How to Take Breaks From Writing Without Losing Momentum

Rest is important. It’s a time for your body and mind to refuel. However, when it comes to your productivity, rest can cause setbacks by breaking you out of your routine and rhythm. On one hand, you know that if you don’t stop, you’ll burn out. On the other hand, if you are to pause your project now, you might abandon it altogether.

While I cannot pick the perfect time for your to take a break from your work. Whenever I need an extended period to not think or work on my writing, I give myself a few requirements to consider to ensure that I’d return and not lose momentum completely. Here’s what has worked for me, and perhaps something you can consider before you take your next break.  

Get ahead, but don’t stay ahead

One way I reward myself with some well-deserved time off is when I get ahead. Let’s say I have a simple goal to write 50,000 words a month. That means I’ll need to write approximately 1,700 words a day. If I have a day where I write 5,000 words, that gives me a few days to relax. As long as at the end of the month I reach 50,000 words, I’m good. You can, of course, scale this approach up and down as necessary. 

I do this with timeline-type projects too. Let’s say I want to publish a blog post every week on Monday. If I want to get ahead, I’ll have the blogs prepared and scheduled for the next three weeks. This means I can now take two weeks of guilt-free time off and still have one week of running room. 

As a productivity fiend, I sometimes want to get ahead and stay ahead, but the whole point of being ahead is so you can take a moment and catch your breath. 

Work on a different part 

Sometimes the best way to take a break is not stopping altogether, but rather focusing on another part of your writing process that you don’t usually work on. This can mean doing research, growing your professional network, preparing marketing material, or learning a different skill to enhance your writing whether it’s visual arts, music, or physical performance. 

While you might be taking a break from the most critical part — writing and editing — you are working on the details that can end up enhancing your overall project. 

For more information on what I call productive procrastination, check out this article here.

Reach milestone first 

Before you start a project, set achievable milestones along the way. These are goals that are fully in your control, such as finishing the first draft. Milestones that shouldn’t dictate your time to recharge are those that are out of your control such as getting 5,000 subscribers to your newsletter. But rather, one you could set is something like sending 5,000 invitations. You can’t guarantee you’ll get 5,000 subscribers, but sending it to 5,000 people will surely give you some results and it’s achievable. 

By setting these milestones and then hitting them as you go, you can rightfully reward yourself with a break regardless of the outcome. 

Often taking a break from a draft or a work-in-progress allows you to come back with some fresh eyes. If you are trying to grow an account, this allows you time to see your execution in action. It’ll take time for people to sign up or buy your product. Give them time. And while they are doing that, you can sign off and take a break. 

No more than two days off

One way I monitor my productivity is to keep a calendar and mark the days I write or work on my personal projects. The goal for me is just to keep a streak going. Breaking the streak isn’t a big deal, I just have one rule: I’m not allowed to break for more than two days in a row. Keeping my work steak going is important, but when I take a break, breaking my streaks for “breaking” is essential to maintaining momentum. 

I also feel that three days is the amount of time where something can become a habit, so to not work on anything for three days, I risk my rest becoming a routine. Therefore, a two-day break is the max I’d give myself before I jump back into a part of the project — no matter how small that part is. See tip number two on working on a different part. 

Just take a break (and don’t worry about it)

I use the previous techniques so I can get rolling again after taking some time to chill. However, I believe that if you need a break you should take it, and if your project is something you are genuinely passionate about, then you will return to it regardless of how long or how many breaks you take because it’s something you want to work on. Don’t worry about momentum, you’ll likely feel a rush to go back to it even if it’s after a few days, weeks, or months off.

If you don’t want to work on it anymore, maybe quitting wouldn’t be a bad idea. Maybe you’d rather spend your free time working on something else. That’s perfectly fine as long as you are happy. Sometimes taking that break will give you a new perspective and show you that the project you were working on was a bit toxic. There is no shame in quitting a project like that. 

Are you having a hard time motivating yourself to write or finishing your work-in-progress? Check out this YouTube playlist here or this video about quitting your projects. 

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Why Using Too Many “—ing” Words Hurts Your Writing 

The power of an ‘ing’ word is that it creates a progression of time. “The hero is flying over the city,” is more immediate than “The hero flies over the city” or “The hero flew over the city. “Ing” words have the ability to put readers right there in the moment. 

Take a look at this paragraph from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea (Amazon)

There are 123 words in this paragraph and 6 of them are “ing” words. But what’s more important is where Hemingway positions them. They are close enough together that the “ing” words can almost echo off each other, building tension, but far enough away so that it’s not overdone. 

You see, “ing” words come with a price. First, “ing” inherently adds another syllable to your word which can affect the pacing. Secondly, if you overload a sentence with too many “ing” words too close together, the power of immediacy is dampened by the repetitiveness of the sound. 

Take a look at this sentence: 

Remembering her time climbing the steps, Jodie was listening to the paramedics upstairs suggesting removing her ailing father through the window. 

Six “ing” words appear in this 21-word sentence: 

We have “Remembering” a present participle, “Ailing” an adjective, “climbing”, “listening”, and “suggesting” as verbs tenses, and “removing” as a gerund. 

Grammatically, this sentence can pass, but you don’t need to read it too many times to identify the problem that the “ing” words cause. 

Like so much of life, moderation is key. By limiting the amount of ‘ing’ words within a time and space, you build tension with fluid pacing. It allows your words to stand out independently. 

Take a look at this revised passage:

Jodie remembered climbing the steps as the paramedics upstairs suggested removing her sickly father’s body through the window. 

We went from six “ing” words in a 21-word sentence to two “ing” words in an 18-word sentence. Now, some might call it a matter of taste, but the second version is objectively punchier, and dare I say, more dramatic. By swapping out “ing” words with words that end with “ed” or “ly”, and rephrasing certain ideas, you allow the sentence to flow smoothly. 

Keep an eye out and an ear open for those that are bunched together. Experiment with the spacing of these words and don’t ever feel trapped by your word choice, there is always a way to fix it. 

This article was inspired by the tip from Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark (Amazon).

For more videos about writing and the creative process, please check out my YouTube channel here!

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From First Draft to Third Draft Writing Process

It’s time for me to give an update on my current writing projects. About a year and a half ago, in summer 2020, during the height of the pandemic, I start a new project — a big project. It’s a novel.

Well, I’m happy to announce, as of now, I’ve just finished the third draft.

In this video, I share my update: my process in getting to the third draft and my hopes for the future.

If you’re interested in following my process subscribe to my YouTube channel or sign up for my newsletter.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a Writer

As a writer, it’s common to have people ask you questions about languages, words, and stories. I do my best to share my advice. My advice: meaning, my opinions and experiences. 

After sharing, I always expect people to call me out. 

“No! That’s not correct. You’re wrong and you’ve lost all credibility. You’re an imposter!” 

However, they rarely do that. Even when I say something outrageous. They rarely do that. 

Do people end up taking my advice? I don’t know, but when I attempt to answer their questions, it’s an opportunity for me to reflect on what I do know. The truth is, sometimes, I don’t know what I know. 

Questioning your knowledge and abilities is not a bad thing. It keeps you humble and receptive. It’s a good reminder of how much value your opinions and experiences have. Yes, you may worry that you’re not qualified and someone will expose you… but expose you of what? Of being a student? Of being someone who’s learning? Sharing? Trying? 

Remember even doctors and lawyers are testing, reviewing, and learning — that’s why their offices are called “practices.”

The best way to overcome imposter syndrome is to embrace it. You don’t know everything and you’re here to gain experience and learn. That’s the key. Learning. Experimenting. Testing. Studying. Recording. Documenting. Sharing. 

Take this YouTube channel for example. When I started this channel and began making content about writing… I felt like an imposter. Who am I to be giving advice? I don’t have a New York Times Bestseller. I was an ESL student. I can barely spell definitely. I’m going to get called out. I’m going to get exposed. I got called out sure… embarrassed sure, but exposed? For what? 

There’s nothing to expose because I’m only here learning and sharing. 

There is a lot of power to learning in public, a concept introduced to me by author, Elizabeth Gilbert.

Learning in public is the idea of sharing your new knowledge and creation with the world. You create distance between yourself and what you’ve made by showing it to others. This way, you act compassionately to yourself knowing you’re striving to improve your craft as opposed to impress an audience. 

While the opinions of my audience — you — matter, I’m not creating this for you. I’m creating this for myself. I’m creating this because in doing so, the idea is fully explored. I’ve put it into the real world, as opposed to merely thinking about it in my head or writing it and keeping it private. It’s the curiosity of how the work will be received and how the project will ultimately turn out that keeps me going. 

I’m not trying to fool or impress you. Believe me, you won’t be fooled and you won’t be impressed if I tried. I’m merely a student learning alongside you.  

So there you have it. That’s how I overcome imposter syndrome by approaching everything I do as an opportunity to learn in public. To have practice. To be motivated by curiosity. To have compassion for my capabilities and limitations. 

We are all imposters trying to understand who we ourselves are. There is no doubt about that. Believe in your ability to keep learning. It’s got you this far and it can keep you going. Learn about yourself, learn about your craft, learn about the world. And whatever accolades you get along the way that is just a bonus rather than something you strived for, so don’t feel guilty when you receive it. Acknowledge, celebrate, stay humble, and show your work.

For more videos about writing and the creative process, please check out my YouTube channel here!

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How to Use Adverbs Effectively

Here are two sentences. Both with adverbs modifying the word “cheer”. Which one is more effective? 

  1. Paul cheered sadly for his team during the championship game.
  2. Paul cheered gleefully for his team during the championship game. 

Since cheering is already associated with happiness, we can say that sentence one’s usage is more impactful. If you remove the adverb from sentence one, you change the entire meaning of the sentence. If you remove the adverb from sentence two, there’s hardly any difference. 

Human emotions are complex. Using adverbs to direct an action away from its common interpretation helps create more dynamic characters and is a great way of applying it in your writing. 

If an adverb isn’t effective, removing it would be inconsequential. Often, removing it will likely improve your sentence altogether

Alternatively, instead of using adverbs to modify the meaning of your verbs, choose more specific verbs as replacements. 

Instead of: 

Paul cheered loudly for his team during the championship game.

Try: 

Paul howled for his team during the championship game.

It’s not always easy finding the right words, but when it comes to adverbs, there is a way to determine whether it’s necessary or not. 

When editing your writing, ask: is this adverb essential? Is it changing the meaning of the verb? Is there a specific word that is more effective? 

For more videos about writing and the creative process, please check out my YouTube channel here!

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Creativity Highlights of 2021

2021… has been a challenging year in many ways. What was supposed to be gone by two Easters ago is still present — with tensions tightening on every front. I’m genuinely surprised I got through it. Big thanks to my wife and my dog! Also a big thanks to being creative. 2021 was a good year for my creativity because it was therapy. 

Here are the creative highlights:

Learning new/old skills: Animation and illustration

My first dream job was to be an animator. In Grade 5 I took a summer school class to learn stop motion animation. I was 11 years old. I pursued this dream all the way up until high school where I decided to switch my interest to theatre, you know, because it was cooler (lol!) 

This year, at the age of 32, I rekindled my interest in animation. I started drawing Pokemon to practice digital illustration and incorporated animation to my video-making process. There is a lot of improvement left to be made, but it’s been satisfying (and therapeutic!). A part of me wished I never stopped when I was a kid, but I’m glad I got back into it now. There’s no time to waste.

Watch my first animated short “I Finished Reading Infinite Jest Party” here!

Recorded an audiobook

Like I mentioned in the paragraphs above, I used to be a theatre student. It was something I enjoyed doing, along with stand-up comedy (haha). I rarely find myself on stage anymore, however, I am in meetings.

The thing is, if it weren’t for meetings, I hardly talk to anyone — just my wife and my dog, Michael. To keep the practice, I decided to record my rendition of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Narrating a whole story and recording it was a terrific challenge in reading, enunciating, and performing. All areas I wanted to practice in, especially since I hope to be reading my own stories soon. 

Read an article about my full experience recording the audiobook here!

Still writing

Writing has been my top priority. Before I work on anything else, I must — eat the frog and — work on my writing, whether it’s drafting or editing. This year, I finished the second draft of my novel and am currently working on the third. Additionally, I found breaks in between that to write eight short stories, including writing four in four weeks

Nothing major happened this year in terms of my writing, but I stayed consistent on both big and small projects. That’s worth a pat on my back. *pat pat

Favorite book

The book I read this year that made the biggest impact is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (Amazon). Not a new release by any means, this book was both gripping and relevant, as, for a few months after I finished reading it, the United States pulled their military out of Afghanistan after a twenty-year war. It’s a novel that felt so close and so far away, about a situation that we are still living through, the continuum of the same crisis. 

Bam! There I did it. Ending on a somber note, the way 2021 did.

Generally, I feel melancholy about the end of a year, because I feel guilty that I haven’t done enough. While that feeling still persists, by writing this post, I could really come face to face with what I’ve achieved this crazy year… and under the circumstances of the world, it is enough. 

For more videos about writing and the creative process, please check out my YouTube channel here!

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Optimistic Nihilism and Creativity

Okay… let’s go there right away: What is the meaning of life? 

Is it to multiple? Is it to find happiness? Is it to save people from an eternity in hell? 

For many of us, the answer is to be creative. To make something, leave it behind, and be remembered for it. 

But look around you. Hear all the music. Read all the books. Watch all the videos. You can spend the rest of your life consuming other people’s creations and not even come close to enjoying it all. There is so much out there that it calls into the question our answer to the meaning of life: to create… for who? Who will see this? Who will remember this? 

We now know how unlikely it is for us — regardless of talent — to have our creative works enshrined in a pantheon for all of history. There is too much out there! There are too many different tastes, genres, languages, cultures, and traditions. The only hope for you is to pave your own path and be the first or get lucky and hit the market at the perfect time. But there’s still hope. 

However, know this: regardless of what you make, how great it is, how wealthy you become, how revered you are by your contemporary — none of it matters.  

As Conan O’Brien recalled from a conversation he had with Albert Brooks, where the late-night host lamented to the filmmaker that movies have the sustainability to last forever, while his late-night shows are forgotten and never seen again. To which, Albert Brooks responded: 

“What are you talking about? None of it matters.” None of it matters? No, that’s the secret. In 1940, people said Clark Gable is the face of the 20th Century. Who [expletive] thinks about Clark Gable? It doesn’t matter. You’ll be forgotten. I’ll be forgotten. We’ll all be forgotten.”

As a creative, it’s helpful to be an optimistic nihilist. I remind myself that there is no meaning. There’s no great thing that I need to create — and in the meaninglessness — I’m free. I look around and see all these people moving purposely as if they know the answer. There is no answer, except the story we tell ourselves. Their creative stories are as valid as mine — they might not be writing, drawing, or making music, but their creativity might be raising a family, starting a business, or traveling the world. Everyone is creative; a creator of experiences. Everyone’s choices are valid. And it’s because of all these experiences spinning in all directions, hitting off of each other that new stories and new creations are generated. Surely if there was a meaning to this life, and we know it, there would be some order by now.

When we think of nihilists, we think of cynical assholes or depressed alcoholics, and while there are some, those who are nihilistic have found an escape from the pressure of existence. Sure, some people thrive under pressure. Some people sell big businesses, some people hit home runs, and some people launch bombs at civilians. However, for many of us, the pressures are fabricated for ourselves by ourselves as guidelines to follow. 

We are supposed to graduate, get a job, get married, have a family, and retire. We are supposed to pass on traditions. But why? No, there is nothing wrong with those pursuits, inherently, but those are not necessarily the only pursuits worthy. In fact, there are no pursuits worthy. 

We can be vegetarian. We can travel to space. We can have children. All of these are worthwhile but none of it will change the outcome of the universe. This is doubly true for the novel you’re writing. This is doubly true for the movie you’re making. This is doubly true for the painting you’re painting. Don’t do these things to alter the universe. Do these things for yourself. Do these things for those who are present. Don’t worry about legacies. Now is the only moment there is. Creativity is a small acknowledgment of this moment. To set something in a time and place. To merely wave back at the abyss. 

Optimistic nihilism is the hopefulness that you can make a difference and it’s the knowledge that it doesn’t matter. Life is an exhibition game. And while we’re keeping score. It’s not going to count for anything other than our participation. Go for it. Write that story… make that video… paint that painting, because as Albert Brook said, “Who [expletive] thinks about Clark Gable? It doesn’t matter.” 

For more videos about writing and the creative process, please check out my YouTube channel here!

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To Write Confidently, Cut These Out…

These are verb qualifiers: 

  • Sort of
  • Tend to
  • Kind of 
  • Must have 
  • Seemed to 
  • Could have 
  • Used to 
  • Begin to

They allow you to present a level of uncertainty for your character’s actions. Use them with caution, because verb qualifiers may only add little information and cause confusion.

When I’m writing action sequences, I simply ask myself: Did the characters do the action or did they not? 

Take a look at this modified paragraph from Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (Amazon): 

Chipper sort of fell silent. His eyes kind of went around and around his plate, but he must have not been provident and there was nothing on the plate but woe. He began to raise his glass and silently half urged a very small drop of warm milk down the slope to his mouth. He stretched his tongue out and seemed to welcome it. 

Notice how there is a lot of uncertainty in that paragraph? These little sprinklings of doubt spoil your credibility as the author and mess up the flow of your story. Take a look at the original version without any of the added verb qualifiers. 

Chipper fell silent. His eyes went around and around his plate, but he had not been provident and there was nothing on the plate but woe. He raised his glass and silently urged a very small drop of warm milk down the slope to his mouth. He stretched his tongue out to welcome it. 

Your first draft is often loaded with these verb qualifiers. This is understandable. You aren’t certain of every detail when you write the first draft. But now that you know how it all ends, be more confident and remove those pesky verb qualifiers and give a more assured image of the story. By removing them, you’ll see how much more clear and precise your writing becomes. 

Writing with confidence doesn’t mean your content needs to be bold or dramatic, it can be done by merely trimming off the excess that fog up the details. Don’t let your important words be overshadowed by verb qualifiers. Keep an eye out for them and cut them out. 

For more videos about writing and the creative process, please check out my YouTube channel here!

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I Finished Reading Infinite Jest Party (an animated short)

At the start of the pandemic, I decided to buy some long books (600+ pages) to read. The thinking was that by the time I finish, the pandemic will be over. Well, I completed Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (Amazon) this summer and the pandemic is still going strong. In fact, during the summer the virus got a second wind with all those variants spreading, so bring out Tolstoy, there is more time left. 

Still, that didn’t diminish what I’ve accomplished. I read a big book. Infinite Jest was a tough read, not something I’d recommend for bedtime or at the beach. There were some very good parts, sure, but overall, it’s not one I’ll reread soon, at least not again during this pandemic. 

Also during this pandemic, I’ve found time to revisit my childhood passion for animation. When I was a kid, before I wanted to be a comedian, I wanted to become an animator. As an adult — thanks to technology and free time in the evenings — I could. 

Wanting to commemorate the achievement of finishing a book while seeking an idea for an animation project, I decided to pair the two together and present a scene from what I’d imagine a moment at an I Finished Reading Infinite Jest Party would be like. 

Please enjoy my animated short: I Finished Reading Infinite Jest Party

For more videos about writing and the creative process, please check out my YouTube channel here!

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Writing and Submitting 4 Short Stories in 4 Weeks

In October 2021, I decided to challenge myself to write 4 short stories (between 2000-4000 words), polish them to quality, and submit it to a credible publication. What inspired me to pursue this project was after reading a passage in Ray Bradbury’s writing memoir, Zen in the Art of Writing (Amazon):

All during my early twenties I had the following schedule. On Monday morning I wrote the first draft of a new story. On Tuesday I did the second draft. On Wednesday a third. On Thursday a fourth. On Friday a fifth. And on Saturday at noon I mailed out the sixth and final draft to New York. Sunday? I thought about all the wild ideas scrambling for my attention, waiting under the attic lid, confident at last that, because of “The Lake,” I would soon let them out. 

In addition to 4 completed short stories that I’m proud of, I was also hoping to develop a repeatable process where I can produce a piece under a strict timeline. If you are interested in seeing how my experience went, please check out this video here:

Participating in writing challenges, whether it be something like NaNoWriMo or a 30-day writing prompt, has been a fantastic way of overcoming writer’s block and pushing myself to produce something. We, as writers, often overthink what we are creating. Writing challenges like these get us going and keep us going. There is no time to contemplate whether or not I am a good writer… there is only time to write.

If you are currently in a slump, I encourage you to try your own version of this Ray Bradbury writing challenge. Can you do it? Can you write a draft on Monday, edit it during the week, and submit it on Saturday? Give it a try and let me know how it turns out for you!

If you are interested in another writing challenge, try writing the same thing every day for a month. This is a great practice to get over a plateau in your creative writing.

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