vacation

Time Out for Burnout

It’s funny how you can mean to take a week or so completely off, and instead you wind up running around like some kind of domestic berserker trying to deal with holiday-related cooking and cleaning, not to mention months of accumulated medical appointments and paperwork, restocking the pantry, all of those necessaries that make your life run more smoothly. Seriously, there is nothing like announcing “I am taking today off” to induce record-breaking productivity.

...Is that just me?  It can’t be just me.

The last month of the year, I wanted so hard to take a week or so off. But there were some looming pieces of work I had to finish by Jan. 2, not to mention those countless other things popping up like new heads on a hydra. I simply didn’t have it in me to burn through it all in a glorious two or four days. So instead I settled for half-measures; a little work, a little not-work, limping along to just meet my deadlines in time while not grinding the poorly lubricated gears of my brainmeats too hard.

Shockingly, this half-vacation punctuated with personal obligations did not actually cure my burnout. I know, I know, who could have guessed that still writing is not as good as not writing! So I was dreading work, procrastinating, the whole shebang. All I wanted to do was sleep in until 2pm and play video games until 2am, rinse and repeat.  

All of this half-holiday time was good for feeding new media and new experiences in to my brain, at least. I played through Gorogoa and tried Civ VI for iOS; I finished Null States and a series of LitRPG books; I watched The Good Place, The Last Jedi, and the last couple of seasons of Psych and its movie. I made ricotta cheese; I did some sketching; I started exercising and cooking for my family reliably. But I still wasn’t feeling quite myself.

Well, I finally did it. Thanks in part to the snow days in the Northeast, I squeaked out five whole days in which I did no writing, no edits, no meetings of any kind.  For most of them, I didn’t even leave my home, or my pajamas.

Funny thing, though. By day two, I kept thinking about my novel whenever my mind wandered. About the characters, the themes, the intersecting web of interactions.  By day three I was starting to get really excited about this book again. By day four, I was impatient for the kids to hurry up and get back to school so I could get to work putting some of this on paper.

This is how I work best; when an idea has worked its way into my brain and become a puzzle I’m trying to solve, constantly in the background. A low-level obsession. It’s like when you’ve played too much Tetris, except with narrative. I love it, but it’s been a really long time since I’ve felt like this. Definitely not since August, and maybe not since January.

And yet here we are. I’m back, and I’m writing, and I am so excited, because this is going to be so great, friends, seriously I love this thing I’m writing, gahhh Kermit flailing I love it so much. And I hope one day in the not-too-distant future you’ll love it, too.  And in the meanwhile: gosh, it is so great to feel like myself again.


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The Mirage of Free Time

I’ve had a pretty intense year, and I’ll be working up my year-in-review post to tell you about it pretty soon. (Probably next week, since I can’t imagine I’ll publish or ship anything new between now and the New Year.) The one thought that’s pulled me through the most trying spells is a vision, like an oasis on the horizon, of what I will do and how I will structure my day when I finally get a pause to catch my breath. 

Surely, the logic goes, at some point the avalanche of deadlines and publicity and appointments will slow down, and I’ll have a few weeks to rejuvenate myself, or a month, or even two. When that happens, I can spend a week reading. I can focus exclusively on my novel. I can fold all of the laundry. I can make healthy dinners and swim three hours a week (and yoga twice!)

I can do all that. I can get everything under control soon. After this week, I’ve got nothing else coming down the pike. I just need to finish these edits, and pull together that draft. It’s happening. It’s going to be glorious. I just need to get through the next week. The next month. It’s only six weeks away, and then—

It’s inevitable. What happens is that a new set of deadlines pops up, and that beautiful, illusory break never arrives. Or it does, but it’s only a few days and then I’m back to the churn as hard as ever. And in that brief time, I’m so tired, so burned out, that I don’t write a word of my novel, I don’t read any books, nothing. Often I find that week consumed by illness or appointments I’ve been putting off. 

This is a high-quality problem, in that it means I’ve built a robust enough pipeline for work that it doesn’t run completely dry even when I really kind of wish it would. But it points to the challenge I’ve wrestled with for as long as I’ve been a freelancer. How do you balance the long-term big-picture stuff against the short-term requirements of your existing commitments?

You’d think a decade would be long enough to solve that problem. 

It’s easy to say “Silly girl, you should be working on your big-picture items little by little, some every day, as you go along.” But that assumes that you have extra time and creative power that you’re squandering right now; and the truth is, sometimes putting energy into spinning a new plate, even slowly, means letting another one fall down. 

And so here I am, staring at a week where I’m somehow planning to get through three distinct sets of edits, two promo pieces, an AMA, a Bookburners draft, three two-hour appointments, and all of my holiday shopping, cleaning, and wrapping.

It’s going to be tough, but I think maybe I can get through it all. And then next week, my plate will be completely clear, and then I can focus on my novel. Or maybe read a book. Or... 


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