This morning, I thought I'd write a short piece about Canada Day. It was yesterday, and thoughts are still fresh in my mind about what it all means and the problematic nature of essentially colonial nations celebrating that colonization while at the same time wanting to be thankful and proud of what the country is, and where we are in the scheme of the global community, etc. etc.
But that is not the post I'll be writing today.
Mostly because I'm way too distracted with another thought, which is writing and when to give yourself a break. Lots of ink (and virtual ink) has been expended exploring this matter. But you know when you've got a song stuck in your head and the only way to get it out is to sing a couple bars of it? This feels like that for me, right now. And I've got a lot of work to do, and don't want to be distracted or find myself looking for distractions for the rest of the day, so ....
Art, of all kinds, is as close to true alchemy as we can get in this world. Pulling something out of nothing, or rearranging what is there to make something else entirely. But like alchemy, it is a tricky field, and seemingly everyone is looking to produce their own Philosopher's Stone (literally as well as metaphorically, in writing).
I realised a couple of months ago, for the first time, that I currently make all of my money from words. It's not much (I can pay bills, and buy food, but little else unless it's a good month), but I'm doing it. I freelance edit, write, and transcribe scripts; I also write my own stories (and this year has been good so far for getting published), and have a new novel I'm shopping around. All in all, it's working out and I'm gradually getting to where I want to be.
In creative writing, where a lot changes very quickly, I have found this quote from Stephen King unfailingly true: "The scariest moment is always just before you start." However, for those of us getting started, I would humbly add, "And the hardest moment is deciding to stop."
I don't mean quit outright, I just mean taking a break. And a real break, not just a trip to the gym as you sweat your ass off on a treadmill while tuning into your favourite podcast or a new audiobook so that you can keep up no matter what. A good ol' fashioned weekend. It might sound funny to anyone who doesn't earn their living from writing (or music, or painting, or freelance whichever), but we never stop. And if/when we do the self-reproach is enormous.
Even writing this post, taking precious time away from my work, I am feeling the ugly stabs from that old con artist Guilt. Not only by not actively working am I another minute closer to a bill to pay (freelance life, amirite?), but I'm taking part in another anxiety inducing trend. I have seen this trend among writers (and I'm sure it is similar in other artistic fields), and while I'm sure it's been there for years, it seems to be ramping up lately. Which is, the feeling that to take a break is to court full-out failure.
I used to have a very consistent writing schedule. An early riser, I would go into the city, get coffee and a muffin, find a corner of a quiet bakery and write until my shift at the restaurant where I waited tables was up. After work, I would head to the library and read (or if I felt really riled up about a scene, write some more) until my drive took me home. I kept this schedule for more than a solid year, mostly because I had very little money, the library was free, and the bakery coffee was cheap.
Now that I am employed more or less in my field of choice and getting loaded with random dumps of extra work, I have had to break up this neat little routine. If I have a boat-load of projects (like the ones I'm neglecting to write this rambling piece now) I naturally have less time for the writing I want to do. But if I neglect the writing I want to do I have the Guilt. So I do the writing I want to do in the time I used to have for: sleeping past 6am, taking a walk, or playing a video game, or something mindless and totally enjoyable. I have been telling myself that putting in 14 hour days, everyday, with maybe a half day every two weeks or so to chill is the responsible, hardworking thing to do. That the sweat will pay off. But lately, more and more, I'm feel like I'm sweating because it's getting too hot in here, and I'm feeling the burn out.
You can't exhale forever, you have to take in too. I guess I'm just feeling winded.
I am have no idea how to combat this, and I'm very sorry to anyone reading this who came here looking for answers. My only answer is that I give myself a better routine (which is part of the problem in the first place, isn't it?)
Or, more radically, we could all just allow ourselves what we need: a break. To briefly and (importantly) shame free forget the motivational hashtags, to forget the pitch session deadlines, or challenges and contests. To forgive ourselves for being human, for wanting what any other field of labour must give by law, a thing that was picketed and fought hard for: a weekend. (A #WritersWeekend event would be awesome, right? Where writers shamelessly spent a weekend posting all the non-writing, self-care they were doing for a full, glorious 48 hours with abandon?)
I would have liked to have worked this out to end on a high note, but I'm not sure that I will. This is my journal, after all, not a piece of fiction, and not all writing needs to be story-shaped. But I guess I'll close with one last thought:
The Guilt is real, and it stabs all the time. So, stab it back.
With a paint brush.
Or the Master Sword.
Or a glass of whiskey.
I'm going to. It will likely retaliate, but in the meantime at least I'll give it a bit of a fight.