Scheduling Downtime is the Most Important Thing a Writer Can Do

The other day I spent all morning and most of the afternoon in my apartment. I cooked in the morning and worked through lunchtime and several hours after that. I took my dog out in the early evening for a walk around the block and, when I came back, the smell of broccoli hit me like a ton of bricks. 

It stank.

I'd grown accustomed to it, and hadn't even realized there was a smell. But a few minutes away was enough to give me the renewed perspective I needed to see smell my apartment in a whole new light. 

The principal applies to our writing, too. When you’ve lived in a story (or poem or essay or cover letter) too long, you start to lose sight of it. You may not notice the gaping plot hole in Chapter 6, and you’ll certainly miss the typo on page 42. You might even lose your mind. I know I've been there. 

Only once you’ve stepped away for a few days can you come back to your writing with objective eyes.

So anytime I'm helping a client race to meet an ominous deadline, the piece of the process I fight hardest to protect is downtime. 

Last week, I was outlining a revision process to help an author through some particularly unwieldy material. I knew she’d have to put in long hours with her nose to the grindstone, so as I made out the calendar, I added a few flex days. That way, if something came up (as things in our lives tend to do), she wouldn’t fall behind. But more importantly, if she stayed on schedule, she’d have built-in breaks.

On those days, I told her, she wasn’t allowed to work on the manuscript, or even think about it. Those were days to run errands, take care of other responsibilities or, ideally, indulge in a little self-care.

It worked. It always works for the most dedicated authors.

Let's be clear: I'm not suggesting you step away from your desk every half hour to check Facebook or make a snack or turn on Netflix. But taking significant breaks between long periods of focus enables us to come back to the job with a fresh brain and fresh eyes. This way, we'll inevitably accomplish more, higher quality work than we would have had we cranked straight through.

What about you? How do you keep your energy up and your perspective fresh?