Writing Tip: Don’t Forget to Pause

person standing on slope glacier mountain

Recently, I posted on Instagram that I had finished a new manuscript and had beenΒ  scratching around trying to find a new writing project to work on. I said that I had traction on something new and it was my third attempt this yearΒ  – that traction has now come to a standstill 😦 . What I didn’t do, though, was pause and acknowledge my WIP achievement: I’d recently completed a book length manuscript. After three years of hard slog I’d completed a huge project but hadn’t stopped to give myself a pat on the back. I hadn’t stopped at the top of the mountain and enjoyed the view. I was rushing onwards looking for the next mountain to climb already.

Then I read this old story about a king who wished to move palace. But because he feared that his enemies might take advantage of this to attack him and steal his treasures, he summoned his trusted general. ‘My friend,’ he said, ‘I have to move palace, and must do so within twenty-four hours. You have been my trusted servant and soldier for so long. I do not trust anyone but you to help me with this task. Only you know the network of underground passages between this palace and the other. If you are able to do this for me, and move all my most precious treasures by yourself, I will give you and your family your freedom:Β  you may retire from service, and as a reward for your faithfulness over so many years, I will give to you such a portion of both my wealth and my lands that you will be able to settle, and you, your wife and children and their children and grandchildren will be financially secure.’

The day came when the treasures were to be moved. The general worked hard. He was not a young man, but he persisted in his efforts. He knew that the task needed to be completed within the twenty-four-hour window. After this, it would become unsafe to continue. With minutes to spare, he completed the job. He went to see his king, who was delighted. The king was a man of his word and gave him the portion of the treasure he had promised, and the deeds to some of the most beautiful and fertile lands in the kingdom.

The general returned to his home and took a bath, and as he lay there, he looked back on all that he had achieved, and he relaxed:Β  he felt a great satisfaction that he could now retire, that things were dealt with, and this his major tasks were finished. For that moment, he had a sense of completeness. The story ends here.

‘Do you know what that moment is like? Perhaps you have experienced a similar moment when things have gone well for you in the past? You have felt a sense of completeness. A sense that tasks have been done.

One of the most difficult aspects of the frantic rush through a busy life is that we often do not allow even the smallest notion of ‘completion’ to enter the picture of our daily lives. We often rush from task to task, so much so that the end of one task is just the invitation to start another. There are no gaps in between in which we could take even a few seconds to sit, to take stock, to realise that we have just completed something.’ – Mindfulness (a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world) by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.

In Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s book on Mindfulness they advise us to practise cultivating a sense of completeness – even a glimmer, right now, in this moment, with the little things of life, there is a chance that we would be better able to cope with those aspects of mind that keep telling us that we are not there yet; not yet happy, not yet fulfilled. We might learn that we are complete, whole, just as we are.

This morning in yoga class I was reminded that pauses are a traditional part of Hatha Yoga – a pause between some of the asanas (poses). The pauses aren’t about physical rest, although it’s good to rest if you need to, but the true value of pausing in a neutral asana stems from the fact that physical effort no long occupies your attention, so your mind is free to play the pause. The most obvious way to play the pause is simply to relax the body parts that were working in the preceding active asana. I guess this relates to the pause between writing projects – give the brain a break and return inwards to your centre.

What about you? Are you constantly rushing off looking for the next mountain to climb without stopping to look at the view from the top? I hope this post is useful. Do you have any tips you would add? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it.Β 

17 thoughts on “Writing Tip: Don’t Forget to Pause

    1. replying to a few comments on this post, i realise that like you, i am still rushing to the next mountain. pausing is a skill i haven’t quite mastered yet. best of luck on your words and music journey. sounds great.

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    1. good to know you are enjoying the breaks between the more gentle hills. it takes a particular skill. i’m not quite there yet. still very driven. have to take my own advice πŸ™‚

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  1. Libby, a beautiful post about the value of pauses and celebrating ‘completion’ … have you taken the time out to do just that? To rest between projects, allowing yourself the wonder of achievement? To finish a book is HUGE, amazing -well done! I enjoyed the story of the General and his total satisfaction of a work finished well and on time – and that he could take the luxury of time to contemplate this. A lesson for us all! I’m tickled by the idea of ‘ your mind is free to play the pause’ – words that allow us freedom of thought, doing put aside for a brief while! After published my book I felt rather bereft, lost – I had lots to be getting on with but the high of the previous few monts came crashing down…it took a couple of weeks of doing everything but writing to stablise! Enjoy those pauses, celebrate your success! πŸ˜€πŸŒΌπŸŒΈ

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    1. thank you so much, Annika for your lovely words. you’re the best. a blogging natural. so much positivity to share with us all. no, i haven’t taken the time out to rest between projects. i haven’t taken my own advice. i am so driven. if i’m not writing, my life feels empty. am working on small pieces rather than book length at the moment. thanks so much for sharing your own experience of feeling lost after finishing your last book. it’s such a roller coaster this writing business, but couldn’t imagine life without it πŸ™‚

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  2. Such a good point, Libby. I used to feel these and then drove them away as a waste of time. You have me rethinking that, especially since I have the time now. I have also enough experience to realize whatever I rushed onto may or may not have worked so was it worth it to not enjoy a success?

    Thanks, Libby.

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    1. it’s a tricky one, Jacqui. when is it a pause and when is it lack of ideas. i’ve been working on short pieces: prose fiction, flash, sudden, micro fictions and working up a collection, but it doesn’t feel enough. the ‘should’ in my head is to be working on a new book, but having trouble getting enthused. you seem to be on a good roll with your writing because you’ve found your genre. terrific.

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  3. Lovely post with great advice. That rushing to the next mountain without pausing – I can see me doing this when I’m finished the current novel, because I want to move on, I’m looking forward to it. But reading this, I will allow myself a reflective pat on the back pause!

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