Breaking Away | Why It’s Good To Step Back From Your Story

If you’ve read recent posts here on the blog or have been following my Twitter, then you might know that I’ve finally completed the most recent round of edits on my “main” novel, Guises to Keep.

This prompts the question: what’s next?

I still have a lot of work to do with this project before I can consider taking steps towards publication, particularly implementing some additional historical details I’ve come across and making some changes to the layout of a few locations.

In the past, I’ve been so focused on Guises to Keep that I wouldn’t work on anything else. As soon as I finished its first draft, I did a 180º turn and went back to Chapter One to start editing it. This trend continued, with the end of each round of edits only leading into the next.

But this time, I’ve decided I am going to take a break from this project to focus on others.

For many writers, we develop a relationship with our stories. Our characters can become a second family, and we become so close to their world that it can feel like a second home.

This can make it all the more difficult to step away from it all.

But if you give yourself the chance to take some time off, you might see the benefit in doing so.

Here are just a few of the things I have come to learn about taking a break from your work in progress:

Taking A Break Does Not Necessarily Mean Breaking Up

Let’s get the Ross/Rachel “We were on a BREAK!” jokes out of the way before we go any further, shall we?

One of my biggest challenges as a writer is my perfectionism.

With Guises to Keep, I often found myself working with a Write-Edit-Repeat method. This had me buried in one project, unwilling to come up for air. One of the reasons for this was that perfectionism, my fervent desire to bring this manuscript to its best form (or, at the very least, to a point where I could consider releasing it unto beta readers and considering looking to the next steps in the publication process).

The only time I had really ever allowed myself a break from working on Guises to Keep was when I started Bound to the Heart, which was prompted by the research project that was part of a course I did in college. My ambition of writing a full-length novel in the span of a single semester required a number of time sacrifices, one of which included putting the “main” novel on the backburner.

After graduation, I got back to work on Guises to Keep, going back to the beginning and making even more changes with help from my critique partner via email exchanges.

With these revisions, I started to feel overwhelmed for a period of time because of the number of edits I had waiting for me. So many little things had escaped my notice before.

For the first time since I started this novel at fourteen, I was really seeing it with new eyes.

In doing so, I was coming back to this project after having taken a few more writing and literature classes, so I was returning with a better understanding of the craft.

Bound to the Heart was the first project I had considered beyond Guises to Keep and has since led to many others. Working on these other projects after it has taught me so much more than focusing solely on one alone. Each new endeavor presents its own challenges and thus has its own lessons to teach as you work through it.

Taking time away from a project and coming back to it later can give you a new perspective upon your return.

The thing to remember when you do come back is to not let yourself get down about how much you might find needs to be reworked; you are a different writer now than you were before, and there will always be room for growth.

Defining The Break

Communication is an essential part of any relationship, including the relationship between author and manuscript.

One of the key things I have been telling myself since making the decision to take a break from the “main” novel is that I am not abandoning this project, but I am instead taking some time to explore other ideas and improve my abilities as a writer.

This, of course, sounds like the “We need to see other people” line, and there is some merit to that idea.

In seeing other people, two things can happen.

  1. You see why your partner is The One
  2. You see why your partner is not The One

In either case, it lets you discover what qualities you find most important in a relationship.

More importantly, it also gives you the space and time to grow as a person.

In the case of writing, taking a break from a project and exploring new ideas can help shape you as an author.

I found that starting my second and third novels was much easier than my first because of past experience with writing historical fiction. I had a better understanding of plotting so I wasn’t backtracking as often to change things, and I finally got myself out of the habit of editing as I went (I distinctly remember being on the same chapter for a month because I was rewriting it over and over rather than just moving on).

When I went back to working on Guises to Keep after taking some time off, I started to implement new techniques I had picked up while working on other things, especially in my narrative voice and the way I was telling this story.

When deciding to take a break, one of the things I’ll recommend is thinking about what you want to work on when you do go back to that project. Pick out specific elements, like worldbuilding or developing your narrative voice, and spend some time looking at different techniques for achieving the desired effect.

Maybe this comes from reading other works of fiction in your genre, delving into the throes of research, or jumping into a new project altogether.

Defining The Break

Some authors have a set period of time for how long they will wait between finishing the first draft and starting edits. They might give themselves a regimented timeframe like six months or until a specific date, or they may say they are going to wait until they reach a certain point in another project, like completing the first draft of their next novel.

Others just go with the flow. When they feel ready to return to the project, they will.

The best advice I can give regarding the length of your break is that it comes down to what is best from you and what is best for your manuscript(s).

Consider where you are with your projects and the next step ahead? Are you drafting query letters to send off to agents? Getting in contact with potential beta readers? Got a new idea you can’t wait to start on?

Figuring out what you want to work on during your break can help you decide its duration.


 

Just like so many other things in writing, there is no single answer for deciding when to take a break or how long that break will be.

In my case, I feel like I’m at a point with Guises to Keep where I have done everything I can in this moment.

This by no means the book is ready to send out for beta readers and agents.

What it does mean is that I have realized there is more work needing to be done, but also that I understand I am not at a point where I can make those changes successfully.

So, rather than put more energy into trying to fix something that is not necessarily broken but also something I cannot improve given my current state, I’m turning my attention towards progressing other projects.

It will be a difficult separation but is also necessary for both the novel’s sake and my skills as a writer.

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One thought on “Breaking Away | Why It’s Good To Step Back From Your Story

  1. I wholeheartedly agree – I worked on my novel for four years non-stop, and it reached a point where I was making changes just to change things. I was so familiar with it that I wasn’t able to really see the issues. After stepping away for a year and coming back to it with fresh eyes, I can clearly see where the issues are and what needs to be fixed.

    Like

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