My husband glanced at me through the review mirror. “I’m going to go ahead and stop for gas.”
“Are we already empty?” I asked from the back seat. We were only four hours into a thirteen-hour road trip. Like so many families do in July, we had loaded up our kids and struck out for one last summer-time hoorah.
“No,” he said. “But we’re on our last quarter tank and I’m not sure when the next station will be.”
I smiled to myself as he turned on the blinker. That was my husband: cautious, thoughtful, always prepared. Our marriage proves that opposites attract. While he’s thinking ahead and stopping for gas before he needs it, I’m betting my car’s momentum would roll me into the station if I cut it too close.
I wish I could tell you my reluctance to stop and refuel is isolated only to my driving, but I take this attitude in my writing life, as well.
It’s not so much that I hate stopping. It’s that I get caught up in the excitement of writing and forget my need to stop. Perhaps you’ve experienced this, too? You’re creating content, scheduling social media posts, drafting your proposal, or polishing that outline and … bam! Before you know it, you’ve hit a stretch of burn out. You’re exhausted and uninspired, and you have no idea how you got there.
So, what is a motivated writer to do? My humble suggestion? Plan in writing breaks. Take time to dream and to plan ahead. Just as you allow yourself to tap out a first draft without your editing cap on, give yourself a chance to dream without limits.
It’s true, most of the wisdom you see out there stresses the importance of creating a daily writing habit and planning regular writing retreats in order to tackle those larger projects. Most of us are writing in the margins of life, in the midst of working and running our families. So when, exactly, are we supposed to squeeze in time to dream and plan ahead? There are only so many hours in the day, after all!
Here’s the reality, though: Saying you’re too busy writing to stop and dream is like saying you’re too busy driving to stop for gas. Without a vision of where you want to go and a plan for how you’ll get there, your writing will inevitably hit a dead end. Then you’ll have no choice but to stop — and it won’t be on your terms and it will be far more costly. Ask me how I know…
So here are three simple ways to integrate “refueling breaks” into your writing routine:
Rest once a week.
Here’s a confession, just between you and me: My writing habit isn’t exactly “daily.” It’s more like “week-daily,” meaning I only write on the weekdays. Personally, I find it difficult to write if I don’t have at least thirty minutes to myself, so weekends are tough. With my whole family in the house, there’s a slim chance I’m going to get any words on paper. Instead, I listen to inspiring podcasts or read a fiction book. If I happen to find myself with a spare 15 or 20 minutes on the weekends, I will usually grab a piece of paper and plan out the week. I ask myself questions like:
What writing projects do I have on the docket this week?
Do I have any hard and fast deadlines?
Do I need to shift anything around?
Do I need to plan out some social media posts?
Is there an idea floating around in my head that I haven’t had time to jot down?
I have been amazed at how much more productive I am during the week when I have taken the time to stop and look ahead to see what’s coming and what needs to be done. Once I have identified and prioritized my tasks for the week, I don’t waste time wondering what I should be focusing on. I can dive right into the work.
Reflect once a quarter.
One of my favorite writers, Emily P. Freeman, talks a great deal about stopping at the end of each season to reflect on what you’ve learned. While she is largely talking about using this practice to reflect on life in general, I have found it helpful to also apply it to my writing life. So, once a quarter, I take one whole “writing day” and convert it to a day of reflection. I ask myself questions like:
- What worked this season?
- What didn’t?
- What do I need to celebrate?
- What do I need to mourn and let go of?
- What am I excited about in the upcoming season?
- What am I dreading?
- What systems can I put in to place now to make those things go smoothly?
- What successes do I want to be celebrating at the end of next season?
Review once a year.
One of the best practices I have developed as a writer is to take stock of what I have accomplished over the course of a year and to evaluate if the projects I have planned for the coming year still serve my goals.
Most of the time, we develop goals while we are in the thick of life and writing. It helps, however, to take time and a 30,000-foot view to reevaluate our work and ensure we are running in the right direction. Questions help determine this are:
- Is there a goal I am hoping to achieve in five years?
- What am I doing today to help make that a reality?
- What about in three years?
- In one year?
- What pivots need to be taken in the coming months to ensure my work is focused on supporting those goals?
- What is my wildest dream?
- Who is doing this well? How can I learn from them? (Read their books, listen to their podcasts, purchase a coaching session with them, attend a conference…)
There is really no one way to schedule in breaks to your writing life. The key is simply that you do it. For those of us who prefer to cruise along in life while taking as few stops as possible, planning in some rest stops ensures we can continue making progress at a steady rate without risking derailment and burnout.
What are some ways you have scheduled in time to dream and plan for your writing life?
Mary Kathryn Tiller is a freelance writer and blogger based in rural East Texas. As a mother, small business owner, and self-proclaimed theology nerd, she has spent the last five years asking the question, “How exactly does today’s modern woman live her life as Christ?”. Through her blog, she shares her struggles and insights, leading women to cultivate a faithful heart amid a frenzied world. You can join the conversation and download her free devotional series by visiting her website: www.MaryKathrynTiller.com.