Why You Should Take a Day Off from Writing

It takes 21-28 days to create a new habit—though some research has found it takes as many as 66 days. It takes 10,000 hours to become a “master” at something complex—hence the reason we have a resource like The Write Practice.

But when starting an exercise program, they say it’s important to schedule “rest days” so your body has time to rebuild and grow stronger. Skipping those rest days only leads to injury and burn-out.

So what does that mean for writing?

running in the fall

Photo by lululemon athletica

Play Hooky

To become a master, to integrate writing into your life as a habit, you must be committed. You won’t always feel inspired and motivated to write. Some days, you may have to drag yourself to the computer and just start putting words on the page and trudge through. On that kind of day, you may end up hitting your stride—or you may end up with a really bad piece of writing.

But even the most dedicated athlete takes a day off here and there. Many of you are participating in NaNoWriMo this month, and others are busy with personal projects or have been completing each of the daily Write Practice prompts.

In order to rebuild and get stronger, let’s call today a “rest day.”

(Okay, you NaNoWriMo folks might still choose to write so you don’t get too far behind or run the risk of simply not continuing at all after your one day off is over… but at least take the day off from practicing here!)

Do what athletes often do on rest days—cross-train. Instead of practicing their chosen sport every day, athletes cross-train by doing a lower-impact activity, like walking, swimming, yoga, or Pilates, or one that taps into different muscles and movements.

For your cross-training today, share a short piece of your current work-in-progress here in the comments section  (yes, we want to see a part of those NaNoWriMo novels!) and get feedback from other writers. Use this rest day to feed your creative spirit, find inspiration, and strengthen your commitment to becoming a better writer.

How often do you write? When you take time off from writing, what do you do to relax and refuel?


Share a work-in-progress or recently completed piece of writing—a short excerpt about the length of a typical fifteen-minute practice.

And be sure to read some of the other comments and add your thoughts. Creative conversation makes for great cross-training!

About Melissa Tydell

Melissa Tydell is a freelance writer, content consultant, and blogger who enjoys sharing her love of the written word with others. You can connect with Melissa through her website, blog, or Twitter.

  • My most recent piece of writing is my eBook (http://www.amazon.com/Surviving-Thriving-First-Teachers-ebook/dp/B00A951EE2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1353269434&sr=8-2&keywords=21+tips+for+first+year+teachers).

    It was a different type of writing (non-fiction) for me because I usually do fiction. It worked as cross training!

    Great thoughts today!

    • Melissa

      Very cool! Sounds like a great resource for new teachers. From what I know from my teacher friends, it’s a tough job at any level of experience!

      • Eric Schneider

        My first two years (at age 21 and 22) were my easiest. Everything was fresh & new. Year one I had a class of strugglers. Year two I had a class of skaters. I loved them both. Later, when the administration’s whips and chains came out, and I got tired of all the “noble” teachers insulting the children behind their backs, in the lunch room, I hated it. Glad I got out.

  • Antonia

    This is an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo novel, “The Dark” (working title).

    Jeffer, Taft, Haft and Buck backed towards Fletcher, drawing their knives. They clearly weren’t going anywhere without a fight.

    Nicko dropped out of the tree, landing next to them.

    Fletcher’s stomach dropped. Too late.

    ‘Relax guys,’ he told the other Dark. ‘Harpen’s going to be here in thirty seconds with half the village not far behind.’

    The Dark boys nodded and sat down on the branch in front of Fletcher, who could now see past them. About five of the Light were on the branches along with several torches. Richard looked around and saw Fletcher, whose tanned face was almost white in the darkness.

    ‘Fletcher,’ he said.

    Fletcher wanted to reply. He wanted to tell his father ‘Get out. It’s too late. They’re coming. Get out before you die.’ He couldn’t say anything through the gag though.

    Richard stepped forward. He was only about fifteen metres away, and one of the Dark boys shifted nervously. Richard saw the movement and started. He obviously hadn’t seen their dark faces in the blackness before they’d moved.

    Fletcher began to panic. They weren’t picking up on their danger. They were going to die. There was no way they could get out in time.

    A Dark adult dropped out of the trees halfway between the Dark boys and Richard. Fletcher made a muffled yelping noise through his gag. The Dark adult was a little taller than Jeffer, but he wasn’t as skinny as the teenager. He looked strong, especially around the shoulders, probably from drawing the massive wooden longbow he was holding. There was already an arrow nocked on the string.

    The adult pulled the longbow to half draw, so that it was threatening the Light, but not putting too much pressure on the bow for too long.

    ‘Get out,’ he said, almost growling.

    ‘What?’ said Richard, who had apparently expected to be shot, no questions asked.

    ‘Get out,’ the Dark adult repeated. ‘Now.’ He paused, his dark eyes looking down at Richard. ‘The only reason you’re not dead yet is you’re trying to rescue your son. I get that. I’d do the same for Jeffer. So get out before you move from concerned father to enemy.’

    Richard looked surprised by this turn of events, but turned. ‘Let’s go,’ he said to the Light. They began to climb back down the ropes. Richard looked back at Fletcher, and Fletcher could read the apology in his eyes.

    ‘Take his gag off,’ the Dark adult said to Jeffer.

    Jeffer walked over and took off Fletcher’s gag.

    ‘Bye Dad,’ Fletcher said softly.

    ‘Bye Fletch,’ said Richard. ‘Sorry.’

    Fletcher shrugged an ‘It doesn’t matter,’ shrug. He couldn’t talk. He thought he might cry if he did.

    ‘Jeffer,’ said the Dark adult. ‘Where’s Zug Zug?’

    ‘Er…’ said Jeffer. ‘He’s here somewhere, I swear.’

    ‘Zug Zug,’ called the Dark adult.

    The Light looked at him oddly right up until the lion jumped over from a neighbouring branch. As soon as they saw the lion they stopped looking and started moving an awful lot faster. The last one down was Richard. He looked solemnly at his son as he lowered himself down. Julius and Raymond had to pull him back out of the forest. Fletcher listened to them all mounting up, then the dying sound of the hoofbeats.

    As the hoofbeats faded, the Dark all relaxed. The boys started patting each other on the back and fist bumping. The adult stored his arrow in its sheath and slung the longbow over his shoulder.

    • Holli Keaton

      I really like this! I know that’s not a very deep, insightful comment, but from this exert, I would definitely pick up this book to find out more.

      • Antonia

        Thanks for the support.

    • Melissa

      The dark vs. light tension is intriguing and strong here! I was craving some more emotion in Fletcher and Richard’s good-bye, even if they’re struggling to conceal it. Maybe it’s made clear in the full version, but I wasn’t always clear on the moving up/down (from the tree? into the ground?). Great job building this world! Thanks for sharing, and good luck with the rest of NaNoWriMo 🙂

      • Antonia

        Thanks! Yeah, emotion is something I need to work on, but since it’s a NaNo novel I’ve tried to just ignore everything I’m doing badly until the end of November, especially since I’m about ten thousand words behind. To clarify, they’re moving up and down from a tree to the ground. It isn’t really clear without the rest of the scene. Thanks.

  • RD Meyer

    I made this point on my own blog. Even the brain needs recovery time.

    • Melissa

      So, so true!

  • Holli Keaton

    Alright, day off! 🙂 Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of a new project I’ve been working on:

    There she stood, frazzled, unable to speak and covered in
    blood. Her hair, it was long and brown, and I could tell her locks would
    normally be flowy. That wasn’t the case today. Her sweat-drenched hair held
    together in clumps like grease that stuck to her pale, dirty face.

    She was dressed in a plain white t-shirt covered in spots of
    dark brown dirt. There was a small slit beginning to form straight down the
    middle, so that her shirt hung loosely over her left shoulder. From the looks
    of it, this woman had been in some trouble. But what was it? She couldn’t tell
    me anything.

    Her face was pale, but her features nice. Her hair was
    dark—her black eyebrows made even darker by the cut on top of her forehead. Her
    lips were naturally a blush color, though the lower half of her face was
    swollen and starting to bruise.

    What told me all I needed to know, truly, was her eyes. Big,
    brown, holding back tears and haunting as hell. I knew she had a story to tell,
    that she had seen things. What those were, though, there was really no time to

    Looking back, I didn’t even question why she came to me. I
    assumed my doorstep just happened to land in the way of what was an escape
    route of sorts. After all, if one was looking to find somebody who would answer
    the door, an apartment complex is a good place to start. I scooped this small,
    probably undernourished woman up in my arms. She moaned slightly before she
    leaned her head against my chest and closed her eyes. My brotherly instincts
    kicked in. This woman in my arms, 20-something, reminded me so much of Danni.

    • Antonia

      Wow. This is really good. I’m really curious about what’s happened to the woman so that she looks the way she does. Great start!

    • Eric Schneider

      I could feel that poor girl in my arms, too. Good writing!

    • Melissa

      What a vivid description of the woman! The last couple lines left me wanting to know more…

  • Eric Schneider

    Okay, here’s one I’ve wanted to write for years.


    As soon as my wife and I emerged grinning from the Time Travel Corridor we ripped off those disgusting brown prison guard uniforms, and reached for our U.S. Army fatigues. But they weren’t where we’d left them. Instead, a new kind of uniform was lying in their places. They had the stars & stripes, and they seemed to fit, so we stepped into them.
    Well, there were bound to be some changes, right?
    Still excited, we jogged to the heavy door, unlatched it, and pulled it open. Entering the underground bunker we saw that it was pretty much the same. All the signs were in English; that was good. When the Nazis had won the 1939-1942 war, American signs evolved into the crisp German we then all learned in school.
    Lil and I smiled at each other. This was promising. No one thought we could go back and do what needed to be done in that jail cell in 1923, after the unsuccessful Munich putsch, to prevent the Third Reich from ever happening. But we did it. A little too much curare in his tea, and the little bully’s cardio-vascular muscles, among all the others, melted like butter left on a dashboard in summer.
    We headed for the office of our boss, old General Eisenhower, head of GERMAMIREG – the German-American Military Regency – reporting directly to the Fuehrer, they all thought. His Germanic name enabled him fool the cream of the so-called Master Race. Idiots!
    But Ike had secretly planned the coup of the millennium, misdirecting money for Jew-hunting to Dr. Albert Einstein, who eventually opened the Corridor and sent us through. I only wished Doc E had lived to see the results. I knew from studying history that he had died a year ago, in 1957. But as he sent us out, he seemed very confident that we would succeed in our mission, and the near-extermination of the Jewish race would become a “never-happened.”
    We paused outside Ike’s red office door (it used to be army green) and took a couple of deep breaths to calm down. Nothing could beat this feeling for triumph, joy, and bliss – not my best performance conducting Beethoven’s 9th, my Olympic swimming gold medal, my triple somersault off a high board into a clear pool in the 10th grade, or even my first conquest of Lil’s luscious body. With a big smile I gestured to my terrific wife, and she pushed open the door.
    Even before we got to Ike’s desk, we shouted, “We did it! We killed Hitler!”
    “Who?” the fat man at the desk said. This wasn’t Eisenhower.
    Then he recovered. “Who are you?”He pressed a button on the desk, then rose and came around to me, and stared at my profile. At my nose, I thought. At Lil’s, too, until her top heavy chest distracted him. He was short enough for me to see he wore a – yarmulke? What was going on here?
    I glanced at the wall behind his desk. Staring down was a photo of a small man with a Black hat, a mustache, a long beard, and a swastika armband over a black coat. I thought I recognized a photo I had once seen in a Brooklyn newspaper.
    “Your papers?” he demanded. Stunned, I hesitated. Jews didn’t carry papers in the world we grew up in.
    “I – I don’t have them, Sir. We just came back from our mission in…” His glare told me he’d already convicted us in his mind of something illegal. But wait! The man on the wall. It was that famous Rabbi. Had we Jews taken over the – ? Omigod!
    “Sir,” I continued, “we are members of the Jewish Resurrection Corps. We just returned through Dr. Einstein’s Time Travel Corridor from 1923, where we assassinated Adolph Hitler who, in our original world, had slaughtered six million of our -”
    “Einstein, that apostate, that reformist criminal! Fortunately we found and liquidated him in 1944, two years after we atomized the Daytch-Yapan murderous populations.”
    Oh, no, I thought. Then Doc E never opened the Time Corridor. We could never escape this madness!
    Fatty sneered. “He was hiding with goyim, those were all he associated with by then.”
    He ignored my gaping mouth and Lil’s trembling, except for her breasts that jiggled from the trembling.
    “Can you prove your Jewish identity?” he asked, still staring at my wife.
    I joked, ‘Hey, don’t I look Jewish?”
    He took a step back as the door opened. Six thugs with yarmulkes marched in and surrounded us. Holding machine pistols in one hand, they faced the photo on the wall and straight-arm saluted with their other arms.
    “Heil Hershel!” they shouted.
    Fatty saluted back. “Take this man away. Strip him and see if he’s really Jewish, which I doubt.”
    I broke out into a sweat, remembering my father Mel’s insistence that I not be circumcised, since he had left our religion to marry that beautiful shiksa, my mother Kathleen.
    “Please, I-“ The last thing I remember, before the most horrific smash of heavy steel against my skull, was seeing Lil smile warmly at Fatty.
    Then I woke up here, just a few minutes ago. I hope Lil can have her way with Fatty like she did with Adolph. We gotta get out of this place!

    • Melissa

      Good mix of history, sci-fi, and humor!

  • This is an excerpt from my nanowrimo work. Three Jewish women have escaped the death march and been taken in by a Polish farmer and his family. In the chapter preceding this one, little Ewka (the farmer’s young daughter) startled a cow and had her foot broken. It’s still a rough draft, editing comes after November…

    Throughout the day Ewka alternated between fretful sleeping and whimpering wakefulness. The women kept an eye on her as they worked in the house, and whenever she awoke they gave her a calming draught prepared by her grandmother to soothe her pain and make her more comfortable. When she awoke in the afternoon, Ruchie tried to play dominoes with her, but Ewka was too restless to concentrate. After a few moves, Ewka petulantly messed the tiles. “No more. No want dominoes.” Tears began flowing down her cheeks. Marta set aside the broom in her hand and sat down on the settee next to the little girl.

    “How about a story? Would you like to hear a story?”

    “Yes, Pani Marta.”

    “Well, Ewka, you know how every village has its share of bad people?”

    Ewka nodded solemnly, wide-eyed.

    “There is one town, however, the town of Linber, which for some reason or another, has more than its fair share of bad people. It is know far and wide, that for whatever reason, Linber has not one bad person or two, but the entire town is made up of bad people. But how can this be, a whole town of bad people?” Ewka shrugged her shoulders and Marta looked at her and lowered her voice. “Come close and I will tell you.”

    Ewka moved closer, and Marta stoked her hair and continued. “Well, it seems that one dark stormy night, one of the heavenly angels was sent down to earth on a very important mission. God himself had instructed the angel to collect all the broken, misguided and evil souls and to bring them back to heaven to be repaired. So through the night, the angel traveled filling a big sack on his back with these broken souls. He found one in a village here, and one in a village there, two in another town and three in a nearby city. And as he went from village to village, from town to town, from city to city, his sack got heavier and heavier. And as the rain came down harder and even harder, the sack grew not only heavier and heavier but also wetter and wetter. The angel was getting tired, and decided to return to heaven with his bundle.” Ewka, wide-eyed, snuggled closer to Marta, who without seeming to notice, slid her arm around the little girl and continued with the story.

    “The angel began flying up the side of a mountain when a sudden clap of thunder startled him and made him falter and almost made him lose his grip on the sack.” Ewka gasped, and Marta hid her smile. “But never fear, the angel gripped the sack tighter and flew on. However, it seems that at the very same moment that he had faltered, the angel had been flying over a tree with thick branches that stood high up on the mountain. And as the angel faltered, unbeknownst to him, the sack had caught on one of the branches! When the angel flew on, the sack began to rip, so that one by one those broken souls tumbled out the bag and down the mountain, down to the town of Linber.”

    Ewka gasped. Ola, who had wandered in, seated herself on the floor by Marta’s feet. “But didn’t the angel feel the sack growing lighter?”

    “Of course, he did, but the poor tired angel was convinced that it wasn’t that the load was getting lighter, but that God was easing his load. And by the time he arrived back in heaven, the sack was totally empty, and all those evil, broken souls were gone.”

    “Was God very angry at him?” Ola asked.

    “God realized that it was not meant to be, and forgave the angel.”

    “Then what?” Ewka demanded.

    “Well, as usually happens with bad people, there is always one person who is worse than the others, and that one, that soul who was the most evil, the most broken and misguided, was a soul by the name of Dolfler. All the other souls looked up to this Dolfler, since he was the baddest of the bad, and decided to make him the mayor of Linber. Well, Dolfler was very happy to be chosen mayor, and he was very proud of himself. Every time he passed a mirror he would look at himself, very pleased with what he saw. He saw his two eyes, and said, that’s a very good thing, to have two eyes. He saw his nose, and he said, that’s a very good thing to have a nose. He saw his mouth, and he thought it was a good thing to have a mouth as well. Then he saw his mustache, and he was very very pleased with his mustache. In fact, the more he looked at his mustache, the more convinced he was that a mustache was a most wonderful thing to have. And he looked around and saw all these other people in Linber, and while they all had two eyes, a nose and a mouth, they most certainly did not all have mustaches!”

    The two girls giggled. Marta smiled at them and continued. “Herr Dolfler was extremely bothered by this. If a mustache was such a wonderful thing, he felt that everyone in town should have one. And so, he passed a law: From now on, everyone in Linber must have a mustache. Anyone who would be found without a mustache, would be taken away! Some men began growing glorious mustaches, but not everyone was able to grow one. So women began making fake mustaches from their hair and gluing them on, they began painting mustaches on their children. Even all the statues and paintings in town suddenly began to have mustaches added to them.”

    Ewka giggled. Ola was perplexed. “But that’s silly!”

    Marta shrugged. “Bad people often think that they are very smart, but that doesn’t mean that they actually are very smart, does it?”

    The little girls shook their heads.

    “It was a terrible situation. People were turning in friends and neighbors who were missing the required mustaches. Sometimes, those mustaches just wouldn’t grow. And sometimes the glue dried and the mustaches fell off, or children would turn their faces up to the rain or wash their faces and the mustaches would be washed away. And one by one, people began to disappear. First it was just one or two, then ten, then a hundred; the numbers kept on growing. Herr Dolfler didn’t seem to realize that he had fewer and fewer people to rule. And that as the older people began to die, as older people do, fewer young ones were growing up to be able to grow mustaches, and women were disappearing, so that fewer children were being born. And, of course, all those being born, were being born without mustaches.”

    “So what happened?” asked Ola.

    “That is a good question. What happened is what usually happens. After a while, a few people grew tired of it all. One man then another grew tired of having to kiss his wife with her mustache, and one young man then another began to pine for the young girls that were becoming so hard to find, and one young mother and then another began to long for her mustache-less baby, and for her lost children. And don’t forget, these were bad, broken souls. And they began to wonder, why should we continue to listen to Herr Dolfler? Things are not going very well for us. He is taking away our women, our children. But he can only do that if we let him. Some men, smarter than the others, realized that if there will be no more women then there will be no more children, and if there will be no more children, then there will be no more Linber.”

    “So what did they do?”

    “They stopped listening to Herr Dolfler. One man spoke to his friend who spoke to his friend who spoke to his friend till the whole town was talking about it. The men suddenly realized that none of them really liked having women and children with mustaches, even if they sported the most beautiful ones imaginable. And as they talked they realized, that really, they were many, but Herr Dolfler, he was only one… So one night they decided that they would all join together and rise up against Herr Dolfler and reclaim their right to go without mustaches. And so they did. They got rid of Herr Dolfler, and all the remaining women peeled off their mustaches and all the remaining children washed their mustaches off. And they even removed all the mustaches from the pictures and statues throughout town. And from that day till today, there are no more mustaches in Linber.”

    “So the rest of the people weren’t really bad and broken, were they?” asked Ola.

    “Some bad people will always find new mischief, others will have the sense to mend their ways Before they reach heaven.”

    When Marta lifted her head from the girls, she was surprised to see everyone gathered round the kitchen listening to her story. She flushed and stammered. “I didn’t realize you were all here.”

    “And I never realized that you were so good with the children,” Jacek replied.

    “You were so intent on your story, you never even noticed us!” Libu smiled at Marta. “You have kept your talents a secret.”

    “Just nonsense for the children,” Marta murmured.

    “That was wonderful!” sighed Ruchie.

    “Wonderful won’t get us dinner on the table.” Said the babcia. But as she passed the settee to the kitchen, she patted Marta’s shoulder in passing.

    Ola got up and gave Marta a hug. “Thank you, Pani Marta.”

    “Come girls, Ruchie, Ola. Time to tend the cows again.”

    “More story, Pani Marta,” Ewka pleaded.

    Marta smiled at Ewka. “Now you need to rest, and I need to help Pani Libu and your babcia. Tomorrow is another day.”



    • Melissa

      Love the story within a story. I got a little lost in it too 🙂

  • I intend to write every day, even for a short time. Usually I do great with this practice. However, one thing after another befell our household last week and I didn’t end up getting back to my book. When I tried to write at the weekend, it was like I’d lost all steam. So I did Pinterest instead! However, they say, of creative people, that if a day goes by without being creative that you feel as if you haven’t lived. It’s definitely that way for me. I felt as if last week was entirely wasted!

    Therefore, it was with great joy that I went back to my book and was able to write a little last night.

    This is for the second book in my series, The Records of Aden. And this is my piece;

    The preying mantis girl led the dragonfly to the circle, they crossed the rope and went over to the pink-flowering cherry tree. Inside the circle it was quiet and
    still. Number Three knelt in the crackling leaves, undoing her bag. She drew
    out a piece of rice paper and folded it.

    Te Maia noticed the taller girl had turned facing the tree, and bowed her head. Unsure what was expected, Te Maia shrugged and did the same. She watched an ant nose a lump of pollen down an ant-hole. A cool green breeze wafted against her cheek.

    Three murmured something. Although Te Maia leaned closer to the taller girl she strained to make out the words. So she went back to staring at the ground, head bowed, and then, on an afterthought she moved her own lips, soundlessly.

    The girl beside her glanced over. “Are you praying, Sister?”

    Te Maia pursed her lips and shook her head.

    “Just pretending?”

    “I don’t know what to do.” Her face flushed red, hot. “I was copying you.”

    Three giggled a clear, pure sound.

    • Marianne

      Yvette This is just so pretty. I can see this in my mind clearly and it reminds me of being a child outside in the grass. I love it. I particularly like the part where she is watching the ant move his piece of pollen. It was fun to read.

    • Melissa

      Beautiful imagery. Such an honest scene that brings forth feelings we’ve all felt when we aren’t quite sure what to do… I’m sure it’s because it’s an excerpt, but it took me a second read to better understand the first paragraph. It’s so cool that you’re writing a series – best of luck!

  • Renee

    I tend to write for two or three days in a row and then take a day off. I used to push myself and had a major burnout. It resulted in me writing almost a whole manuscript that I trashed because it truly was crap. Now I don’t push myself. I’m even behind with NaNo, but I’m not worried. I can go a few days without writing and then sit down and in one or two days write 10k to 20k words with little effort at all. Taking breaks can really help recharge your creative batteries so that writing is fun again and doesn’t feel like work.


  • I try to write a little bit every day – whether that’s in a notebook or editing or just trying to work out a problem in my head. That said, I feel really guilty on any day I don’t pick up a pen or edit something!

    Thank you for this post – it helped me remember to forgive myself for a vacation every now and then. I just wrote a longer response on my own blog (emgarber.com).

    Thanks again – I feel a lot better!

  • darinlhammond


    I’ve never thought about writing this way even though I have taught composition at the college level for 10 years or so. I go so far in my classes as to compare writing skills to sports – you practice basketball, and you become better. However, I personally haven’t thought about the need for rest with intense exercise. Perhaps writing everyday should not be the goal of every writer. If your passion for the written word diminishes because of it, then rest is certainly in order.

    Thanks for the tips.