Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Time Off for Good Behavior

I tend to stay busy and I don’t believe in harboring boredom. My husband claims I don’t know how to relax because even when I’m doing something simple like watching a movie or reading a book I’m still analyzing and thinking like a writer. The thought of lounging on a beach or vegging in front of the TV all day ups my stress level. That time could be used more productively says my brain. Some of us are hardwired that way, I suppose.

I have a perpetual to-do list in regards to every aspect of my life (a tiny fraction of which is all you get to see online.)  And if I slow down at all, I tend to get sick. I think I derive more misery from being incapable of working than from all the coughs, sniffles, and belly aches I get.

What has this to do with writing (since that’s the side you care about, right?) In spite of my manic need to keep busy I realize there is such a thing as down-time with writing. It’s great if you have a daily word count goal or can even have the luxury of writing hours as your work hours. Sometimes it’s necessary to re-prioritize and remember there is a person behind the writing, you. After a fruitful and long stint of writing, I reached the end of a story, wrote it and realized I bombed the ending. It was okay but it wasn’t stellar. I went back to work the next day and the next, tore out the ending, rewrote it three times, and became a puddle of tears and nerves. I needed a break.

The stress hit me so hard at the time. I’d let other major parts of my life back-up while I tried to meet a writing goal. So now I had not only failed to meet my goal to my satisfaction but I had an overload of other obligations to meet. I literally developed severe chest pains. That’s when I had to walk away from my desk and remember I’m not only a person, but one with a life and limitations.

A story is a story. There’s enormous pressure to write something of bestseller or breakout status. Aside from that, if we’re active in the writing community there’s the illusion that everyone else is able to eat, sleep, and breathe their writing. Then there are the true-life accounts of famous writers who let themselves go for the sake of art and destroyed their health, their reputations, and their outside lives.

What is the point of writing about the human condition if we can’t actually live it? Maybe you agree with that, and maybe you don’t. It’s alright. I had to step back and ask myself that question a couple of weeks ago. There are other, larger, parts of my life that I can’t neglect. I don’t want to neglect them either. So in a fit of pain and rock bottom depression, I put away my writing. I focused on catching up on other things and on the people in my life.

Have you ever reached the brink like that or had to put the writing away for awhile? What do you do to balance your writing life with your regular life?

Two weeks later, I’m not completely caught up where I want to be, but that’s normal. I think I’d be more frustrated if I didn’t have things to do. I’m easing back into the writing and reading, and hopefully I won’t bite off more than I can chew this next year.

*Update: I finished the book yesterday. The time off did a world of good.


  1. For the first three years of my son's life, I did no writing at all. I didn't have the time. Then, as he got older and played more on his own, I managed to sneak in some, but not much. Wasn't until he went to school that I got back into it.

    Life cannot be ignored. It has to be lived in order for us to draw on. :) Glad to hear you finished the book.

  2. Balance is the key.

    Recharge your batteries. I call it your giving jar. Picture a pitcher of water. You fill glasses. The pitcher is you, the glasses are things you give time and energy to. Once your jug of water is empty there is nothing left to pour into the other glasses. You have to stop and refill the container. Refresh, regroup, re-whatever you want to call it. You have to take a break. The project/problem/fun will still be there when you get back. The important thing is to refill your pitcher so you can give some more.

    Great post. Great ideas. Thanks.