Taking Real Breaks from Writing

Another nugget that stayed with me from my writing workshop and retreat with Dani Shapiro at Kripalu last weekend was about the danger of taking fake breaks.

Shapiro recalled how earlier in her life, when she’d get hit a writing wall, she would stop writing and take a cigarette break, during which her mind would wander, and after which she’d go back to the page. She noted how one of her old teachers used to say she did some of her best writing in the bathtub, and how it took her a long time to realize she didn’t mean it literally, but in the sense of being away from the page or the ‘puter and letting the mind wander where it will.

The danger in our hyperconnected lives is that we no longer take real breaks. If we step away from the writing, it’s to check email, or Facebook, or Twitter, or something similar. We’re not taking a break and resting. We’re just doing something else.

As I wrote about in the post on a pre-writing meditation, the “trick” to focusing on writing is to write. Sit with the page, not hare off after this pretty shiny blinking beeping light or that one.

As Shapiro noted, often we are at our most distractible when we are on the verge of getting at some juicy, challenging bit of truth. If we don’t give ourselves the out, if we can practice being attentive, and leaving those other activities for other times, we are much more likely to write, and perhaps to write less suckily.

In the wake of the retreat, I’ve taken several apps off my phone, and have thus reduced my distractions a bit. I still am emailing on my phone, as well as getting on this or that other site online. Instead of those, today, I took breaks by doing laundry, which is a straightforward enough task that it allowed my mind to wander for a bit.

I have a lot of bad habits to break, and a lot of good ones to practice, slowly. Thinking of them as fake breaks, though, makes them easier to avoid. Or want to avoid. Progress, not perfection, right?

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