Today, friend of the blog, Suzanna Linton is here to talk about stepping away!

The Importance of Stepping Away

When I was growing up, my mother coated our Christmas trees with tinsel. This is not an exaggeration. Streams of silver drowned the blinking lights and glittering ornaments. Months after consigning the tree to a burn pile, we were still sweeping up tinsel.

However, it wasn’t enough for there to be gobs of the stuff on the tree. My mother was never happy with the arrangement. She plucked up pieces of tinsel and moved them around. I never saw the difference, or if there was a problem. Mom saw it, though, and was never satisfied. She never knew when to walk away.

Many writers have the same problem. We never seem to know when to step away. Stepping away, though, is important.

There’s no such thing as perfect.

There will always be something wrong with a manuscript, or at least something that did not live up to our expectations. The internal editor writers carry within does not come with an off switch. Perfection sounds like a worthy goal but it is, unfortunately, unattainable. Even if we were to perfect a novel, someone will not like a plot point, character, or choice of words. Perfect to us may not be perfect to others.

Striving for perfection will only lead to stress and never actually publishing anything. At some point, we have to say that our novel is good enough. “Good enough” is not necessarily a bad thing. Tad Williams, Robin McKinley, and other famous novelists had to say “good enough” at some point.

We risk burning out.

If we never give our novel a chance to breathe by stepping away for a little while, or if we constantly go from one project to another, then we risk burning out. Think of creativity as a well from which we draw. Wells need to be refilled.

We refill ourselves through reading, going to movies, or doing other things we enjoy. We refill the well through trips to the beach or mountains, through spending time with friends. We refill ourselves through living our lives. By continually stressing our inner wells, then we risk crashing. By crash, I mean writer’s block and creative frustration.

We can’t see the story for the lines.

In the case of being in the middle of a project, stepping away for a little while lets us go back with fresh eyes. Writing can be a little like standing in an echo chamber. We hear what we want to hear. There’s a vision in our minds and, after a while, that becomes all that we see. We keep repeating what we want until that’s all that exists.

By stepping away from a project, we can refill our well. We can also acknowledge that, maybe, we’re approaching “good enough”. (What “good enough” is depends on the person.) More importantly, we can clear our heads. We can drop what we think is happening in our novels and see what is really there.

Learn to step away.

All writers need to know when it’s time to step away, whether for a brief break during writing or for a longer one after a project. Everyone has different limits. It’s tempting to keep writing, especially when the ideas flow thick and fast. However, we have to remember that we are souls in need of care. We have to remember that stories aren’t finished until we release them into the world.