Decompression

(I have to thank the wonderful Diana Rowland for the inspiration to write this post!)

“Bugs the crap out of me when I see someone spout the “if you don’t write every day you’re not really a writer.” ~Rowland

I saw Diana’s tweets on this subject yesterday, and wanted to throw my fist up and shout ‘yes!’. Back in the long ago days when I actually WROTE on a regular basis, that quote headlined every writing advice post I read. That was back when I had all sorts of world-building charts and questionnaires and Debated About First Person Vs Third with Great Seriousness on Official Writing Forums. At that point, you could probably have told me that standing on my head would get me published, and gotten instant obedience.

So, I wrote every. damn. day. I lost sleep, turned down social events, developed a cocoon, and generally Just Wrote.

I wrote 4 novel drafts, over 50 short or flash stories, and a crap-ton of blog and forum posts. I added it all up at one point (minus forum posts and most blogs) and had over 300,000 words, about a year before that pace caught up with me.

I burned out HARD.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love writing and I love that I get to do it for a living. But taking weekends off keeps me sane. Saner. Sane-ish.” ~Rowland

Life gets pretty busy for the normal person: Work, kids, relationships, social events. As writers/editors/publishing folk, most of us have those things PLUS our chosen second business. The concept of free time can seem a bit laughable when deadlines are bearing down. Even your own deadlines can start being overwhelming. It seems counter-intuitive to take time off, to walk away from your writing to do ‘unproductive’ things, especially when you’re super-busy.

The last couple of weeks have been THAT busy for me. 18, 21 and 43 hour days-busy. And that was with putting things on hold. The sheer stress of it was ridiculous. So, I made plans to see SuckerPunch with some friends. My mother asked why I was taking time out when I literally didn’t have enough time to sleep.

“I need to get away from everything I can’t get done. I’m going in circles, and I’m not going to get anything done if I stay here.”

Dinner, a movie, some time with people I don’t see often enough. It was better than sleep. It gave me an entirely different sort of energy, redirected my angst in a positive direction, and let me get a grasp on what was really necessary to be worrying about.

It’s hard to admit that we can’t handle stress, and that our batteries do run out. We’re taught that reward comes after everything is done. But if I waited ’til everything was done, I’d never do anything for myself. I’m a workaholic. I’d hazard a guess that a good number of writers, editors, agents, publishers and publicists are in the same boat.

Sanity is in short supply as it is, and sleep-deprivation, bad reviews, line edits and running out of coffee don’t contribute to the sanity bank. Balance. Decompress. But do it wisely. Balance progress with decompression. Take a vacation from writing until you feel the words building up and threatening to just take a hammer to your mind. Soak in the tub with a good novel and a glass of wine/beer/tea. Go out with friends to a nature preserve, an aquarium or a Smithsonian exhibit. Breathe. Take a stack of papers, toss them into the air, cackle like a mad scientist, and then get back to work.

Go on, take a break. Refill the sanity bank a bit. Your writing, your family, your friends and your poor, abused head will thank you for it.

Trackback URL

  • Shadow

    Good post Jaym. I remember all of that advice. It did get a few novels finished, yet strangely you were too tired to enjoy it sometimes. I agree, and this month with very little writing has me chomping at the bit to sit and put words on the page again.

  • Thanks for a great post, Jaym. The last few weeks I haven’t been writing as much because I”ve desperately needed a recharge. I was pretty anxious about not getting the wordcount each day until I realized no words would flow if the well was empty.

    Good news is that the well is filling fast because I took that break. 🙂

  • Fantastic advice. Sanity FTW. Thanks for posting!

  • Galendara

    i think the best advice I ever got from another artist was “honor the down time”

    I have a strong tendancy towards driving too hard and too fast and burning out. I’m trying to appreciate pacing myself a bit more, and not beating myself up over taking a break every now and then. Makes a HUGE difference. 🙂

  • Wendy Wagner, Inkpunk

    This was just what I needed to read today! I haven’t gotten much writing done this much what with the wedding and all. People keep reminding me that you only get married once and it’s a special thing, but I mostly just keep hearing my own voice saying “YOU HAVEN’T WRITTEN 1000 WORDS TODAY, YOU JERK!” It’s hard to give myself permission to *live* life, and not just *write* about it.

  • I think it’s pretty important not to let personal deadlines for things like writing become items for stress. Like you, I once tried counting all the words, demanding at least 2000 of them a day, laying down deliverables, deadlines, and timelines just as if I was coming home from work to another job – and burned out in a few months. Bad news bear, that.

    On the other hand, I think that defining yourself as a writer on the basis of writing every day is, at least, effective. If you don’t care about writing “professionally,” it’s irrelevant, but if you do, then not attempting to actuate your desire is like telling people you have a band when you jam with friends once in a while. You might accidentally create a smash hit during a session… but it’s more likely you won’t.

    However! In these matters I have two biases: firstly, I am only a writer, whereas you also edit a magazine and participate in the community; my natural anti-sociality and tunnel-vision are beneficial qualities, insofar as my desire to “be a writer” goes. Secondly, if I don’t write for even a single day, I not only wish I had, but also lose impetus to do so again – a sort of double-dragon of badness. Last year I went to the beach for a week and took a break from writing, but the week turned into a month as my muse disappeared… Thus, I fear that if I don’t write, I really will become “not a writer.”

    Great post!

  • Pingback: April 29, 2011 Links and Plugs : Hobbies and Rides()

  • Great post. I know part of the reason I don’t yet make my living a a writer is that in the past, I’d berate myself to death over a day of no writing. After a while, that behavior made something I loved doing feel as stressful as my “day job” so I’d give up. Now, I WANT to write every day. But when life gets in the way because it must or because I want it to, I move on to the next day. I look at it like diet and exercise. If you give up because you spent a week eating cheese steaks and not going to the gym, then you’re done. But if you shake yourself off and get back on the wagon til the next stumble, then overall you’re gonna be okay.

  • Pingback: En påse blandade skrivlänkar « En udda verklighet()

  • Pingback: Decompress Smart, Not Hard » Ragged Feathers()