Does Refreshing Ourselves Keep Our Writing Fresh?

Do writers ever need a vacation from writing?

As you know, I recently turned in my rewrites on The Doctor’s Lady (my second book). After many, many months of laboring over it—both with the writing and editing—I was really worn out when I finally sent it to my publisher.

I took a week completely off from my writing and caught up on all of the household jobs I’d neglected. I washed dirty sheets, examined the bare cupboards and made a grocery list, and filled up the long-neglected soap dispensers.

After a week of getting my house back in order, I took another week to shop. I bought deodorant for my son, new jeans for my fast-growing daughter, fall sweaters for myself, and a variety of other household items that we desperately needed.

After a couple weeks “off,” I finally started to think about my next book. I’d already sent my editor a couple different synopses earlier in the fall. And now I was ready to figure out what direction I should take the book. So, I planned a phone meeting with my editor, and we talked through the different ideas. He told me what to steer clear of, brainstormed with me, and together we came up with a plan.

When I hung up the phone, my mind was whirling with new excitement. And ever since then, I’ve been researching and plotting my next novel. Yes, I allocate time for reading those brittle, musty, old books. In fact, I spent six hours at the library on Saturday in the genealogy room, reading all the books that are too old and precious to check out.

But during this research and plotting phase, I also allow my brain some down-time. I don’t rush the plotting. In fact, I go in slow motion, mulling over everything I read, sifting through material, filling up notebooks with research, brainstorming lists of ideas (half of which I’ll never use).

It’s almost like I have an enormous feast before me, and while I’m tempted to rush in and gulp down everything in my eagerness, I don’t. Instead I linger over each dish, dipping my finger in and tasting the sweetness, feeling the textures against my tongue, taking deep breaths of the variety of scents. I stand utterly still, close my eyes, and enjoy the pure pleasure of each bite.

Author Roxane Salonen recently wrote a post titled “Let the Tortoise Have His Way.” She mentioned that often we let the hare part of our brains run at full speed. But there are times when we need to let the slower tortoise part of the brain have his turn. It’s during those “slow” times that our brain can store up images, sift through the mountains of information, find the nuggets, and organize them into stories we can use.

So, even though I’ve been researching and plotting my newest novel, I’ve been operating out of the “tortoise” part of my brain. During this process, I’m preparing myself for when I start the actual writing.

Here are a few of the ways I’ve rejuvenated my mind lately:

Listen to inspiring music. I’ve been blaring Handel’s Messiah and letting the incredibly complex cacophony of instruments and voices surge through my blood. There’s something about beautiful music that restores beauty to our souls.

Take time to focus on sensory details. A gently floating snowflake, the lustrous velvety fur of my kitty, the creaking of the branches outside my window, the rich aroma of the garlic and sage in the spaghetti sauce. How can we write sensory details in our stories if we don’t stop and experience them for ourselves?

Read writing craft books. Over the past couple weeks I’ve read two: The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman (an easy read with very practical ideas for improving plot); and The Moral Premise by Stanley Williams (not an easy read and geared for screenwriters, but a thorough introduction on how to implement the crucial element of a story premise). Both have given me fresh ideas and renewed my excitement for starting a first draft.

Meditate on classic writing. I like reading the writing of “oldtimers.” I love the wisdom and the ability to find timeless truths. These are the kinds of truths that I like to make my characters struggle through. When we take the time to wrestle with deeper issues, then we're better able to weave them into our stories.

Study other great books. Currently, I’m reading Where the Red Fern Grows to my children. And as I’m reading it, I’m taking lots of notes. It’s very well-written, and I’m studying the characterization, plot development, and the beautiful usage of similes and metaphors.

So there you have it. Those are some of the ways that I’ve been refreshing myself lately. Now I’d love to hear what you do. What are the ways that you refresh yourself so that you can keep your writing fresh?

P.S. Need a Christmas present? I'm giving away TWO autographed copies of The Preacher's Bride (signed and sent to the person of your choice!) For rules and to enter the drawing, click here.


  1. Awesome stuff, Jody, as usual! I definitely slow down during the plotting/brainstorming phase. I definitely speed up when diving full force into the rough draft. I'm a tortoise right now too!

  2. I took a short break after I finished my edits on book number two. Not only did I need it, but my family needed it too. It helped me recharge and transition my brain to book number two. Great post.

  3. maybe that's what I need! Thanks, have been having issues with this fourth book, all kinds of plots and twists to come, but I need to get to know the characters, maybe take them on a date or something! Great post! Thanks for the advice!

  4. Sounds like a needed time of refreshing for you. Wonderful suggestions of how to recharge our minds and focus our thoughts. :O)

  5. I'm definitely in tortoise mode as well. I'm currently toying with two very different story ideas - one that would compliment the novel I just finished, and another that is of the same genre, but a very different idea. So, far the stories are neck-and-neck in the race to see which one gets written first.

    I definitely think it's good for writers to slow down between projects and renew. Great insight into your routine, Jody.

  6. If I'm truly taking a break for a break's sake, I'll read just to read...magazine articles, Coastal Living, light reads, heavy reads. Just absorb it all without thinking. I know it jumps in my brain through some sort of osmosis anyway.

    And I exercise. It snaps things to life in my brain like you wouldn't believe.

    ~ Wendy

  7. I have taken this time off since my book came out, to focus on promoting it and enjoying the journey of having published a book. Since it's a Christmas book, I'm giving myself until Christmas to have that break, and then...back to writing! I'm glad I have time off work then so I can get a running start.

    I go through spurts like that. I'll write (or edit or whatever) really hard....and then take a break from all of it so I can truly love it again.

  8. Jody, I know I've said it a zillion times, but it bears repeating. You write AWESOME blog posts. This one is another winner.

    No wonder you're quoted all over cyberspace and your blog linked to by a host of bloggers eager to share the great site they've found. What a shining example you are to others. Thanks!!!

  9. Glad you got that break, Jody! I need to put away the writing for a time as well, especially when things have stalled out. I find new ideas spring to mind as I'm doing other things, and when I get back to writing, it flows more smoothly.
    Hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

  10. Over the past week my writing has slowed to a trickle. I am busy crocheting and drawing, making presents. These alternate forms of creativity and helping fill my well. Not to mention, I'm also reading a couple inspiring writing books.

  11. Breaks are so helpful. The good Lord forced one on me a few weeks ago when my laptop crashed, and I'm very thankful. I'd been on autopilot with my social networking, and I needed to get back on track. The break really kicked a fire back into me, and yes, I'm excited about my new project as a result.

    I love this post! You sound refreshed and that makes me refreshed!

    Have a great weekend!

  12. Thanks for the reminders of how to refresh ourselves. I really need these as I am also really fatigued from the revision of my second novel for the trilogy. The problem is, I'm not finished yet. :-) Three more weeks.

    Last night, I went to see Danu, an Irish band. I agree with you about music and its restorative power.

  13. Great post Jodie. I've cut back my blogging schedule and already I have produced more writing, go figure. Been poorly too though so more time to write.

    I went to watch Cirque du Soleil recently and that was very restorative. You know the performers spend a lot of time perfecting their moves, and something resonates with you as well as being entertained.

  14. I think taking a break from writing here and there is so important. Not just to motivate yourself to get back into writing but to make yourself excited about writing again.

    I've been taking a break for awhile now and I'm starting to realize that I get going too fast, like the hare and don't slow down to savor the story and the characters. It affects my passion for the story and passion for writing in general. This time, to refresh myself, I'm trying to figure out a new pace that works for me and only getting back to writing when I feel ready and excited.

  15. I love "Where the Red Fern Grows"! I re-read it every couple of years. I hope your kids are enjoying it!

    I refresh in many of same ways you do. It's always beneficial to "fill up the well" and rejuvenate the writing mind after finishing something and before starting a new project.

  16. I adore Roxane - she is so wise and insightful. I think allowing ourselves to step away for a while is a necessary component of successful writing. Your tips are excellent! :-)

  17. I'm at the brainstorming phase and am so happy it happens to take place during the holidays. It's refreshing not having to write and wrap all at the same time. =)

  18. LOVE all of your ideas, everyone! I think we can all agree that from time to time, our minds need to do a "silent" kind of writing process, taking in the world around us in order to prepare for the "real" writing. This is definitely a good time of year to take a bit of a break! :-)

  19. Jody~ I'm so glad to know that you are savoring the more inner space of the writer's life. I'm definitely in a different place right now--for a variety of reasons. I smiled as I read your details about listening to Handel's Messiah. I've been doing the same thing! I agree with many of your points in this post.

    Because family illness required much of my time this year, I had to face the "tortoise mode" more than usual; however, there is such beauty all around us, and one must be still to truly appreciate it. I'm delighted to hear that your third book is simmering, and equally delighted that you'll be relaxed and able to fully enjoy Christmas with your family. You deserve it!

  20. We often use the analogy about constantly drawing from the well of our creativity and needing time to let the well refill, especially after a particularly long period of use.

    My most effective refilling comes from quiet time alone. I like sitting by the ocean, letting the sound of the waves drown out all the voices in my head. That may be why it's always after our summer holidays that I'm ready to dive into a new story! I've taken time to clear out all the old characters and their conversations. Listening to favourite music with my eyes closed is something else that refreshes me. Or gardening (in the right season). Or painting (although I haven't done any in quite a long time). I think some of us need a total break from creative pursuits at times, and others are rejuvenated by a change to a different kind of creativity.

  21. Have you read Where The Red Fern Grows yet? Be prepared when trying to read the ending out loud. I know I could never do it.

  22. Laura, we finished the book this afternoon and there wasn't a dry eye in our house! I was almost sobbing! :-) It was a great piece of literature!

  23. Great posts here. I am in between right now. I've finished up editing on my rough draft but not sure it's really ready then at the same time I feel like I need to start on my next project!
    I enjoy your blog post and find that they have some great ideas and observations.Thanks

  24. Jody, oh, I'm so glad the tortoise and hare idea soaked in. Of course, we all knew of it, but to name it, to visualize, can be very helpful to the process. I wish I could take full credit for that idea, but children's author Anastasia Seun is responsible for introducing it to me this way, and I have referred to it and pondered it many times through the years. Like others, I got a cozy feeling reading this post, hearing of your renewal. I know exactly what you mean! After I've been absorbed in my writing mind for a good chunk of time, I find those acts of domesticity and caring for my family a source of refreshment. It kind of brings me back to myself and the world before me, which needs me in a more tangible way than anyone who might read my work. Thanks for reminding us that this time of the year especially, it's important we take some time to just watch a snowflake, gaze at Christmas lights in the evening and nurture our families.

  25. Hi Jody -

    This blog would make a wonderful writing book! I always find inspiration and instruction here.

    Refreshment comes in many forms for me: the Word of God, my garden, spending time with family and friends, and working on a sign language special.

    Susan :)

  26. I'm clicking over to the tortoise post! Sometimes I feel awkward because I'm slow, but I simply can't work as fast as others. Things sift through my mind, and I like to work things about before I start writing.

    Excellent post, Jody. And I'm glad you got all the house & family stuff accomplished. That's an amazing feeling!

  27. Your blog is a sensuous break for me three times a week with its breathtaking details and beautiful template!

    I have to smile at "buy deodorant for my son." Now, I don't know if my comment relates to him, but I do remember when my youngest child and only son didn't want to shower or wear deodorant! I think he was about ten at the time. Then my oldest granddaughter when through the same phase when she was about that age also!! Sweet memories. They'll all be yours in a few years. Really, only a few, it will seem. Time goes by so quickly. Enjoy the children while they're in your home!!
    Ann Best, Long Journey Home

  28. Sounds like a winning plan, Jody!
    Have just started reading your book. I like the premise!



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