Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Writing is Occasional Writing Pauses

photo by Eran Finkle

Guest post by Katherine Ploeger

Occasionally, writers suffer from what I call "writing pauses," which can be both annoying and frustrating.  Note that I don't call them writing "breaks," which has a more permanent feeling to the term, as in a complete stop of writing efforts.  I call them pauses because they are temporary. The challenges that cause the pauses must be dealt with and will be eventually overcome, but understanding the pauses can help you, the writer, get through them more easily.


Writing pauses are the result of external forces in a writer's life, ones over which the writer has little or no control.  An otherwise productive writing time with great momentum can suddenly come to a crashing halt for any number of reasons.

Maybe you must suddenly move, requiring time to pack and move rather than write.  The energy focus has shifted, and writing is not included in that focus.  Or perhaps you must take care of an ill or injured loved one.  Or maybe the 9-5 job suddenly demands weekends and evenings to complete the work, eliminating your usually sacred writing time.

Or maybe your home or family is involved in some natural disaster.  Let's face it: when your house is under water or in rubble around your feet, you're probably not thinking about writing your next article or chapter for which you have a book contract although your writer's mind will send you ideas saying, "This could make a great article, if I survive it."  But then, you might sneak in a few hours of writing as a relief from the overwhelming events in your present reality, just to save your sanity.

A writing pause is NOT writer's block or any other internally generated work stoppage.  Nor are the pauses voluntary; they must be endured until the challenges can be overcome and writing resumed.


The first action you can take is to determine the percentage of time taken, the severity and estimated duration of the writing pause.  Does this challenge require a full time effort, or can you sandwich some writing time in among the required tasks?  Will the challenge take a few days at most to solve, or are you looking at weeks or months?  If it will be a short, tolerable pause, you can accept it and deal with the challenges at hand, knowing you'll return to your writing soon.

If, however, the pause may be a longer duration, you can take other actions.  First, ask yourself if you can eliminate or delegate any of the tasks required in dealing with the challenge.  See if you can free up even a few hours a week to write: these few hours may save your sanity.

Second, if you can't free up any time at all, which is understandable in some situations, especially if the challenge is emotionally exhausting, then you need to simply accept the idea that your writing will be on hold for a while.  Once you stop struggling against the writing pause and take care of the challenge you are facing, you will have one less frustration to cloud your mind.

In the meantime, set up a file folder, computer file, or shoebox for notes of ideas you receive during this down time.  Write out the idea and date the page, then slip it into your filing system, to be dealt with when you return to your writing.  You can then evaluate these stray ideas for their value and usefulness, and you won't have lost them forever.

One last idea - an important one - is that you should not beat yourself up about not writing during a writing pause.  The challenges faced are usually not of your making, but you must participate and overcome them to return your life to as near normal as possible, so you can return to your writing.

When (not if) you are confronted with one of these writing pauses, stop and evaluate the situation and give yourself permission to stop writing until the challenge is resolved.  Then return to your writing with new experiences to use in your work.  Remember, everything can be used in your writing.  Everything.

Katherine Ploeger, MA, MFA, is a writer, editor, writing coach & consultant, and publisher. She writes practical, process-oriented publications for writers of all types. She publishes at Quilliful Publications ( http://quillifulpublications.com). Her latest book is Write That Nonfiction Book: The Whole Process. She also writes workbooks for writers. Two recently published are Common Writing Errors Workbook and Time Travel Workbook for Fiction Writers. She also offers lots of free and helpful information at her blog, Katie's Writing Notes at http://katieploeger.com.

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