Sunday, January 4, 2015

Author Milestones: The No-Guilt Vacation

One of the great things about being a writer is the freedom.  You can write in the early morning or late at night; you can work in bed or a café or a home office set up to your own quirky specifications. You can “write” even when you’re technically not writing, by trying out sentences and plot twists in your head while you take a walk or pretend to be part of a conversation (guilty as charged).
Of course, that freedom is also one of the not-so-great things about being a writer. You don’t really have any official time off: any hour is an hour you could be writing, or outlining, or pumping up your social-media presence. But recently I tried out a novel concept: two weeks of real vacation. No writing, no editing, no posting to my Facebook author page. From the time my kids came home from school shrieking that winter break had begun until now—the first weekend in January—I declared my Writer Self on hold.

Normally, I would have been pretty conflicted. There were plenty of things I could have been doing: My current work-in-progress needs a new beginning, a new ending, and a whole lot of changes in between. (Oh yeah, and a new title, too!). I’ve also been thinking through a concept for the book after that. But with three kids at home and houseguests coming for a week and 17 people expected at my place for Christmas dinner, I was headed for a nervous breakdown. Something had to give, and I decided it would be my writing. Creativity was on hold until the New Year.
I can’t say I went 100% cold turkey. I did lie in bed one night, way too late, trying to think up new book titles. Certain characters popped into my mind from time to time with suggestions for how their stories should change. But for the most part, I stuck to my plan. For the first time in years, I told myself I was on vacation, and should act accordingly. When I did get a precious hour or two to myself, I used it to read rock-star memoirs and thrillers, the kinds of books that were complete escapes from the holiday frenzy around me. (Not at all Christmas-y but highly recommended: Bird Box by Josh Malerman.)    
                   A fairly accurate portrait of me reading an account of 1980s-era rock excess

For the last two weeks of December, real life took priority over the writing life, and that was the right decision for me and my sanity. Will it really make a difference to my career if my Twitter feed went dormant for awhile? If I disappeared temporarily from Goodreads? I don’t think so. And there’s no question I’m coming back to work more motivated than I would have been otherwise.
I have a LOT of work to do this January. But I’m also convinced that taking a break was the right thing to do. We could be writing and marketing ourselves all the time. But that doesn’t mean we have to.

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