Working Writers: The 10 Commandments For Taking A Break

by Alicia Sparks on September 1, 2011

It's a nice, well-rounded number, as far as commandments go.

This Labor Day weekend will be the first time I’ve left town since the Fourth of July.

(For something other than dentist appointments, library runs, and trips to the Salvation Army, I mean.)

So…it’s been roughly two months.

That’s not exactly sad, but when you consider the underlying fact that it’s been just as long since I’ve taken a break to recharge and, consequently, boost my creativity, it goes from “not exactly sad” to “okay, this could be bad.”

You see, I believe everyone – especially creative folks like writers, musicians, and artists – can boost creativity by taking a break; stepping away from their work for a little while and focusing on something else while their brains recharge. So, as a working writer – who also has ongoing fencing matches with multiple short stories and a “novel” (hilarious) – if I’m not taking a break every now and then and fostering creativity, I’m hurting my livelihood and any future boosts to my published credits.

So, damn it, I’m taking a break, and I suggest you do the same.

Now, there are certain rules – or commandments, we’ll call them – when it comes to taking a break. You can’t just say, “I’m taking a break!” and spent the next eight hours on Twitter. That is not how you take a break; that is how you waste eight hours of your life.

(And, for clarification purposes, let’s just go ahead and say a good healthy break is anywhere from one to three days. Anything longer is pretty much vacation time; anything shorter, a nap.)

No, in order to properly take a break – one that will recharge your mind and help you boost creativity – you must follow these 10 Commandments:

1. Thou shalt not think about thy work.

This one will be tough, and probably will take a few hours – and maybe the entire first day of your break – to master. Do try to master it, though. Allowing yourself to spend any significant amount of time thinking about work while you’re taking a break is only harming your own ability to refresh and recharge.

2. Thou shalt not talk about thy work.

The only exception to this commandment is answering the question, “What do you do?” Ignoring the person or changing the subject will raise questions about your current mental stability. Answer the person (then ask about his or her occupation, if you feel so inclined), and move on.

3. Thou shalt not check they e-mail.

The Writing Gods of Break Taking advise you to:

  1. Send an e-mail or otherwise contact all your current clients to let them know you won’t be available for the next X Number of days.
  2. Setting up an autoresponder letting any potential clients (or long lost aunts) who e-mail you during your break know that you’re not available and you will return their e-mail when you can. You might even include a note about when you will return, because hey – potential clients will wander off elsewhere if they can’t get what they need from you.

4. Thou shalt not log on to Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or any other social media account.

There is no wiggle room here. Stay off.

5. Thou shalt not converse with thy muse.

Unless she has something super ridiculously important to say (and by that I mean, “Hey! I finally have the next chapter of that novel you’ve been working of for three years!”), let her be.

6. Thou shalt not make lists.

You can’t spend your break planning your work schedule for when you return. If you need to make a to-do list, make it before your break. All those little tasks will be waiting for you when you get back.

7. Thou shalt not perform any sort of housekeeping tasks.

You haven’t had that folder labeled “Potential Story Starts” in any sort of organized fashion since you created it. What makes you think NOW is the time to tackle it?

8. Thou shalt not answer any work-related phone calls.

The Writing Gods of Break Taking don’t really see any reason to listen to voice mails, either. You’re only going to be a way for a few days – they’ll keep. (Plus, you told your current clients you’d be unavailable. If you answer, you make yourself a liar.)

9. Thou shalt seriously consider leaving they laptop at home.

Yep, this is the only “shalt.” If you don’t have faith in your ability to follow the other commandments, one of the best ways to help yourself is to leave your laptop, external hard drive, and any other electronic gadget you use to access work-related items at home.

10. Thou shalt not say “Screw it!” and cut thy break early.

The only time this is acceptable is if you break one of the other commandments and find out your writer’s resume impressed some higher up managing editor and you’re being offered a full-time writing position with the kind of salary or hourly rate you never dreamed you’d make as a writer. Even the Writing Gods of Break Taking understand this.

But only then, sinner – only then!

Did I leave anything out? Feel free to add to the commandments in the comments!

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