My Year Off From Writing (And Why I Recommend It)

If you know me (either through my writing or IRL), you know that I call BS on anyone who claims to write every day — EVERY SINGLE DAY — of their lives. (No: texts, tweets and grocery lists do not count.) Because: Even when you’re sick? When you gave birth? Went to a funeral? Travelled internationally? That time you had surgery and were knocked out on drugs for a solid 24? There is no way, no matter how prolific or dedicated a writer is, that anyone can, in fact, write EVERY SINGLE DAY of their existence. So let’s not exaggerate.

But, let’s define “writing”. Is it putting words on a page, or is it mulling over the story, characters and dialogue in your brain? Because, if it’s the mulling, I suspect very few writers ever stop writing. [My best writing happens while brushing my teeth or in the shower. I should have a whiteboard mounted in the bathroom so I can more easily jot down whatever genius gems came to me while sudsy or foaming; instead, there’s a damp trail to the nearest pen and Post-It.] The story is relentless in that way. A writer’s mind is never quiet.

So, if you know me, you also know that I took 2019 off from writing (aside from the mulling). I had released three books in three years (2016-2018), and intended to keep that book-a-year pace going. I know, right? Hysterical! But I have goals, people, and a long TBW list (that’s To Be Written, in case you didn’t guess).

With best laid plans and God laughing, I hit a wall of sorts in late 2018. You see, I’m not the type of creative that can churn it out–something I learned back in my first year of film school when we were expected to create and deliver a new film each week. I just couldn’t, even if they were only one minute long (the mulling is also vital to filmmaking), and I got a little miffed that I was expected to. In response, my next short was about forced creativity wherein I filmed a dripping faucet and asked, “What is art?” then rhetorically posed, “If I shat in a box and called it art, is it art, or just shit in a box?”

You can imagine my teacher’s response, but then we had a long talk about the creative process, the point in pushing ourselves and the point of not. But I still don’t want to create shit in a box. My self-imposed deadlines were making me feel like that first year student. It was silly.

So, when I stood all kissy-face with that wall, I recognized it for what it was and embraced it. I even thanked it. Then, I pressed pause on all creative plans. My author’s ego wasn’t exactly pleased. What do you mean we aren’t writing? it would ask. Writers write! it would remind. But sometimes a sabbatical is necessary. If you keep farming the same soil, you will deplete it and, soon enough, nothing good will grow.

I began 2019 depleted. There was a little health scare (I’m fine) that took six months to get the all-clear on and, during that time, there was a good deal of reflection and re-prioritizing. One priority was enjoying life more. That meant addressing stress, dealing with fatigue and being more in my life than going through it. Time that I normally would have held for writing needed to go to other things (cooking, exercising, socializing) and that wasn’t an easy choice to make. Writers write. Stories are persistent nags. You feel like a terrible parent ignoring your offspring when you aren’t working on your book. But this break was necessary. And soon, I eased into it.

Even though I wasn’t writing, I was still an author. I had four books to talk about, the craft itself to discuss, a society of authors to collaborate with and advocate for, writerly events to attend. The writing itself was on hold, but the mulling…well, there was still a damp trail to the nearest pen and Post-it. By the time the holidays came, I was excited to get typing away again. But with a new perspective.

What that year off gave me was the chance to recharge and reconsider how I wanted my writer’s life to be. And it’s going to be slower, something that an A-type Aries isn’t exactly comfortable with. I’ll give myself an hour each day to write and/or edit and set aside one weekend a month to go deep into that writer’s cave. That leaves me much more time to commit to self-care, such as cooking and exercising and spending time with the people I love in a manner that is not distracted. Finally, I get to have it all.

On the writing front, it’s going quite smoothly. I have a new perspective on Novel 3 that brings me a lot of joy. It’s a bigger story than my first two, and that’s been a little daunting. All of the backstory wanted to get out onto the page and it was a constant battle to pare it down. Now, it’s distilled to its essence–a bonus of the mulling process.

While it may sound like I’m limiting myself as a writer time-wise, it’s actually the opposite. It’s an appointment with myself, time that is to be honored, set as sacred. Surely there will come a point when the book will take over and demand all of my free time. I’ll give in to it then. That’s all part of the birthing process. But now I know the balance I need to enjoy all facets of my life. I like how it all sparkles.

If you, dear fellow writer, feel out of balance, give yourself some time off to rediscover who you are away from the page. It is not time taken away from creation, but a nourishment of your artist’s soul. Rest that soil so it will be prolifically fruitful once more.




2019 has been a peculiar year. It’s felt both static and rushed. I’ve been pulled in all directions while being completely stuck. I am hopeful yet perpetually flipping the Universe the bird.

My intention for 2019 was to rest and refocus, allowing creativity to flow to other endeavors. To a degree, I’ve achieved that. I’m proud of what the L.A.L.A. Society is becoming and where next year will take it. Meeting so many extraordinary local authors, new writers and fabulous booklovers has been energizing. My super secret app really needs to happen fast, as the wave I felt coming in that arena is hitting others along the same lines, which is fantastic and totally pressurizing. Novel 3 is growing impatient, though. I don’t blame it. I think about it all the time, write down scenes, craft dialogue. It’s all there, but I’m not. To encourage more focus, I signed up for NaNoWriMo (again). Halfway through November and I’m only a couple hundred new words into it, falling very short (again) of the 50,000 I’m meant to write before month’s end. It shouldn’t be that hard. All I need is the time to sit still and a little room to breathe.

I am finding my breath, though. Four days a week, I breathe, sweat and flow. Eighty-five classes in and I can fly my crow, rock my bow and Chaturanga all day (or at least the one-hour class). I’m even attempting to run again, which is sort of a big deal for this asthmatic. Sometimes, you need to push yourself to remind what you’re truly capable of doing.

Like I haven’t had chocolate or caffeine since July. But I have had whiskey, tequila and French fries. It’s all about balance, my friends. I’m making this self-care thing a thing. Permanent style. The fact that I can now discern what it is to feel tired instead of dead fatigued is epic. [Pro Tip: If you feel like crap, it really is what you eat, no matter how healthy you think you’ve been. Like cooking-every-meal-from-truly-fresh-organic-plastic-free-ingredients-and-removing-all-dairy-eggs-grains-and-nightshades-from-the-menu-level healthy. It’s a lot, but totally worth it.]

What it comes down to is making choices. Sometimes we forget we have that ability. Or worse, we go about making them absentmindedly. I’m becoming much more choosy about mine.

This year, I’ve made new friendships, shed some, too, and deepened others. I’m (still) comfortable speaking my mind, even if it makes others uneasy. I don’t feel the need to apologize for being right or being in charge. I also don’t have a problem saying “I’m sorry” or admitting when I’m wrong. I won’t make myself smaller to make someone else feel secure. There’s no need to ring-lead a circus that isn’t mine. It’s possible to be kind and compassionate without being co-dependent. Honesty is everything. But, if you’re going to dish it, you’d better enjoy taking it.

What’s easy to forget is that all of this cultivation and caring for “self” isn’t egocentricly indulgent; it’s nourishing the inner artist. That might sound like a load of crap, but what do you think fertilizer is? One thing that has flourished in 2019 is my sense of gratitude. Sure, there’s a hint of frustration mixed in (hence the grrrr), but I am able to find my center and hold my ground when so much is shifting. I am able to embrace what is unfolding, even when it’s not going to plan. (I am über grateful when something actually does go to plan!) Writers know that achieving one’s goals is rarely (if ever) a linear path. So, as it winds and twists and curls, it’s important to be present. That’s when we need to take in a deep breath and say, “Thank you.” Especially, to yourself.



Author, Deal with Thyself

I don’t think writers are particularly good at self-care. I don’t mean that in any sort of Oprah, granola-type way; I mean it at a fairly basic level. Adequate sleep. Basic nutrition. Occasional exercise. Returning emails or texts.

Introverts by nature (even if we’re good at faking otherwise), we stay in and up late, getting minimal sleep and maximal stress from day jobs or deadlines or both. There are dependency issues (doomed relationships, Postmates), over-indulgences (of alcohol or ego), tedious addictions (to substances, social media or praise). We subsist on caffeine, carbs, sugar and scotch. Whatever takes the least amount of effort to collect and ingest. This is not because we are lazy, per se; it’s because we are utterly drained from creating people and places and things, all day every day. We don’t have any energy left for ourselves. Even if we did, we’d find something better to do than shop, cook or tidy. We’d force ourselves to be social or binge Netflix. But, if we’re being honest, we’d skip all of that and just go back to whatever draft we’re working on or set off on a new idea. We grow paler and weaker, in more than just a physical sense.

I’ve always been conscious of that work/life/creative balance—the times I’ve been somewhat successful at it, and the times I’ve utterly failed. It’s like that quality triangle given to clients for a reality check: Good/Fast/Cheap—pick two because you can’t have it all. Work (financial stability)/Life (socializing and self-care)/Creative Endeavors: which two do you pick? 


Life falls to the bottom of the list and self-care is the rock it rests upon.

For the past two years, I have utterly sucked at the Life category, so much so that Creative Endeavors suffered as well. The past twelve months have been especially meh. Work is the reason. Financial stability is a nice thing to have, but jobs offering that often come with a fair degree of responsibility and stress. I’ve only recently recognized the level of pressure I was operating under. I know, in this, I am not alone.

At first, you think, “Be patient. It will soon pass, things will get back to normal and so will I.” Then you come to understand it won’t pass; this is the new normal and you’d better figure out how to live in it. The only way to do that is next-level adulting. You can’t bullshit yourself any longer. Hard choices have to be made. Like waking up early and eating your vegetables.

That’s what I’m doing, finally: accepting adulthood. Creative adulthood, that is, which innately has an aspect of Peter Panning. It was time to face the fact that youthful patience needed to shift to mature focus. Whatever we’re waiting for (stress to reduce, life to normalize, dreams to come true) can no longer be the central point(s). Only what we are in direct control of matters. Which actions we take, how we divide our time and energy, the projects we prioritize, the relationships we tend—including the one with ourselves—are the primary concerns. Everything else has to take its place in line.

Knowing this full-on adult thing would be no easy feat, I started plotting back in April. I signed up for a new yoga studio then, though it wouldn’t be open until late June. My diet of LPQ gluten-free tartines and Indian take-out of chicken curry and aloo matar, sans rice or naan, would no longer do (I haven’t had the energy to shop let alone cook). At the tail end of 2017, I’d purchased The Autoimmune Solution (because EBV, asthma, allergies), but wasn’t ready for the culinary commitment/restrictions. (Like I said, this was going to take time.) With my fatigue at an all-time high (or six-feet-under low), I finally opened the book and checked my calendar for a date. August, after travelling and before the holidays, was the perfect time to make that change. Giving up coffee, eggs and chickpeas will be something to mourn (July has been serving as that wake). But, when I look back at when I was my most balanced, it was when I was a six-days-a-week gym rat (easier to do because I worked from home and the economy hadn’t yet crashed) and followed a hybrid diet of low-glycemic and right-for-my-blood-type. I was writing screenplays, started my first novel and was blogging on the reg (back when people did that sort of thing). Granted, financial stability came and went, but there’s something to be said about that level of self-care. I had energy for myself, my loved ones and my creative work. It was a better balance. That whole “put on your own oxygen mask first” way of doing things has something to it. Taking care of yourself takes care of a lot of other stuff, too.

I’m now in my fourth week of 5:30 alarms and 6:30 yoga. Heated practice isn’t my bag and I’ve already dehydrated myself once (because I’m all shades of awesome), so ultra-hydration is also on the list of things to do. Coordinating breakfast afterward without coffee, carbs or eggs is going to be another magic trick to perform before work (but I don’t have to worry about that until August). Getting to bed before midnight (or 1 AM) is something I’m still trying to do. But I am getting a rhythm, making choices, setting priorities, and it’s starting to feel good.

I am still stressed. There are still expectations I’m not meeting, too many projects crying for attention and a third novel giving me the stink eye, but first things first. This summer is about resetting, returning to the person I used to know and the creator I need to be.