I’m in awe of people who find the time to write while holding full time occupations. Until last year, I was a full-time writer/editor, but it required some significant sacrifices. Financial ones being the most obvious, but included are all the myriad tiny sacrifices that ensue. And even when I was making a decent living – read: AT the poverty line rather than below it – I was mostly focused on other people’s writing, not my own. I was relatively content, but constantly worried about where I would get my next gig. Unlike other types of business, I mostly had to take one client at a time, which makes you vulnerable to clients who do not pay. Do you know why ghost-writing can cost upwards of 50K? That’s why. And that was sucking all my creative juices dry. Some of us need a modicum of feeling safe to create.
So I took a job. Do not strain to hear any tiny violins, there are none: I love this job. It’s high-pressure, fast-paced, and deals with real people and real life. (Who’d have thought I’d find that exhilarating?) Having this job is affording me what the writing lifestyle didn’t: medical benefits for me and my wife, a pension plan, and the opportunity to invest in a homestead. My reasoning was that I would write on the weekends. My head would be refreshed and eager to dive into fictional realms of my own creation. Hell, I would NEED to after being immersed in so much reality.
But that is not what is happening. In actuality, I am finding myself drained and burned-out at the end of the week, with barely enough bandwidth to be coherent, let alone imaginative and clever.
So how do other writers – with full time employment or study (or full time child-rearing) – manage to keep the passion alive?
The blogosphere supports the fact that exhaustion seems to plague many writers, whether they are full or part time. I’m talking about creative fatigue: the low-grade depression that seems to suck the light and joy out of your passion.
A friend of mine suggests that what I’m suffering isn’t true exhaustion. It’s some other form of paralysis. She suspects that it stems from not writing what I love. She posits that writing would actually re-energize me rather than further deplete my resources.
“Set your alarm, get up and get out of the house. Go to a coffee shop and write for an hour. Then, see how you feel.”
Now, if I could only get my fingers to set the alarm… But. Can’t. Move. Thumbs.
So, hm. She may have a point. Is this burn-out not a matter of fatigue, but the result of making too much of a compromise? Financial security at the expense of my passion?
In an attempt to asses where I am at, I borrowed from paranormal writer Jamie Gold’s 12 steps to recover from writing burnout and took my own inventory which (lucky you) I will share with you now:
1. Sleep: Deep sleep is most helpful.
If I allow myself to sleep, I’ll sleep the entire day away. If I do anything else, I torture myself with “you should be writing”…
2. Relaxing/Socializing: In my case, this often translates to playing on Twitter. *smile*
I spend an inordinate amount of time on Pinterest – not social exactly, and though relaxing, not rejuvanating. It is not translating to increased writing.
3. Replenish the Words: Do activities that fill us up again and give our muse new ideas, such as reading for pleasure, watching TV/movies, or listening to music.
See #2: I watch an inordinate amount of television on my off-time. I sometimes feel it is turning my brain to mush.
4. Exercise: Get the blood moving.
I love to dance. It’s the one thing I am not carving out of my life. And although it’s awesome and contributing to both physical and mental health, it is not really leading to more writing.
5. Explore Other Creative Outlets: Gardening, painting, etc.
If I do anything other than writing, see #1. I do walk the dogs often, thus spending more time outdoors than usually. I know this is helping with winter doldrums, but perhaps a certain amount is to be expected. It’s February after all, and I have yet to meet an Ontarian that isn’t done with winter.
6. Be Mindless: Wash dishes, do laundry, vacuum, etc.
I’m too tired.
7. Change the Scenery: Try writing in a different location: at a cafe, in a park, etc.
This has worked in the past. I’m having a bit of a logistical issue with this recently with sharing one car and living in one room with my spouse, but I think this holds promise.
8. Rediscover the Passion: Remind ourselves why we want this career, such as by rereading the story that first made us want to be a writer or by reading one of our own stories for pleasure.
Hm. I haven’t even looked at my short story in a couple of months, perhaps more. It oddly feels like it would be reopening old wounds. Like having that difficult conversation with a loved-one you’ve been trying to avoid. Now, why is that?
9. Resolve to Cut Back: Sometimes our dread of upcoming stresses makes us feel burned out before we even start. Try eliminating some of those stresses.
This is a little like trying not to breathe.
10. Take a Vacation: Ditch the kids at the grandparents for a weekend for a stay-cation or get away and have new experiences.
I just bought a house which I hope will become my writing Shangri-la.
11. Identify Our Blocks: If we’re feeling negative about doing writing of any sort, there’s usually an underlying reason (resentment, self-doubt, depression, etc.).
See #8. My writer-self and I may need some couple’s therapy.
12. Evaluate Priorities: Are we happy with our current path, or do we need to change our approach? Are our deadlines the career equivalent of busywork, or will they help us achieve our goals?
I often wonder about that with keeping up with a blog. Is that the equivalent of busywork? Why all the social media and platform building when I have no product to flog? Granted, it is supposed to be like preparing the soil before planting it with your prized fiction, but what happens when you have nothing to plant?
I may need to evaluate, not so much priorities, but time-lines. When given only a certain amount of time to devote to a task, it may have to be divided up differently, with a much longer-term time-line than I had originally thought.
My conclusion is that my friend may be right. I may be suffering from some identity crisis, or unacknowledged grieving (made obscure by the fact that I love my job). I realize this is a “luxury” problem: I am struggling with reaching the very pinnacle of Maslow’s pyramid of needs. But indulge me, if you will. The exploration continues…
Surely, I am not alone in this? I’m calling out to other writers out there:
What are your strategies for balancing work-writing life? Or do you?
How do you harness the creative energies and stoke the fires?
What are the blocks to your writing and what are you doing to overcome them?