I think knowing when to take a break from a medium is something that a lot of creative type people struggle with, and it definitely isn’t limited to the pros. There are going to be guaranteed periods of frustration, boredom, discouragement, or any of 500 other emotions, and when you’re caught up in these things, they feel overwhelming.
When you’re considering whether or not to take a break, it’s important to consider the root of your Art Angst, because the answer is ultimately more complicated than whether or not you’re enjoying yourself.
In my experience, thinking about your engagement is more useful than enjoyment, because there are so many things that can pop up that will superficially make you feel bad about your art. When you look at your emotional investment and if it’s enriching your life, even if you’re frustrated, you get a clearer picture of whether to take a step back.
when not to take a break
- it’s helping you deal with stress or work through a personal issue
- you’re worried about what other people think, or if you’re insecure about your skill level — pushing through self doubt is hard, but it’s important to remember that it’s not all about recognition. If you feel like people aren’t paying attention to your work, that doesn’t mean it’s not good.
- a piece or project didn’t turn out exactly the way you envisioned it
- you’re excited about an idea, but not sure if it’ll work out
- you’re stressed out in another area of your life
signs it’s time for a break
- you dread the time you spend practicing or creating
- you’re not mentally present most of the time you’re doing the activity — your thoughts wander and you’d rather be doing something else
- the activity is interfering with your ability to do other things that actually excite you — although be careful with this criteria, because it’s fairly normal to get fatigued by a long project and want to work on something fresh. I think a good way to measure if the boredom is temporary is to think about how finishing the project will make you feel…if you’re still excited, slug it out and keep going.
- the primary reason you continue is just because you’ve done it in the past, or because somebody says you’re talented
- you’re in the wrong type of environment for you — breaks can be from people/places too!
a personal example
While you know me as your friendly neighborhood blogger, I’m also a musician. After almost a decade of playing the oboe, I’ve realized I need a break.
When I started college last year, getting involved with the music department was the biggest thing that helped me adjust to university, because it was familiar and comforting. Because I was the first student to play a double reed instrument in several years, the band director gave me a lot of encouragement, and that made it hard for me to recognize that I was mostly playing for the wrong reasons — it was just something I’d always done. I started to feel a lot of guilt for not paying attention during rehearsals, but didn’t really do anything about it.
I eventually ended up deciding to stop taking ensembles and theory courses for a while, and now that I don’t feel crummy about it, I’m actually looking forward to working on solo literature in my bedroom just for me, with nobody looking over my shoulder.
This is really the point of a break; it doesn’t necessarily mean that you QUIT FOREVER. Rather, a break should help you get out of a toxic mindset or an environment that’s not inspiring you and get back to the basics of what you love, after you’ve had some time/space. Whatever creative thing that you do should feed you, first and foremost.
What creative breaks have you had? Why did you decide to take a break?