Give Yourself a Break and You’ll Come Back Stronger
Don’t you wish that you could do things by halves? I do. I’m an all or nothing type of person. I don’t know how to do moderation. I’m forever searching for that elusive balance in life.
I started writing in August 2020 and published 66 articles until I suddenly stopped writing at the start of January 2021. That was a rate of 13 articles every month.
After a month away from writing and from pushing myself to publish an article at least every other day, I have learned a lot about my relationship with writing. And I am ready to start writing again as a result.
These lessons apply to whatever you enjoy doing in life.
Don’t Allow One Nasty Comment to Knock Your Confidence
As I was building my confidence during those first months of writing, I spent hour upon hour thoroughly researching topics and citing my sources wherever relevant. I make sure that whatever I write about is supported by evidence.
I have a PhD in Biochemistry so I know how to read, interpret and communicate complex scientific studies. After my PhD, I did Postdoctoral Research at Oxford University and published several scientific papers in prestigious journals. And then I changed career to work in technology.
I write this not to boast but to contextualise how it felt to receive a long comment on one of my articles that called my writing ‘pseudoscience’. I don’t receive very many comments on my articles. I’m pleased when a reader has engaged with my writing to the point of wanting to comment.
The vast majority of the comments are positive.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried when I read the pseudoscience slur — the first negative comment I have ever received about my writing. The full comment was around 2–300 words long and went into details about why everything I had written was false. And that I was the epitome of everything that is wrong with Medium. Quite a statement.
In case you’re wondering, the cause of such vitriol was ‘How to Age Well’. I found the comment so hard to read that I deleted it immediately.
I want to be completely honest as to why I deleted the comment.
Firstly, I didn’t want other readers of my work to read the comment and agree that I was a fraud. I know that the comment was unreasonable. I also knew that it was untrue. But I didn’t want to take the chance that others would agree.
This article was just the 10th I had published. When I read it now, 6 months later, I think it’s ok. Not great, just ok. But I know that I will keep improving. And the only way to improve is to be brave enough to keep writing and publishing.
In hindsight, I wish that I hadn’t deleted it. I wish that I had let the negativity speak for itself and not let it speak about me.
No matter how well-meaning your intentions are and no matter how hard you try there will always be people who take pleasure in trying to tear you down.
As hard as it is, rise above the naysayers. After all, the only way to avoid any negativity is to never take any risks.
A life without risks is a life not lived.
People Won’t Forget You When You Take a Break
In the month since I have stopped writing and publishing, I have gained 95 new followers.
Some pretty significant changes were rolled out on the Medium algorithm around Sept-Oct 2020, just a month or so after I had started publishing.
Despite not being wedded to the existing algorithm for any length of time, I read the new ‘rules’ with interest. It was hard not to given how many Medium writers were making their feelings known about the changes.
(Sidenote; Medium owns the platform and has every right to do what it wants with the algorithm even if it means losing writers and/or readers).
I was trying to focus on building followers knowing that Medium wanted a more ‘relational’ experience between the writers and readers. I was too scared to drop my output rate.
I was convinced that my nascent reader base would go elsewhere and never come back if I stopped publishing.
True followers like true friends will be there for you no matter what. If Shelby Church took a year off from making YouTube videos, I’d still be a loyal fan when she returned.
I’m sure you feel the same about writers and creators that you follow. Seeing that my stats haven’t taken much of a nose-dive while also adding an extra 95 followers in a month where I published absolutely nothing has given me the confidence to take a break again when life becomes too crazy.
Have the courage to take a break knowing that whoever values your work will be there for you when you are ready to return.
Know Your Limits
The negative comment that triggered my break from writing was the tipping point in a very stressful January. I had been informed by my employer in December that due to a restructuring of our department, my job no longer existed.
The good news was that they had decided to place me into a new role they had created. But I would have to go through a competitive process to secure that job in January.
I worried all through the holidays as to whether I would have a job for much longer. I pride myself on my resilience so told myself that this is nothing that I can’t handle.
Except that it was.
Something had to give.
I returned to work in January with a new boss, a new team to get to know and a new area of the business to learn. And build the team reporting into me.
I simply could not maintain the level of productivity outside of my day job when the demands within it skyrocketed. I tried to maintain my daily writing practice but it was too hard to think creatively through all the uncertainty going on.
You are not superhuman.
Despite all the productivity apps, the meditation and mindfulness, the daily exercise, sometimes you have to admit when you are feeling overloaded.
It’s ok to drop whatever it is that you need to so that you can focus on what’s important.
For me, it was making sure that I kept my job. For you, it may be simply to focus on self-care for a while until you can find your creativity again.
Whatever the circumstances, it takes courage to admit that you are not coping and to be kind to yourself. Being your own worst critic is easy. Asking for help and slowing down is harder.
Now that I have started writing again, I can say that taking a break hasn’t impacted my love of writing. Not taking one might have. I won’t feel afraid to pause again the next time I need to.
Don’t let the naysayers knock your determination to follow your passions.
Don’t be afraid to take a break when you need to.
Develop the self-awareness to know when you are taking on too much.
And finally, thanks to Medium superstar Tim Denning for publishing this article to kick my arse back into writing again.