Why Breaks Work For Me

This is the first in a series of guest posts while I spend time with our newest member of the family. Please welcome Rachel McCarthy James!

This is the first piece of writing I’ve published in over three months. During those three months, I’ve let languish the very thing I’ve wanted my entire adult life – an audience who likes my writing and want more of it. I’ve probably lost a few existing readers, and I’ve definitely missed out on many opportunities to build my audience.

But this isn’t a mistake or laziness or procrastination – it’s purposeful. And it’s part of my plan to eventually make a living as a writer.

1. Breaks allow me to recharge and tend to my life outside of blogging—The basic formula to blogging success sounds simple – quality content, updated regularly. But there’s a lot more to it than just that. To keep up a well-read blog and grow readership, frequent, relevant posts – at least once a week and preferably more – are necessary. Crafting a solid post takes me a minimum of five hours spent drafting, rewriting, editing, and proofing – and usually more like eight to ten.

But when I’m spending 20 to 30 or even 40 hours a week on my blog, it leaves little time for things which aren’t public but are just as important. Like my fiance, or my job as a tutor of basic college composition, or my garden. I end up spending the most time on blogging in the summer, when I am not occupied by students and have plenty of daytime hours to spend with my dude. When things get busy at the Writing Center in the spring and fall, I just can’t live up to my own standards of quality. When I’ve got a wedding to plan in, um, less than a month, I can’t also spend all my time on blogging. Sometimes, I’m just too busy to blog, and that’s okay.

2. Breaks allow me to downgrade my ego and remind myself that I am not only worth the words I write—When publishing regularly, I can get a little too invested in feedback and what people think about me and how much people are talking about me. I start prioritizing my traffic over my bodily functions. Instead of working, I end up just clicking refresh on whatever tool I’ve decided I will validate myself with today.

When I’m not trying to earn fans and attention, I remember that there are other parts of me that are worthwhile – that I’m a friend, daughter, cat parent, partner, gardener, cook, reader, tutor, and player of time-management games – and that those parts of me are just as important.

3. Breaks allow me to consider the direction I’m taking in my career, and change or correct my course—I like blogging about feminism and social justice, and I’m proud of most of the words I’ve written on the topic – which is why I continue to write for venues like Trans/Plant/Portation and Bitch. But I realized that while I want to be a professional writer and that I am always and forever feminist, I didn’t want to spend my career and life trying to be another entry in the long list of cis, able-bodied, het, white, otherwise-privileged big-name feminists. I have other interests and other passions, and these words from LaToya Peterson rang particularly true to me (http://whereisyourline.org/2011/04/badass-activist-friday-presents-latoya-peterson-of-racialicious/):

Advice for young feminists? Do something else besides feminism. I’m serious. The feminist blogosphere is oversaturated in my opinion. Please, find something else you love and take feminist theory there… We need more feminist minded business bloggers, feminist theory wielding finance bloggers… Whatever it is, apply your feminism in a different space.

By taking a break, I was able to check my ambition and figure out that just because I’m good at writing about feminism and that folks value what I have to say about doesn’t mean that I should necessarily spend my life on it. And by figuring out the career I don’t want, I’m able to refine and pursue the career that I do want.

4. Breaks allow me to expand and develop new writing and networking skills, and reflect on the weaker points of my writing—I’m not good at and don’t much care for Twitter – it stresses me out. But I realize that it’s helped me find great writer pals like Everett and find a terrific audience. So I have been able to figure out what I want to use Twitter for, and how I can limit my use so I don’t spend the whole day refreshing my replies and retweets.

And it’s helped me develop new ways to express my thoughts. Taking a break from blogging and writing publicly does not mean taking a break from writing. Not in the least. But I’m gonna save my discussion of that for my next post

Breaks don’t kill momentum. Breaks don’t kill careers. Breaks aren’t a sign that a writer is lazy, unmotivated, or unambitious. Breaks allow me to take a step back and identify the problems with my writing and my approach to my career, and fix ’em. Breaks are an act of self-care and consideration to myself, the people in my life, my readers, and ultimately, my career.

Rachel McCarthy James, also known as RMJ, lives in Virginia. She writes occasionally at Deeply Problematic and Bitch, and also has a more regularly updated blog filled with happy dogs.

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