It’s come to my attention recently that many writers take pride in their inability to stop writing.
“Want to sprint?” they say.
“No thanks,” I say. “I’m between projects, so I’m taking a little vacation.”
“OH!” they say. “What’s that like?!”
They then go on to talk about how they can’t not write, how they “envy” me for being able to take a break. In the end, they make me feel like I’m somehow less of a writer, because I like to step aside between projects, to read books written by someone else and to recharge my poor, overworked brain.
They’re not doing it on purpose, I’m sure. But when someone tells me that as a distraction between books, they write another book, it’s hard not to feel as if I’m somehow inferior. That because I need that mental space between projects, I’m just not as creative or hard-working as they are.
It’s silly, really, just another example of the pissing contests you often see in a traditional workplace. There was always an unspoken competition between reporters in the newsroom to see who could stay the latest, go the longest without taking a lunch break, refuse to look from their computer screen even when the managing editor had long since gone home.
That attitude is great, I suppose, if you really do care that much, but for the rest of us, it’s hard to compete.
You see, I treat my writing like a job. I have the luxury of getting to stay home and write, and I found that if I didn’t treat it like a job, I got nothing done. I used to stay up to three in the morning writing, but I found that I was less productive when I did that, plus I had less time in the evenings to spend with my husband. Nowadays, I (usually) force myself to get up at a reasonable hour, and then I keep 9 to 5 writing hours. It’s hard, but it gets the words out, and that’s what’s really important.
And you know what comes with a regular job? Vacation. The occasional long weekend. Sick days. (Also, insurance and regular pay, but that’s a different issue!) Work comes with time off.
I’m not saying that writing isn’t fun for me, that it’s all workaday and (pardon the pun) prosaic. I get the writer’s high, too, and I find myself daydreaming out stories when I’m not working. Writing is fun—of course it is—but it’s not the only fun in the world.
I’m a firm believer in pursuing other activities to fuel one’s writing. Going for a walk always gives me a new location for a scene, just as listening to a new album by a band I love will inspire a confrontation between characters I don’t even know yet. Reading books gives me a chance to escape into another world, responsibility free, and it is, after all, what inspired me to write in the first place. Magazines are fun and fluffy and a good way to give the mind a break. We all know that exercise is as good for the mind as it is for the body. TV? Well, that’s another kind of escape. Friends deserve my time and love, and so does my family.
Most importantly, I deserve some time and love. I like that week after I’ve finished a project when I go get a massage and then out for lunch and then back to bed to read for the rest of the day. I like taking time off because it keeps me sane after I’ve been living in a high-stakes world of my own invention for X-number of months.
My point? Writing needs other pursuits. You need to get some fresh air and to get some fresh ideas, and those frisky, exciting new ideas, my friend, come just as often from outside your brain as they do from a random lightning flash of inspiration.
So, if you, like me, have felt the pressure to just keep going, to never stop, and you’ve had the defensive thoughts I’ve expressed in this little essay, know this: it’s okay to take a break. You don’t need permission, but if you feel like you do, you have mine. Get thee to a spa! Or to the beech! Or just to your own bed to take a break! It’s okay to relax! Be free! Have fun!
Have you felt the pressure to never stop working? How do you deal with it? What do you do to relax?