For the first time in my life since I began writing fiction at age four or five I am taking an intentional break from writing. I’ve taken long breaks before (when school/work got too heavy, or due to suffering depression I couldn’t focus) but those were times I had to. Now is by choice.

I freely admit I have suffered three bouts of depression in my life. The first time was when my mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness and quickly faded, dying just one year later. That was the worst depression I ever had. I couldn’t write a word, I stopped seeing my friends, and I reached a point called flat affect, where you literally have no emotions. I would rather die than ever experience that again, to me, if there is a Hell, that is what it must be like. 

When I got to college shortly after I sought help, and within a year I was back to writing, though in college writing was off/on as I worked two or three jobs all through school and frankly was frequently exhausted.

Years later I got depressed again due to a divorce and losing my career in finance within days of one another, and since I was writing on Literotica, many of my fans remember the documentation of that. I sought help then and as soon as I recovered I was writing again.

Now, this depression is different. Rather than coming on the heels of a traumatic event, it was just the grinding stress of poverty, ill health, and a poor social life that drove me into it. I’m currently in therapy and with my therapist came to a decision: I will voluntarily commit to not writing anything new for six months.

And it’s killing me.

The problem is that much of the writing I have done in this depression has been some of my best. I’ve won awards and churned out epics with the highest ratings, plus the two books I published I am supremely proud of, as well as Secret Desires which is coming out in 2016.

Before I get to sharing with you why this is both Heaven and Hell, let me explain why I need this break. I treat writing as a full time job, and I need to devote more time to my day job. In the three months since this sabbatical began I’ve gone from being an independent contractor to starting a small business, and now I am growing it. I have more free time to meditate, focus on a schedule, pay attention to my health and fix medical issues, and lose weight. And, if all goes to plan, within a year my responsibilities in my new company will merely be the legal end and managers will run it, allowing me stable income and more free time to write.

The result of my new-found free time is fantastic. I have a plan, small goals that I am achieving, and I’m already feeling better. I am eating better, I’ve lost thirty pounds, I’m making new friends, and I shower daily and leave the house daily, things I struggle with when depressed. Sure, the despair and despondency still comes and goes and I’m not fixed yet, but I am getting there.

Now, with depression comes anxiety. For me it is mostly in writing. I’m a type-A personality to begin with, but the anxiety with writing was crippling. I wanted to write The Longest Midnight but since I first wrote in 2000 it’s undergone four radical changes, and trying to write it the changes kept coming. I’d get a decent way in, panic, and start over. And over. And over.

So I turned to the third Marly Jackson mystery. The original short story is the shortest and I had some good ideas to expand them. Only…once more I’d write the synopsis, get frustrated, trash it, and start over again. And again. And again.

Both my friend/life coach and therapist encouraged me to back away. Fix the anxiety first. In cognitive-behavioral therapy you have to either fix the cognition to improve a behavior (e.g. fix the anxiety before attempting to write) or fix the behavior to improve cognition (e.g. shower daily to feel more self-confident and happy). 

So now I am focusing on fixing the anxiety. The problem with anxiety is irrational thinking. Now, I KNOW that I have published five books with a sixth coming out soon, so even if I flub one slightly it’s not the end of the world. The problem is, it fucking feels like the end of the world, because anxiety is not rational.

So now I am not writing. Oh, if I get the urge, I will work on Thief In the Night if the urges get too bad but I am trying to take a break from it all. The Heaven of it is that now the ideas can’t stop coming, and even with productivity halted, the creativity feels as if it is flourishing.

I have maybe three good ideas a day for books. I try to write them down to use for later. This is also somewhat the Hell. Inspiration has never been a problem, and I already calculate that if I brought every idea I’ve ever written down to fruition, I would need to live about two hundred years to get them all done.

Try not having a mild panic attack at that. I’m thirty-four, about to turn thirty-five. I am unmarried, never wanted kids…who will inherit my copyright? And my mother who died at forty-eight, who never published but also wrote, left me a box of her manuscripts which I wanted to edit and publish under her name with profits going to charity. When the fuck will I have time to do that?

So you can see why thinking about things like that induces anxiety. Of course there is also that morbid fear of aging. I’m getting to age where lines begin to appear on the face and grey hairs might come every day. So will I ever achieve what I want in my own life? Just how much can I write? How long will I live? When will I stop writing? What if I get Alzheimer’s or dementia? Argh! ANXIETY!

That Russian billionaire better hurry up with the immortality project, cripes, otherwise I have no time. 

One reason why I didn’t think to do this before was that one thing always on my mind was that no matter what advice professional writers give, they always say some variation of Write every day. My therapist pointed out that was stupid. Part of writing is natural talent, yes, which doesn’t dry up or disappear. And hard work, the other component, is at-will.

So I am taking a break from writing but I still plan to blog. And when it comes time to edit Secret Desires that is an exemption.  So until November of 2015 I am not writing, trying to ignore the worries. I wanted to share this with you because at some point you might need to take a break as well, and I have some advice to share, things working for me.

The first thing is I do have a plan. In October, I will sit down and come up with a writing plan for 2016. As part of my recovery from depression I plan to join some writers groups after abstaining for a few years. I have general goals: in 2016 I plan to finally get an agent and submit a book to legacy publishers as well as self-publish the third Marly Jackson. From there I have an outline of what to do in the next five years, and in October all I have to do is get more specific.

Part of why I was able to do this was I had already had Secret Desires accepted and scheduled to be published by Red Sage, so I still have a product coming out soon. And since it will be coming out early 2016 I have some downtime.

I do NOT recommend taking a break (if you have already been published/self-published) unless you have a product coming out, ready to go. A break is good, but you have to remember that readers who have enjoyed your work previously do expect it to continue. Don’t believe me? Look at all the furor over George R.R. Martin’s habit of taking five years to write a book. We know it is coming but the wait makes us homicidal.

Secondly, the best advice I can give you is have a good reason to take a break. Whatever it is, it must be important than writing. Family, health, financial survival, and school are about the only reasons good enough.

With that in mind, let me amend the advice all professional writers give others and make it my own: Write like it’s your job, because it is. But like any job you shouldn’t do it if you the run the risk or hurting yourself or family, or shortchanging school or making enough money to survive.

Yes, it’s complex, which is why writers like the sound-byte short version that is actually BS. Writing should be important in your life, but it can’t be the only thing. There’s a whole big world out there full of wonderful, terrible, and interesting things. It’s an adventure to be explored, and let’s hope that any writer’s break only makes their writing better.

But let’s not worry about it overmuch, shall we?