photo by Carrie Aulenbacher, 2016
Has it been a month away from my blog? The summer has captured me and taken me running through the woods and the creeks where I can take off my shoes and explore the depths of the cool shade and escape. It's also been a chance to lay back and gaze up at the clouds with a sweet glass of tea at my elbow. Other than the journal in my bag, my constant companion, I've been away from writing. (Yes, I hear you gasping.)
My Career Isn't Ruined
Many will say this is a horrible thing because I should be churning out content frantically, guest posting on as many sites as will take me, and completing manuscripts as if my very fingers themselves were on fire. And perhaps I should. But on cold winter days when all I have are daydreams to keep my imagination warm, it will be these summer memories I'll hearken back to, so I need to stockpile them like crazy while I can! As my husband reminds me, life is too short to always be in front of a screen. And, as always, he's right.
But Aren't You Supposed To...
For those who are new authors or wish to someday be published, it can seem daunting to feel as if everyone who is an author is literally writing 20 hours a day. Seeing their Twitter stream alone can be overwhelming as they share tons of links, content, quips, etc. Where do they all find the energy? Do you find yourself wondering how your favorite authors are so prolific? Do you feel that you don't even want to try to become an author because you don't feel confident enough to try to put in that much energy into publishing and marketing? Well, let me admit...
It's Easier To Find A Pokemon
I don't have the energy all the time to be constantly writing and marketing and working. I don't write 20 hours a day and I don't write on my manuscripts everyday. I automate what I can so that I can step away from the screen and seek the energy to continue in my writing by going out into the world. Otherwise, I'd turn into a dry husk scratching on paper but not leaving a mark. And refilling the tank by sitting on Facebook or stalking the LinkedIn or Quora forums isn't going to cut it. No, I need to get outside and unplug.
This summer, my family enjoyed days at a local steam engine and tractor show and flea market, the beautiful Presque Isle, our local zoo, various festivals, garage sales, parks, playgrounds, woods, etc. Getting out among people is always a fantastic way for me to gather inspiration to take back to my characters. Drinking in the vastness of nature without a WIFI signal in sight feeds my senses to help my descriptions later. And relaxing away from deadlines lowers my stress so that I return to that 'want' feeling -- the want to write! And of course, who can argue with the joy of treasure hunting and shopping.
I Sure Can't Afford It
You might feel yourself look at your lofty goals and then read this and rankle. 'Must be nice.' You might have muttered to yourself. And, if your mortgage and food do depend on your sales of books, then it's true, you don't have a lot of opportunity to kick back and unplug. But if you look at what you have before you and hear yourself saying 'I can't afford to take any time off.' then think again. If you don't, you're setting yourself up for burnout.
You Can't Afford Not To
We are creatures of habit, yes, and the more we work on a fixed schedule the more productive we are. I don't argue that. AND, from a recent talk with a very prolific and successful Harlequin author, I also can't argue with the fact that keeping to a format in your writing gives your target audience exactly what they want. It's true. Writing every day and pushing yourself and sticking to a very tight format of what you are writing will produce results. The question is:
Will you be fulfilled as a writer with an ambitious schedule that gives you no breaks?
If that kind of effort for years on end without a break WILL fulfill you, then stop reading and get on out of here! You're wasting time that could have been spent staying on schedule. But if the thought of endless years of such a breakneck schedule feels daunting, read on.
You're Not Alone
A lot of writers simply don't work on books all the time. They take breaks. I'd venture to say a majority of them do this in all genres. It's not just you. You're not the only one who has tried to take on everything to make your book baby fly and ended up feeling exhausted and cynical. And there's nothing wrong with feeling that way! Acknowledging that you're tired of all this effort is not wrong! Just don't give up on writing because of it.
First of all, before you get to that point, look for time in your day where you're naturally running low on energy. See if you can schedule at least 5 minutes of a break during that time. Maybe you don't kick off the morning at 60 miles an hour. Start your morning light and don't write before work or school. If you have a mid-day slump, get outside to find shade, take a leisurely walk, maybe even grab a power nap. If late afternoon is when you crash, that's not the time to push yourself but nourish your body and catch up on easier tasks. Grab a healthy snack and sort mail, do filing, pencil in that power nap. Finding ways to get away from the keyboard at these down times will help you to work smarter when you DO have the energy.
It's Medically Proven
Second, Tests have been done by Lumosity on the brain showing that those with less sleep retain less and focus less, working harder than they need. And for as romantic as it is to imagine ourselves as the tireless writer, slaving away at a keyboard late at night with an adult beverage next to us, it's just not your best bet for creating the next great American novel. Making sure you get enough sleep will help your work time to be more relaxed and focused. Your characters deserve that - your readers will appreciate it!
Your Muse Hates Your Computer
Thirdly, you'll sometimes find that your Muse is almost allergic to your favorite writing area. Muses like to be out and about, so when you are overwhelmed and lost without them, get out and find them! Our brains are constantly running and thinking about all sorts of things, no matter where we are or what we're doing. Have you ever noticed you come up with an answer to your problem when you're doing something entirely different? So let your mind work on a plot problem while you go weed the garden, have a lunch date with a friend or have dinner with family. Turn your mind off to that problem and let it go. The Muse just might sit in your lap during dessert and all but hand you the answer. It's that break from obsessing about it that can let your mind work in it's own time frame.
Perspective Is Key
Yes, the key to all of this is a healthy perspective. Just like keeping in mind the amount of Photoshop that goes into any Hollywood advertising, we must remember that no writer literally writes all day every day and none of them get it 100% right the first time. There is a lot of editing and breaks behind the scenes we never hear about. Many of the writers you hear about or see on Facebook took years to get even one book to a published state. Many started late in life. So if you are a young mother with family priorities and you're killing yourself trying to rush books to self publication and live on social media to push it - realize how much pressure you're putting on yourself.
Slow Down And Enjoy
So, trust that you are right where you need to be to do what you're supposed to be doing today. Each day you get one paragraph down is a day forward in progress. Congratulate yourself every day on what you are accomplishing. The point of the journey is not to be so stressed that you are frazzled and depressed. Don't make the point of any creative venture to be just money. Look towards expressing the passion in your heart as the reason to your work. And trust that what is in your heart is a reflection of how beautiful a soul you are. Because it's true!
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