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  • Writer's pictureJason R. Waller

I Took a Year Off from Writing

The world didn’t end! What I learned about patience and compassion.

When my daughter was born a year ago, I didn’t plan to take time away from writing. In fact, initially I didn’t. I still had a few stories drafted or waiting with publications, so inertia stayed with me a bit as I finished what I already had. But I didn’t start anything new.

And I kept on not starting anything new. For over a year.

Looking back, I find it a bit surreal that I left behind such a big part of my life without really meaning to. There was no real intention in stopping to write. And — what was even more strange to me — there was also no guilt or self-criticism in not starting up again. It wasn’t for lack of ideas or inspiration. In fact, my “article ideas” list probably got more attention than usual. I just stopped.

Similarly, there was no real intention to when I started back up again. I hadn’t set myself a deadline or told myself that I would “get back to writing after my daughter’s first birthday.” But after that birthday, and after taking a year off, I felt like it was time. As unceremoniously as writing stopped, it restarted. I reentered the craft of writing as effortlessly as I had left it.

I spent a good amount of time thinking about this experience and what I can learn from it. And now, on reflection, I find four lessons that I took away from this unexpected departure and sudden reentry.

Almost everything has a season

“To everything there is a season, / A time for every purpose under heaven” –Ecclesiastes 3:1 (and Pete Seeger)

This is a lesson that my coaching clients teach me every week. I find that some of my clients really want to have structure and goals in their lives, and then someday leave that behind. And some of my clients want nothing of the sort, until one day find themselves embracing to-do lists and metrics. I get to be with some of my clients long enough to watch them go back and forth.

I used to think that this was mostly personality-driven. And, to be sure, there are components of personality at play. But more than anything I realize that it’s a rhythm of life. Like inhaling and exhaling, we travel between structure and freedom. Between looking out and looking in. Long-term and short-term.

I realize now that this break away from writing didn’t mean anything about me as a person or even me as a writer. It was my season to rest, work on other things. The beautiful implication being: seasons change and recycle. We visit summer one winter at a time.

Patience and progress are sometimes the same thing

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” –Aristotle

I’ve come to appreciate the value of knowing when to act and knowing when to wait. Or, said differently, when waiting is action. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes, waiting is just procrastination or avoidance. And other times it’s a brilliant strategy to capture a second-mover advantage. Or prioritize higher-value efforts.

For me, it was important to not be hard on myself for taking a break from writing. I certainly could have. I could have cursed my stillness. Instead, I chose to focus on what I was doing instead. I was spending time with my family, coaching clients, and building my programs.

Sometimes, darkness doesn’t mean searching for the mouth of the cave and stumbling your way out of it. Sometimes, darkness means waiting for the sun to come up. If the latter is the situation, patience can be the right strategy.

Distance is a great facilitator of perspective

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” –Edgar Allan Poe

So much of the work I do is in finding and changing perspective. There’s a simple (but not so easy) trick to how to shake things up: just try the opposite. Always think in the short-term? Great, try building a 500-year plan. Always think analytically? Great, try shouting everything that could be an emotion.

And we spend a lot of time buried in the detail. We all spend a lot of time reacting and focusing on the very next step, next rung of the ladder. Great, try taking a big step back and see what happens. You can’t see the forest if you’re staring at the tree.

This time away from writing was a fantastic opportunity for me to ask myself what kind of writer I wanted to be. What stories and articles connected with my clients the most. Whether writing was a good business decision for leads, content, etc. I’ve been given the chance to do something that so few of us get to do: reflect and consider.

Space is a great facilitator of growth

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” –Maya Angelou

Perspective is great, but it’s also so incredibly helpful to have space for renewal. A little (or big) break can be an opportunity to reaffirm commitment. Time away can not just refocus, but also recharge us. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Indeed, at least for the things that are truly in our heart.

I actually feel now that I’m choosing to write, not just following habit or inertia. It feels newly energized and soaked in intention. And I feel like I’m a better writer. In the time I haven’t been writing, I’ve been reading twice as much. In the time that I haven’t been writing, I’ve been thinking of topics and themes. In the time I haven’t been writing, I have been preparing to write.

Rest is not the converse of growth, it’s a component of growth. Our muscles heal with rest. Our minds sharpen with rest. I see my most high-performing clients build in deliberate rest and space each day. And now I’ve learned firsthand its benefits.

I didn’t intend to take a leave of absence from writing. And I didn’t intend to come back into it so naturally. But I’m grateful for each chapter of the journey. And, along the journey, I was open to the idea that there could have been a different next chapter. Maybe I didn’t return to writing. And maybe that would have been okay.

An important note: I’m not proposing we approach the things we commit to with apathy and a “whatever happens will happen” attitude. I am, however, advocating that we scrutinize and slow down what we commit to. And, along the way, we might find four lessons:

  • Almost everything has a season

  • Patience and progress are sometimes the same thing

  • Distance is a great facilitator of perspective

  • Space is a great facilitator of growth

Good luck on your journey.

Originally published in The Startup


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