Writing: Knowing When to Rest and When to Push Through

Knowing when to rest and when to push through is tricky. 

For years—decades (?)—we were blasted with the message to go, go, go. You could always be doing more. The mantra of the successful was ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’ But even before the pandemic, the conversation started to shift, and people became much more aware of work/life balance. Then, COVID hit, and we were all forced to stay home. 

While some initially stuffed those first few months with zoom meetings and virtual workouts, most of us—or at least those of us who don’t work in medical fields—were able to re-evaluate our lives and the way we spent our time. 

This often highlighted how so much of what we do is arbitrary and meaningless: busy-ness for the sake of being seen to be busy. 

So now we have these two conversations happening, particularly in the self-development space. There are countless articles, books, and podcasts dedicated to streamlining your work, becoming more efficient, productive, focussed, and monetarily successful. At the same time, we have all this messaging around the importance of rest, particularly in relation to long-term success. At least that was the angle in the beginning: rest so that you can be more productive later, but now the conversation has changed again. Rest for the sake of rest; and, even more importantly, rest as a way to reevaluate and find true meaning in life. 

So, how does this relate to writing?

When we’re working on a project, especially something as involved and time-consuming as a novel, it is inevitable that we will become creatively and literally fatigued. Particularly if you are creating your work while holding down a day job, caretaking, and meeting the general demands and responsibilities of being a human alive in the 21st century. 

How does rest figure into creativity?

Sometimes we need to take a break from the work to ensure that we can keep going. This break could be a day or a week or whatever amount of time would suit you, your schedule, and your goals. You might need to take a break because you’re stuck, physically or emotionally exhausted, or other commitments have taken over. 

Writing is exhausting. It is endless decision making. It asks a lot of us at the same time that it rewards us. 

We need to rest. We need to make time for reading and daydreaming. These are vital to the cultivating of a rich inner-life and to fuel our imagination. 

But sometimes we need to push through too. Sometimes, when the work is tough and the answers are unclear, the correct response is not to abandon ship for a month, but to commit to the work and figure it out because you have to figure it out eventually. Sometimes we need to show up and smash out our minimum word count even when we don’t feel like it because we’re more committed to our long-term dream than our momentary discomfort. 

But, how do you know when to push through and when to rest. 

On a day to day basis, again, this can be a little tricky. Say it’s 3:30 pm and you’ve hit a wall. You just cannot look at the computer screen any longer. Your head is heavy; you re-read a sentence three times and still cannot comprehend its meaning, but you still have an hour and a half until everyone comes home. What do you do?

Obviously, there are many factors that may go into the decision both internal (e.g. how well you slept last night) and external (e.g. deadlines), but on a broader scope, it’s worth looking at your patterning.

Are you the type of person who often pushes through? Do you usually work past your limit? Is burnout your computer password? If so, then you’d be much better off resting. 

Conversely, if you are the type of person who is quick to through in the towel, who frequently Google searches tips and advice around procrastination, or who invites distraction, or who is quick to accept other tasks or errands (‘Oh, that’s okay, I’ll go to the shops to get milk. You stay home and keep watching TV’) because they offer a ‘valid’ reason to not write…

If this is you, then pushing through is the answer. 

We don’t want to burn out. We want to finish our project. We want our stories to get published and to feel good at every stage of that process (or at least, as much as possible). 

Like any good relationship, it is about give and take, inhale and exhale. Only you can know when you need to stay with the work—even when you don’t want to—and when it’s time to take a nap. This is a part of the creative process that you have total control over, so choose wisely. 

Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

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