Giving Yourself Time Off

A special July 4 post.

Today is Independence Day in the United States, which is one of ten of our federal holidays. So I thought I’d do a special post reminding authors — whether you’re full-time or not — that it’s okay to take time off sometimes. In fact, for most people, it’s necessary!

When you’re a writer, you’re your own boss, right? This is true no matter what kind of writing schedule you have. If you’re a writer who tries to word every day, if you’re a full-time career author, if you have a day job and your routine is to write on lunch hours or evenings… no matter what your schedule, you’re the person dictating it, and you’re the person you answer to.

The obvious downside is the struggle that comes with forcing yourself to maintain that routine, one that works for you and lets you write consistently, and battle procrastination, distractions, or time management difficulties. But there’s a flip side to this, which is allowing ourselves a break. If you’re anything like me, well, once I manage a good accountability system, I worry enough about maintaining the writing hours that I actually get frightened of giving myself time off! As if one day off is going to derail my entire system.

Without a boss to go to and get my time off approved, without someone telling me it’s okay, I tend to feel like a day off is some level of slacking.

So I find it useful to remind myself how much vacation time a more “normal” job would get. It’s common for U.S. companies to offer 10 days of PTO per year to people just starting out — usually on top of days off like those ten federal holidays — but this is often criticized as lower than countless other countries. Here’s a list of mandated amounts of time off various nations around the world give, so you can calibrate for yourself what’s reasonable.

And once you figure out a number that seems right? If a strict writing routine is what works for you, my recommendation is to give yourself a vacation package along with it! You can decide on it in advance, so when you want to take a day off writing, you can do it guilt free and just deduct it from what you’ve already approved for yourself. If you want to give yourself holidays off, add those in too. And adjust as necessary for what feels appropriate. If you need the reminder, remember that it’s totally legitimate to structure your writing work this way, because whether you’re living off it or not, it is work.

(The frustrating thing about being a creative freelancer, of course, is that there’s no such thing as paid time off. We can only take unpaid. But remember that taking time off is supposed to increase overall productivity, so it’s theoretically better for your wording to take that time.)

Tracking days off might not quite be the thing that works for you — I feel like I see as many ways of managing writing time as there are writers! — but however you do it, I recommend factoring some way to give yourself a break. And if you need to, consider it part of treating your writing seriously.

Of course, if it works for you for your schedule to be more amorphous or you otherwise already have great work-life balance, you may not need this advice. In that case, whether you’re in a country where it’s a holiday or not, I will just wish you a pleasant 4th of July!