What happens when your writing fails you?
This time exactly one year ago, I was struggling.
Coming off some personal losses, a move, and a general upheaval of everything in my life, I was feeling adrift. It felt like someone had taken the place where my brain should have resided and stuffed it full of cotton balls instead. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t concentrate, and everyday felt like swimming through fog.
And my solution to my literal brain fog? Was to work through it.
I have been working since I was 11-years-old and I could perhaps be classified as a bit of a workaholic. Work has been my escape, my identity, and my pride and joy for as long as I have been able to bring home a paycheck. So, in the wake of one of my first big life crises—call it a mid-life crisis, call it a children-coming-of-age crisis, or call it a general low-point-crisis—I tried to fall back on the one thing that had never failed me:
Except this time, it failed me. It failed me miserably. Oh, I tried, believe me, I tried. I soldiered on, forcing myself to work, piling on the guilt trip high and wide with thoughts like, Normal people working real jobs don’t get to take breaks, Chaunie! or, Your family won’t pay the bills this month because you’re having a bad day?!
I kept plodding on, trying to work, because it was a formula that had always worked for me, and frankly, because I didn’t know what else to do with my life, when eventually, things came to a stopping point. Fortunately for me, in this case, my work life did present a solution that would help me when I was assigned an article on business coaches. I was immediately intrigued; clearly, I was at a point in my own business where I had reached a plateau of sorts and needed help crossing over to the other side. Would a business coach be able to help me break through? I accepted the article and braced myself with an open mind.
Over the course of the next weeks, I worked with and interviewed several business coaches, each of whom lent me different types of advice and insight into how my personal life and work life had overlapped. When I finally found one I wanted to work with on a more long-term basis, we had one session together that challenged everything I thought I knew about myself as a writer. After pouring my heart out to her, crying a lot, and laying out everything I had been struggling with, my coach presented a shocking solution to my current dilemma:
She told me to take a break.
Now, this might not sound like earth-shattering news to you, but to me, it sounded worse than if she had prescribed root canal.
Take a break?! I couldn’t take a break! I was a freelance writer, for crying out loud! We can’t take breaks! If I took a break, even for as much as one day, I could miss out on breaking news and timely stories and hundreds of dollars. I was on the hunt for new stories from the time I woke up in the morning until the time I went to bed, often at the same time. I hadn’t taken a break in seven years and even submitted an article from the hospital bed while in labor with my fourth child and started working again two days after I had her. Breaks just didn’t mesh well with my work style.
But my coach was insistent. She challenged me to visualize what would happen if I took a break for even just a week. Not a month, or six months, or a year—just one week. One glorious week of doing whatever I wanted to do, no work allowed, and no feeling guilt. Would my business implode over a week’s time? Would the family finances suffer that much?
The truth was, I realized that nothing terrible would happen if I took a week off of work. I had spent seven long years building up a business and the odds were pretty good that it wouldn’t disappear overnight if I took a break. She helped me to see that I had worked myself up into such a state of anxiety over constantly working that I was actually being more unproductive than if I weren’t working at all.
So, I gave in.
For just one week, I took the first real break I had taken since I was 14-years-old. For just one week, instead of waking at 5 AM to write before my kids were up, I slept in. For that one week, I went on a date with my husband and drank a delicious cherry cocktail. I watched a movie for the fun of it and not just as a way to distract my kids to get more writing done. I got a manicure. That week, I took walks and played with my daughter and felt the great uneasiness in my soul that had been stirring for months finally start to settle.
When my week was up, I realized something remarkable: Not only was I ready to write again, but I wanted to write. Working, for the first time in a very long time, didn’t feel like a chore I had to do, but it was something that I got to do. Writing, once again, was an exciting prospect, not the thing that I woke up dreading. And with that one simple realization, it came to me that the single best way to know, for myself in the future and for anyone who may be struggling as I once was, to know when it’s time to take a break—short or long—from writing is simple: if you’ve lost the joy, it’s time to take a break.
Because we all deserve to recapture the joy of the craft that led us here in the first place.
Chaunie Brusie is a labor and delivery nurse turned writer. She lives in Michigan with her husband, four young kids, and a flock of chickens. Find her at chauniebrusie.com.