October 19, 2020
Sunday Letter: Breaks are Good
Folks who know me, are aware how much I enjoy the West Wing. Josiah Barlett has one of my favorite character introductions, which occurs towards the end of the pilot episode.
During that intro he has a line, which starts “Breaks are good—I know how hard each of you work…”
The line sticks with me, and no matter how many times I’ll watch the episode, it never fails to trigger emotion.
I’ve had sort of a break from writing on this site and this letter. Not that I stopped writing altogether—far from it. I just finished review season at work, and I’m still making steady progress on The Traveler series.
There is a rhythm to writing. As long as I’ve tried to write more seriously, I’ve been mindful of its impact. When you’re in rhythm, the words seem to flow with ease and it can be too easy to forget how you struggled in the beginning.
That is, until you fall out of rhythm. Instead of slowing to a trickle, it feels like the bottom falls out and you hit a wall.
I’ve battled falling in and out of rhythm for as long as I’ve written. Most of what I’ve read online stresses the importance of developing “a writing habit”. The advice reduces to something along the lines of “do it over and over”. Apparently writing is easy once you develop a habit.
I’ve tried. Give myself deadlines. Talk about writing goals with others for accountability. I even tried the common tricks. 50,000 words in November or write everyday for a month. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get clear of the inevitable.
Eventually, I would fall out of rhythm.
Let’s have a sidebar about distractions. Writing is something I enjoy, but it isn’t the only thing I enjoy. And like any hobbyist, I struggle to find time for all of the things I find interesting.
“Focus, Rob”. It’s okay, I know you were thinking it even if you didn’t just say it out loud. To be fair, it is certainly part of the problem.
Not because I lack focus, but because of when I lack focus. Helping others focus is a regular part of my day job. When I get to my final hours of the day—the two or three which I can devote to my hobbies—I struggle to find the discipline to focus.
Worse even, the part of my brain that tells me to focus turns an enjoyable task like writing into something I have to do. Which makes writing as enjoyable as the last mile of a marathon.
I’m never happy with what I write in those moments.
Building a habit by rote repetition doesn’t yield the result I’m after, which is to write better. That requires motivation and a brain which isn’t addled by exhaustion.
So when the pressure from work ramped, I took a break. It wasn’t intentional, and it went for longer than I anticipated.
My secret to maintaining motivation? Breaks are good.
Breaks aren’t a problem. For me, they’re a fact of my ongoing attempt to write more seriously. And to keep going, I had to allow myself to be okay with taking breaks.
To go on sidebars. Be tired. Be motivated. To take a cheat day. All of these are okay…
… as long as I start-up again. Pick myself up and keep writing.
After acknowledging his staff’s need to take a break, President Bartlett rallies them together with a simple phrase.
Speaking of breaks, I’m taking one from work all this week. No promises, but I’m planning to make a big push on The Traveler series, including a behind-the-scenes post for The Banker.