own blog, I go maybe once a week. On a good post, I get 3, maybe even 4 responses. Most times I get crickets. So I DEFINITELY understand the yearn for comments. Here’s what i would say:

    You know your body and your mind and your process better than any of us do. You can tell, better than any of us, when you are trying to procrastinate vs. when you REALLY need a day off. I say go with your gut.

    As for me, I have never been a steady writer, which is why it’s taking me as long as it is on this first book. I keep letting life get in the way. So if I were in your shoes, and no longer had the day job, I’d probably be terrified to take a day off for fear it would turn into a week, or worse, a month.

    Just my $.02

  12. Fran

    I used to tell my students that there is value in daydreaming. Not during MY class, of course, but the mind needs a vacation. Some of the most productive work you can do gets done while you’re staring out the window, I find.

    It’s almost a physical wrench for someone with a serious drive and need to Accomplish to relax. And there’s that little seed of guilt, isn’t there?

    But your drive is proven, and a day off to rest and play hooky isn’t naughty. It’s necessary. Is there a way to turn your need to Accomplish to Accomplishing relaxation?

    No guilt, just enjoyment of something away from the keyboard.

    With ice cream. At least that’s MY opinion!

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PARI! Have some green chili and it’s from me!

  13. Dana King

    Lee,Congratualtions to your parents. Mine recently celebrated their 56th anniversary. I’ll be sure to tell them about your parents. It will give them something to shoot for. Retired people need goals, too.

    (I could have left this at Lee’s web site, but this way it’s an extra comment for Brett.)

  14. Robin of My Two Blessings

    Hi Brett,

    I’ll jump out of lurker mode for you!

    Definitely, I do give myself days to recharge. Being an introvert, I need those days or I get very very cranky.

    Usually my veg days are spent reading, watching a movie with my son, or taking a long walk. We ignore the phones and ignore the internet (yes – hard to do) and regroup. Taking a nap helps too. We come away refreshed and ready to tackle whatever comes our way the next day. Invariably during those quiet times, an answer, an new idea, a different way to write something will pop into my brain which will help move along my WIP.

    Cheers to taking a veg day soon!

    Happy Birthday – Pari!

  15. Steve

    Brett, a man has to do what a man has to do. I’m sure you will also. Rob who? Oh yeah, that guy. I bet he pays folks for comments. You get them free (grin).

  16. J.T. Ellison

    Wow – lots of good news in the comments!

    Pari – Happy Birthday, darlin.’ May all your wishes come true!

    Lee – Happy Anniversary to your parents – mine just celebrated their 52nd. Nice to see. Travel safe!

    Who else, who else… oh, yeah, that Brett guy…

    A day off here and there is absolutely vital for your brain to recharge. You’re right about taking the one day now instead of crashing three weeks from now and losing three. If I’m going to take a day off, I make sure I’m filling it with essentials – reading, writing a blog or two, a movie, something that feels less work like but doesn’t let the guilt of not working rear it’s head.

    And damn, I wish I could take one now… back to work for me!

  17. Brett Battles

    And Lee…I meant to say congratulations to your parents! Mine celebrated their 50th a couple years ago, and I thought that was an accomplishment…Yours have gone the extra mile, or twenty-five!

  18. Catherine

    Ex florist here Lee, relax, 60 is the correct number for a Diamond Anniversary.

    Happy Birthday Pari.

    Such a plaintive plea for comments Brett, effective though.

    I think to be able to keep work fresh, you do need to occasionally take that break to re-engage.Although I don’t write fiction, I’ve had similar experiences to Toni. When I take time off because I’m fading, that’s when I’ve run into someone and have that coffee, and breakthroughs happen, or it maybe that the next person I bump into is studying a similar stream to me, and we connect each other up with the next contact we need…

  19. pari

    Hey, EVERYONE!!!

    Thank you all for the birthday wishes. It’s been a great day so far. I’m not even keeping the computer off today because I’m having so much fun screwing around in spite of it!!

    Of course, I’m a little slap happy too. I got up at around 5 so that the kids and I could have breakfast at a restaurant before everyone started their day.

  20. J.B. Thompson

    A belated happy birthday to you, Pari – I hope you had the best day ever! And Lee, congrats to your parents on their 60th. It doesn’t seem like that kind of longevity exists much these days, so it’s always great to hear that it does.

    Brett, don’t feel bad – the last comment I had on my blog was last June. Of course, not getting any over the five-month hiatus I took probably attributed to that. But still, here you go.

    Like Zoe, I have a day job that gets in the way of my writing (although hers sounds ultimately cooler than mine), so every chance I get to work on the book is precious. That’s actually my recharging time. Someday, when I’m in the same ranks as the rest of you fabulous people, the tables will probably turn, and my recharge days will be spent AWAY from this cursed computer. 😉

  21. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Congratulations on the comment count.I recommend that you spend a nice evening in Hermosa Beach with old friends, perhaps go to a blues club, sit back, relax, drink some friggin’ schnapps. And, while you’re at it, pick up the bill.


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