As a stay at home mom, I’ve learned to write with my kids running around the house, the washing machine spinning in my ear, and the dog playing ball under my desk. I can slip in and out of the story at any given moment, leaving mid-sentence to tend to scraped knees, hurt feelings, and a boiling pot. In fact, for many years, most of my writing was done by ‘squeezing it in’ whenever and wherever I could, sometimes in five or ten minute increments. Some days it still is. I certainly don’t prefer to work that way. I tend to crave quiet and solitude, as I believe many writers do. The problem is what happens when I get it. When I’m treated to a run of that precious, uninterrupted free time, it’s such a luxury, I have trouble letting it go. I sit down at my desk, tunnel vision sets in and I wrap myself in my work like a cocoon. The next thing I know, hours have gone by.
Immersing yourself in a story, letting the real world disappear in favor of the one in your head, is one of the best parts of writing one. But to do so, we often make sacrifices. These can come in many forms: sleep, exercise, social engagements…lunch. Whether it’s by necessity or because the muse demands it, we frequently put the writing first and ourselves last. We forfeit fresh air and lunch with friends in the hopes of upping our word count. My own recluse tendencies come out more during the cold, winter months. But what really kicked them into high gear was publishing my first book. It was no longer just about finding solace for writing. There was suddenly a high demand on my time for the promoting and marketing end of the job.
This isn’t a complaint. It’s reality. It’s me admitting how easy it is to spend the entire day at my laptop, not getting up, not eating, (putting off the housework) and not reaching out to my friends. The drive to create is powerful and constant. Even knowing it will make the words flow faster, that if I empty my mind I can fill it again, I still have trouble pulling away. I don’t like to call myself a workaholic. I’ve always seen work as something you didn’t want to do. Some place you had to drag yourself out of bed to go to every morning. Writing is not that. Writing is a pleasure for me, a passion. It’s a healthy outlet. But it also makes me a hermit if I let it, and that’s not so healthy.
Over the last year I’ve learned so much about writing and publishing. But I’ve also learned I can’t climb in a hole with it. Exiling myself from my friends to write one more paragraph, or putting off a walk for one more tweet, isn’t doing me any favors. Neither is getting less than six hours of sleep a night, but one problem at a time.
As authors, we know the writing has to come first. We want and need it to. Some of us can balance that need (and the responsibilities of publishing) with the rest of our lives quite well. But for those of us that have trouble, we need to try harder. We need to put ourselves at least second. A walk around the block, a chat over coffee, a trip to the grocery store—it doesn’t matter, as long as you get up from the chair. Take time to revitalize and recharge. Stimulate your mind with something other than words for ten minutes. Give yourself a break. If you can, maybe I can too.