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Writing is a stop-and-start process for me.  Yeah, groundbreaking stuff here folks.  This is true for most writers I talk to, but I’ve found my own stops-and-starts can be identified by category, or conspirator. I’ll explain.

Some are interruptions. I’m a husband and father of three, so even if I’m barricaded in my office with “do not disturb” instructions, it’s only a matter of time before someone bursts through the door with some urgent demand like, “Hey dad, come check out this funny thing on TV (trust me, this is urgent).” What’s more, we have three dogs (yes, you read that right), so I’m certain to be interrupted by canine clamoring to be petted or barking that demands to go outside in futile pursuit of yet another squirrel. Interruptions are simply uninvited breaks I blame on others.

Some are distractions. I can be slave to a short attention span when I write. I need something to eat, or I need another drink (or now my bladder’s full and I need to visit another room in the house); or my phone beckons as someone just texted me, or I’ve got new email; or “hey, I see a squirrel out the window,” or “I think I hear a funny thing on TV.” Distractions I have no one to blame for but myself.

Some are necessities. I have to go to work, or class, or attend my son’s school activity. Sometimes my brain is fried and my eyes are glazing over from staring at a monitor for too long. Sometimes the clock reminds me to go to bed. Necessities are life.

A strange and increasingly favorite category is what I call the “3AM wake-up call.” Maybe you can relate. Deep in slumber, my brain itself conspires to wake me at the oddest hours, refusing to let go of a fresh or relevant piece to the textual puzzle. Depriving me of sleep, these awakenings can be nuisances, leading to an inner debate to get up and write immediately or to convince myself I’ll remember later if I go back to sleep. I’ve learned the hard way that if I do remember, it’s with far less clarity. These lessons have led to the habit of keeping a writing pad next to the bed, for fear I’ll miss the next jewel.

I now both expect and mostly (the dogs can be annoying) welcome these breaks—these moments of stepping away from a writing, for one simple reason. Even when I’m away from the text, I’m never really away from the words. As I change environments, my mind continues to mull and churn, often rewarding me with a new idea or solution to a wording problem I couldn’t resolve before. I recognize breaks as an invaluable part of the writing process, so I leverage them in any writing project.

Embrace writing’s “stepping away,” in all its forms, the next great idea or key to unlocking that essay might await.

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