When And How to Take a Break from a Creative Project

When your momentum is petering out, bookmark the project and come back to it refreshed

Deepti Kannapan

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Photo by Mr Cup / Fabien Barral on Unsplash

I spent a couple of years trying to start a webcomic. I had an idea I was excited about, and I spent months developing the plot, practicing drawing comic pages, and setting up my website. I redrew the first three pages multiple times. I planned to put one page up on my site every month.

Making one full-color page every month, when you’re new to it and work full time, is a much more grueling schedule than it sounds. I toyed with the idea of making a reserve of pages and holding them back as a buffer so that I could take the pressure off of my release schedule.

Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to take a pause from publishing pages long enough to build up a reserve. I thought I’d lose momentum if I did.

Looking back, I can see that I had no momentum to lose. I was wading through quicksand, struggling every inch of the way, and I hadn’t taken a break in years. I barely even knew what momentum felt like.

I eventually deferred working on the comic indefinitely, as other projects took priority. I can’t know for sure, but I think taking a few breaks before I got so tired may have enabled me to finish it.

I’ve written elsewhere about how taking a break from all projects helped me choose my projects better. Even when I’m not swearing off project work entirely, I often put aside one long-term project and switch to working on a different one: a painting in favor of my novel, or sustainability research in favor of researching something else.

Here’s what I’ve learned about putting a project into storage in a way that makes it relatively easy to start up again when the time is right. I call it bookmarking my project.

First: Do you have momentum?

If the next step of your project feels straightforward and within grasp, and you feel ready to tackle it even though you may be a bit tired, you probably have momentum on your side. When you have momentum, it’s a good idea to use and plan your break for after the steps you have momentum for.

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Deepti Kannapan

Painter, occasional cartoonist, aerospace engineer. Writes about sustainable technology, creativity, and journaling.