As I mentioned on Monday, I’m on vacation this week. I’m down in Florida visiting family, a trip I make a couple of times a year, sometimes more. I usually stay for about ten days. The record is fourteen, I think, and that seems to be the tipping point at which I run screaming for the airport. (I know how lucky I am and that many of my friends do not last nearly as long – and as usual, I digress.)
As I begin to plan these sojourns, the days stretch out in front of me and I think, with enthusiasm, about how much “work” I’ll be able to get done. I’ll have all the time in the world to read all of those pages that I’ve printed out from writing blogs. So I pack the stack. My carry-on bag is stuffed with my laptop and a pile of “how to” books for writers. “It will be great,” I think, as I imagine sitting by the pool with an umbrella drink and my Kindle full of all of those books in my “to-be-read” queue.
And then, as usual, the universe laughs and laughs.
I do none of it.
Here’s how it actually goes: my mother has excursions planned (despite my protestation), there are shopping trips to take and projects that she needs my help with. I can’t deny her any of it, because in truth, I miss mother/daughter time almost as much as she does. It’s that whole absence/distance thing, yada yada. That does not mean that I do not usually feel guilty about what I do not get accomplished during this “down” time.
What does this have to do with my writing life and the process by which my two partners and I are cranking out our debut novel, you ask? I’m getting to that.
We here at Stilettos, Stoli and Scribbles are, as has been discussed previously, literally all over the map The three of us lead separate lives filled with kids, jobs, pets, drama, heartache, etc. In other words, Life, with a capital L. At the same time, we remain committed to finishing that first novel in our series and sometimes worry that there is too much “life” getting in the way of our goal – as if an unseen hand continually moves the end zone. Taking time off would seem to be counter-productive. Or is it?
I read something recently that really resonated with me:
…because the whole time I was doing all these things, I was also yelling at myself. “Write more! Write faster! Write better!” And my self looked back at me and rolled its eyes and simply said, No. I fought and I fought and I fought but nothing good came out. I couldn’t fake it. I couldn’t push through. I gave myself lots of strong talks about how other writers COULD push through, but this did not actually help, it turns out.
Finally, at some point, a friend told me to write something on a post-it and put it by my bed. It said, ‘It takes as long as it takes.’ I made lots of protesting noises about tautologies. But of course she was right. When I gave myself permission to take as long as I needed—not to quit, not to slack, … – but to just to settle in for the long haul, a book came along.*
“It takes as long as it takes.” Simple. Like Kelly Harms, I’m keeping it taped to my laptop. And for the first time since we started this project, I’m okay with accomplishing what appears to be next to nothing on this trip. (As okay as a chronic worrier and over-thinker can be.)
Obviously I’m not saying that I or anyone else should just shrug off all responsibilities, but I have come to believe that it’s important to find your own release valve. Sometimes, the best plug we can use is the one that recharges our creative batteries.
Otherwise, you risk becoming so invested in the …thing that used to bring you joy that you can end up resenting that thing–in this case writing. If you want to protect your love of writing, you need to make sure you’re not relying on it for everything–to be your hobby, your outlet, your income, your source of pride, the source of all of your friendships and activities…**
I am staying connected, albeit loosely. I’m fulfilling my blogging obligations (again, loosely). But I’m giving myself permission to “go off the grid” – even while keeping a toe on it. I’ve reached the conclusion that I deserve this time to relax and recharge and that if I manage to do so, I’ll be able to focus and engage that much better when I return to the “real world”. That goes for my 9 to 5 job as well as my “writing” job.
So, I’m taking this time to play – to go to the movies with my brother (more on that on Monday) or spend hours at a farmer’s market or an estate sale with my mother, not to mention watching a historic political convention with her. I can spend the morning floating on my back in the pool thinking my weird thoughts (then jumping out, trailing water across the lanai and then the hardwood floor while I search for a pen – in order to write down some nugget of brilliance). I can sleep past 10:00 am if I want to and then have brunch. The what doesn’t matter. And having given myself permission for all of these activities, I’m present for all of them and feel guilty about none of them. (For the most part. See above.) Feeling guilty, I’ve discovered, helps nothing. If I allow myself to be wracked with guilt, the chances are very good that I still wouldn’t get anything accomplished, but I’m certain that I would enjoy my family a whole lot less.
Life happens; life keeps happening. If it didn’t, we’d have the time to write, but what exactly would we write about?
Thanks for reading. Come back next week, same bat time, same bat channel, for the final installment of “Stay”, K. R. Brorman’s deliciously romantic short story. Catch up with parts 1, 2, and 3 at the links.