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How To Keep Writing Activity 9: Breaks

Updated on January 17, 2019
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Jennifer is a writer, editor, feminist, and Potterhead. She also loves her cat and studying cat behavior.

"US Navy...Midshipman take a few minutes during their lunch break to read in the hangar bay of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. E."
"US Navy...Midshipman take a few minutes during their lunch break to read in the hangar bay of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. E." | Source

There are so many breaks you can take while at work. Now, I know what you're thinking:

  • "I can't be taking all these breaks!"
  • "I'll look lazy!"
  • "I'll FEEL lazy!"
  • "I'll get caught!"
  • "I won't get my stuff done!"
  • and "I don't have TIME!"

Yes. You. Do.

And you need that time. Whether it's a potty break or a lunch hour, allowing yourself to have a short reset is one of the most important parts of your work day, even if you still don't have the chance to write.

What other kinds of breaks are there?

I know you're familiar with the most commonly known "breaks": bathroom, lunch, and smoke breaks. There are actually many more. You're familiar with them all, I'm sure, but you probably haven't identified them as possible breaks, just activities.

Here are TEN possible work breaks.

Please vote! =) I would love to hear from you all.

Have you taken advantage of these breaks?

See results

Types of breaks you can take at work:

  1. Bathroom Break

  2. Coffee Break

  3. Breather

  4. Lunch Hour

  5. Smoke Break

  6. Walk

  7. Google Search

  8. Simple Exercises

  9. Write a Fake Letter

  10. Nail Cleaning

The Break Down

Now for the big questions: How does taking a break at work help me write? What prompts do you have for me?

Let's break down how each kind of break will help you reset your mind, focus both on your work and on your writing, and to improve time management and multi-tasking skills.

1. Bathroom Breaks

Other than the obvious reason for relief, a bathroom break allows you that time to sit and not think for just a few moments. That in and of itself is a reset. The act of washing up is mindless, so even if your mind is racing about exactly what steps you're going to take once you return to your desk, you're not actually doing what you're thinking about.

Those five minutes are integral to how we organize the steps to take in our jobs.

"You will find the bathrooms in the foyer."
"You will find the bathrooms in the foyer." | Source

How this break helps you write:

Taking a bathroom break probably does not help you write, at least not right now. So what we're going to do is change that!

Instead of thinking about who you need to call next to finish which task when you run for a toilet, think instead of the latest story you're creating.

  • Who are the main characters? Have they acted in character thus far? Make a mental list of their actions and see how well you've done.
  • Who are the main character's friends? Have you kept their friends a constant presence in your story? Is their presence important to the story? Is their presence important to your character? If need be, think about how you can incorporate them more.
  • Whose point of view is your story taken from? How is this working out? Think about how you can experiment with points of view to make the story fit what you need.

And these questions are just the beginning! As you can see, there are just so many things to think about, even when you're not actively writing. Since bathroom breaks are an established few minutes to help organize what steps to take, focus on your writing instead of your work.

If you need a list of what you're going to do next time you write, then once you return to your desk, make up for that few minutes at the bathroom and write everything down. Trust me; keeping organized helps.

Have a cup of Joe!
Have a cup of Joe! | Source

2. Coffee Breaks

Do you take time to fill or refill your coffee in the morning? Have to go back to the fridge to refill your water from the Brita? Generally, these tasks are short enough that you may not even think of anything except the fact that you're going to have your drink refilled.

But those few moments matter! Having that distraction from your daily work routine is integral to your reset.

How this break helps you write:

Again, this activity probably hasn't done a thing for your writing. Yet! Let's change that.

Just walking from your desk puts your mind on other things. Right now, you may have always thought about the floor tiles or where everything is in the kitchen so that you can plan ahead where to grab everything.

  • Focus on that! See all these seemingly mundane daily objects on your way? These objects make your days normal! Think about what objects are constants in your characters' lives.

And in just those three minutes of refilling your drink, you have something on your mind for your writing once more! Make sure to write it down when you get back to your desk so you'll have that reminder to actually write later on.

3. Breather

This break is a purposeful moment to yourself. Most of the time it's to help calm yourself after having either a particularly hectic workday or schedule, or perhaps after a confrontation.

For this kind of break, you need that distraction from work and have taken the conscious time to make that happen. Focusing on breathing, contacting someone who lets you vent to them, and just closing your eyes and not thinking about what happened are all good ways to help yourself reset during this.

How this break helps you write:

These breathers are learning tools. Each time you take one, you have that time to reflect on how you handled the situation, how you could have done better (or how well you did do), and what has helped to calm you down afterward.

  • Keep these learning tools in mind.

These are the same things that all of your characters might possibly face. Once you've been able to calm yourself, take an extra five minutes for your breather to think about how your character would have handled the situation.

  • Would they have done better? Or worse? Or would they have done the same as you? Is what they would have done not exactly better or worse, but just different?
  • What situations have already happened?
  • What is coming up in your story?

Your character needs to grow, and needing to deal with difficult situations is the best way to get them to!

We all prefer to enjoy our lunch breaks.
We all prefer to enjoy our lunch breaks. | Source

4. Lunch Hour

Exactly how much time during your lunch do you spend eating? Have down time? Instead of picking up that phone to text or do whatever else on the latest social network, pick up a pen!

While eating is important to life, it doesn't take an hour! Or half an hour even, if that's all you're allotted.

How this break helps you write:

It's down time! With no purpose! Let's change that! Now we're going to use it with a purpose.

There are so many possibilities here.

You can refer to my other articles On Writing, or you can use any of the activities listed in this particular article. Want to do something else? As long as it keeps you writing, do it!

And now to interrupt your normal blogging with a reminder:

5. Smoke Break

So this break has a purpose, or even multiple ones.

  1. You're addicted to this drug and think about it all day and when next you'll get it.
  2. It gives you an excuse to have a break and get away from everybody.
  3. It actually has substances in it that fool your body into thinking it's safe enough to calm down.

(I would like to take a moment to say that I in no way endorse, condone, or otherwise encourage the use of tobacco products. They are bad. They are so bad that they kill. So for the sake of this article and my peace of mind, we are going to continue under the assumption that you, as a writer, as a blogger, and as a reader of this article, are going to use writing as a tool to QUIT, if you smoke.)


How this break helps you write:

Once more, we are going to redirect how you utilize your break.

  • Instead of taking your phone out with you, take a pad and a pen.
  • Do any of your characters have a drug habit?
  • Do they remain static characters throughout the story? Or do they grow?
  • Could quitting or seeking help for their drug habit(s) be something they do?

Pen all of this down. Don't give yourself time to stop! Write as the ideas come! Make your brain work as fast as possible!

Oh, no. You forgot about your cigarette, and it's almost to the nub. And it's also time to go inside? Oh. Well, poo. I guess you'll just have to go without.

Just this once, you see. It's not like you'll become addicted to writing on your breaks for this to happen in the future. (Or you might. Oops!) =)

6. Walk

That's right; go for a walk. In fact, you can use half of your lunch break every day to do this. Take a different route for each day of the week!

Fresh air really isn't given enough credit. With fresh air in your lungs, you'll be working at a much better pace for you, and with a much clearer, concise mind than your dirty-lunged cohorts.


How this break helps you write:

Just as you paid attention to the mundane objects on your last walk to the kitchen grabbing a drink, you're going to use these walks to pay attention to landmarks you may not have otherwise seen.

When paying attention to these wonderful streets, buildings, and nature overgrowths, keep your story's world in mind.

  • What have you mentioned before?
  • What have you never thought of?
  • Is there a place or places in your story where any of these things would be helpful to the plot?
  • Would any be helpful to the sentiment of a small character that makes them seem more than just a passerby?
  • What else have you seen on walks in the past that might help with a tricky part of your story?

And just like that, you're thinking of writing. By just thinking of it, you'll have an imagination boarding the next bus to Middle Earth or Narnia, and your muse will be pleased once more.

Write a few notes when you return to your desk. Make sure you use keywords and enough description to start where you left your imagination parked as soon as you get home.

7. Google Search

Google has everything. It does. It has information on classical muses, new age muses, how people define their muses, groups of people who still worship/believe in muses as real deities or entities. Google has links to papers on muses, t-shirts with funny sayings or beautiful artwork about muses, and suggestions for even more searches about muses that might interest you.

It has everything. Take a Google Search Break.

Click on the photo above to see it enlarged. Google has feelers into every nook and cranny of the web, and this is an example of how it does that!
Click on the photo above to see it enlarged. Google has feelers into every nook and cranny of the web, and this is an example of how it does that! | Source

How this break helps you write:

Let Google be your muse.

  • Are you writing a story in the renaissance period?
  • Don't know how to describe a character's garb?

Type "Renaissance period attire" in the search bar. You might even click on the "images" tab to see examples rather than read examples. You want the description in your story to be in your own words!

And ta da! A Google Search has given you ample material to work with in under five minutes. Now write!

8. Simple Physical Exercises

That's right! I'm talking actually exercising to help you write!

"What??!" you say. "Jen, you're crazy!"

Yes, I am. Crazy about writing! What's your biggest excuse for not writing after work? I know mine: "I don't have the energy to write!"

Well, here's a solution.

The best ways to keep up energy levels are to focus on three things: oxygen flow, blood flow, and rest. So here's what you're going to do.


How this break helps you write:

  • Stand up and move your chair out of the way.
  • Position yourself between 1 and 2 feet from your desk.
  • Lean forward and place your palms on the edge of the desk.
  • Do five pushups.

I'm not kidding! It jump-starts the oxygen to your brain. You'll feel wide awake.

There are actually a ton of exercises you can do at work. They'll keep your energy levels up, and then you'll feel more able to write when you get home.

Instead of naming any more exercises and losing all my credibility in this article, here are a couple links:

Try if for 1 business week, every day. If you aren't feeling like you have more energy by then, maybe you need to focus on the rest part. Make sure you're getting enough sleep at night.

Either way, find a way to keep writing!

9. Write a Fake Letter

Let's say your boss is close enough to your desk to always be keeping an eye on you. Can't take an obvious break? Are the sneaky suggestions still a little too obvious?

There's still a way to keep you writing! You're going to write a fake letter. A very Professional-Looking-With-Important-Headlines-And-Formatting letter. To the Head of the Administrative Division for the Positive Workforce Association of <Geological Cardinal Direction> <Country or State>.

How letters USED to be written. On old-fashioned parchment!
How letters USED to be written. On old-fashioned parchment! | Source

The letter will be about how you're not able to keep writing at your own job due to the many Eyes, and a thank you to this Head of the Administrative Division for being a way around this for you.

Anytime your boss comes snooping over your shoulder, scroll back to the first paragraph where you address this person formally and explain where you work.

All your boss will see is an official-looking job title, the word "Positive" in the organization's name, and your boss's company's inclusion in that.

If they dare tell you to get back to work after that, Control All + Delete while staring them in the eyes.

Then quit your job and sleep for a week!

In all seriousness, if you really have that much "No Time For Writing", then no wonder you aren't writing! That's exhausting. (I've been there. It's not worth it when it's not your niche, your profession, or what you want to do on your off time, even.)

How this break helps you write:

This letter is a written letter. So it's getting you to write. You're given a prompt and a topic, and even some ideas to go off of, so there's no reason for writer's block! (Watch, now that I've said that, it'll be that I've jinxed you. Sorry!)

And the best part is that this letter gives you the probably MUCH-needed medium to rant about work, at work, while not doing your work.

A win-win situation!

Save this letterhead!

Print this letterhead on the back of an envelope.
Print this letterhead on the back of an envelope.

Tools For Official Letter

I've created a number of fake documents that you can utilize for this exercise:

  1. A letterhead for you to use if you so wish on an envelope.

  2. An example of the beginning of a letter to the Administrative Division of PWA if you want to use that to start off with (in case of a nosy boss).

  3. A response letter that you can download and fill in your own details! Use the envelope + letterhead to put the finished and printed letter in!

Print out the response letter, put it in the envelope you printed the letterhead onto, and take it back to work to show your boss. Or frame it because it's awesome. I wouldn't blame you.

Weren't caught writing your letter? Then choose whether you want to show it around work. (Please note that people may want verification of this company. This is a fake company. It has a fake address. Do not lead too many people to believe this is a real thing.)

The reason for making the so-called upcoming Commemoration Meeting 6 months from your letter to PWA is so that hopefully you've either found a better job, or everyone else has forgotten about this thing by then so that you do not need to show validation.

10. Nail Cleaning

No matter your gender, you clean your nails. Admit it! Whether you're extremely feminine and tend to keep instruments nearby that are actually designed for this purpose, or whether you pretend that using unsanitary utensils not meant for this purpose is masculine, or whether you're somewhere in the middle, you pay attention to your nails. More often than not, I bet you take the time to clean underneath them.

Do you only focus on your nails when you're doing this or is your mind wandering to many other things as you do it?

I'm willing to bet it's the latter!

How this break helps you write:

Cleaning your nails will help you write depending on two things:

  1. It wouldn't be too unprofessional where you work to clean your nails at your desk, or
  2. you can get away with it either way.

Take out your file while you have some down time at work and start to clean your nails. While you do it, think about the story you're currently writing or thinking about writing.

  • Has your character ever taken the time for hygiene in your story?
  • Would it be prudent for your character to?
  • Is your story perhaps post-apocalyptic or in some other way a story that would in some way need to focus on hygiene?

If I were writing a story about post-apocalyptic me, I'd be constantly complaining about not having toilet paper. Or nail polish to strengthen my nails and to avoid brittleness while doing heavy-duty, hands-on work.

As you clean your nails, think of all the possible ways your character could be embarrassed in front of a loved one due to hygiene. How your character could be hiding in sweats, hoody, and hat to avoid publicly seeing anybody and then running into a professional colleague.

Make your character sweat! And what better time to think about it than when knowing you're at your height of cleanliness?

To Summarize

Once again, think about all the breaks you can take at work! Think about all the time you waste staring into space, thinking of mundane things while walking away or to your desk, and so on! You can utilize these small spaces of time to focus on whatever you're writing. As long as you follow through and WRITE, you're utilizing this time as I hope you to.

And good luck! =) Just keep writing.

© 2014 Jennifer Kessner


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