Sometimes the pressure of deadlines and expectations –both your own and those of your editors and readers– become so overwhelming that if you want to survive you simply have do something drastic. I did that this weekend. I ran away.
And you know what? I’m going to do it more often.
While unpublished authors undoubtedly feel the pressure –whether from within or without– to get published, I think it’s a whole lot worse for those of us who are already there. Just because we did it once or twice or even half a dozen times, it doesn’t mean it’s any easier, or that there’s any less pressure. Quite often it’s the opposite, simply because we’re now dealing with not only our own expectations, but those of our editors and readers. And on top of all that, there’s the expectations of the sales and marketing people to deal with. Every published writer these days is hideously aware of the need to keep growing their audience, because stagnant sales numbers can often mean less being offered at the table come contract negotiation time. Or, worse still, nothing being offered at all.
Combine all that with everything else a writer is supposed to do these days –not only juggling deadlines and edits, but twitter, facebook, blogs, and advertising– while actually trying to have a life, and is it any wonder that stress can be a major problem for many of us?
It has been for me. Hell, I ended up in hospital a few years ago with blood pressure so high the doctors were all amazed I was still alive.
Of course, I happened to be working full time as a chef as well as trying to write a contracted novel and turn around edits in record time, so it wasn’t really a surprise I ended up in hospital. It took nine days for me to be released, and the first thing I did was quit my job as a chef. Becoming a full time writer definitely made things easier, but there’s still been weeks –months, even– when it all seems to be closing in on me and I just can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Which is why I ran away last weekend. I spent three whole days at a beautiful beach house without email, and very little in the way of twitter or facebook posts. It was just me and my critique group sitting around drinking, chatting, eating far too much, and generally having a good time. The end result was not only inner batteries being recharged, but storylines becoming clearer in my head.
I think we sometimes get so caught up in the drive to succeed that we forget that the storyteller within us needs to be looked after and fed just as much as our flesh does. I found a quote online from Julia Cameron, author of The Artists Way and The Sound of Paper; Starting from scratch, that sums it up perfectly: In order to make art, we must first make an artful life, a life rich enough and diverse enough to give us fuel.
If all we do is sit at a computer screen and meet deadlines, or do blogs, or update twitter and facebook, how is that feeding our inner storytellers? It can’t be all deadlines and edits and advertising. We’re writers. We make up stories from things we see and do–but the well is not endless. It needs replenishing.
So, no matter how bad the pressure, take a time out. Run away, be it for an hour or a whole weekend. Do something different, even if it’s as simple as going out for a coffee and relaxing. You may feel guilty, and you may feel like you’re doing nothing, but you are. You’re recharging.