How to take a healthy break from your creative work

Dec 18, 2018

I received a great question from Ann who is attending one of my retreats next year:

How do you make sure that a ‘nice break’ from writing (for example, over the upcoming holidays) doesn’t become a block to writing?  As in, how do you prepare yourself ahead of time? Do you ponder it much during your break? How do you re-enter? Cheers, Ann

Ann, I’ve long pondered this exact question because, once upon a time, I had the bad habit of always trying to work during holidays and vacations as if they were regular work days. The result was guilt, anxiety, and exhaustion. And, of course, pissing off Bob. (Sorry, honey.)

We’ve read the research. We know we need breaks, and lots of them, to be productive creatives. But breaks can be scary if work is one of the ways you deal with anxiety (that’s me!) or annoying if you love your work (like me!).  It can also be tempting to let a break go on and on and on some more. What’s a creative to do?

Decide what you desire. Most of us tend to defer to other people’s desires and needs. You might actually want to keep creating during the holidays, but automatically decide it’s not possible or that it’s selfish. Is it really?  Who says you can’t leave the house to take photos or write in the coffee shop? Even thirty minutes, once or twice, can make a huge difference for your mental health.

     :: I will write in bed, drinking coffee, while my daughter sleeps in. I won’t have a word count goal, but rather I will focus on keeping the relationship with my book current and alive.

Or perhaps you want a break like Ann and know that’s the only thing that will work? Then declare a clear beginning and ending to your time off.  Repeat to yourself and others what your commitment is to make it concrete. Be crisp!

Take some time to put your creative work to bed and tidy up your workspace so it is welcoming when you return. And most importantly of all? Know where you will begin again! This is everything!!!  After a week or three off, you will have no idea where you were and it’s easy to start doubting your ideas.  “What was I thinking? Let me just start something new.”

Before your break, give yourself a clear trail of “breadcrumbs” back into your work.  It can be a few sentences about what you will write next, a half-finished painting with a note about what you were feeling when you stopped, or a list of clients (complete with notes of what you will say to each) you want to contact to work with you.

     :: When I take a day or two off from my book, I will be sure to make myself a note of what to write next.  

Touch your work from time to time. Discuss it with visiting family, ask it to speak to you in your dreams, or tell it every morning you can’t wait to be together again.  Keep the boundaries permeable between your creative self and your family or vacation self.

     :: I’m going to ask people at parties, “Did you ever have a “why bother?” time in your life?”

Enter your workspace the day before you start again. If you use Internet block software like Freedom (affiliate link), get it scheduled to start the next day. If you need to put water in your brush jars, do it.  Listen to music while you work? Get it cued up. Get your tools ready!

     :: I’ll water my plants, get Freedom fired up, and have music ready!

Have a simple reentry plan and stick to it.  I always work for a shorter period of time when returning from a break. If I remember that, and embrace it, I don’t fall into a spiral of “I’m doomed!”  

     :: I’ll start back with 400 words and work up over a week to 750.

Don’t initiate a bunch of new things while also getting back to your creative work.  Don’t decide to train for a triathlon, give up sugar, and start meditating again at the same time you devote yourself to your creative visions. That’s too much change for the brain and nervous system. Choose no more than two new things;  your creative dream being one them!

     :: Along with my book, I will slowly give up sugar, eggs, and yeast again. I’m allergic to all three and I’ve been eating them regularly for months. Ouch!

Most of all, cultivate devotion. Devotion to bringing your ideas, feelings, and observations alive. Devotion to your voice and way of seeing the world. Devotion to the creative process as the best way to be alive!  Let devotion draw you back to your vision!

Here’s to a wonderful 2019! And coming in January, a free 5-day super fun and effective Get Back to Creating Challenge. Sign up here to be invited!

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