Toward the end of my previous job as a lawyer, I became what is very technically and clinically known as "burned out."
I dreaded going to work every day and felt pretty depressed. I couldn't ever seem to get enough sleep, even if I'd somehow manage to get nine or ten hours. My drinking, though not out of control, got perilously close to the ledge at times. I put on weight.
Perhaps most alarmingly, I felt like I had lost a lot of my creativity. I continued to write on the side, but in going back and re-reading the end product, it was stilted and cold, like it was written by a robot (or like a legal brief). My characters lacked any depth that made them jump off the page as the story became more of a deposition transcript than anything else.
It took many long weeks of decompression, relaxation, and working on my mental agility to get me back on track late in the summer (and just in time to cover the Rams, no less). For weeks after I quit my job as a lawyer, there were days when I'd sleep over twelve hours and still be tired. My mental reserves were completely drained.
I guess my point is that, especially when you're an aspiring novelist, burnout is a very real concern. Some people thrive on marathon writing sessions that go well into the double-digit hours. I could do that, but I get the feeling that my product wouldn't be very good at the end, and my writing would take on that "hollow" quality that I so badly want to avoid from now on.
So, I've done my best to structure my weeks in a way to minimize burnout. "Way to go, idiot; I guess that means that you sit around all day playing videogames and drinking beer, all in the name of 'recharging.'" Uh...nothing could be further from the truth.
Instead, I'm trying to set up a real "work week," where I write for a real "work day" five days per week. Sitting down, wi-fi off, in front of the computer, just myself and Word, hammering out content.
I've found that instead of churning out uninteresting content, it forces me to immerse myself in the world I'm creating, and to go for long stretches imagining scenes and channeling them from brain to fingers, getting it all out on the screen. A number of people call this state of mind "being in the zone" (another technical term, I know), where I can become so lost in my work that over an hour can pass without me even realizing it, as happened today.
But I'm also not so naive as to think that I can keep up such a pace seven days a week; as much as I love writing, I love doing other things, too, like hanging out with friends, vegging in front of the TV, reading fiction for pleasure (a long-lost hobby that I've recently re-discovered), and any other number of recreational pursuits that don't necessarily involve writing, though I am of the opinion that reading is essential to make yourself a better writer, but that's a post for another day.
So, I generally write during the day, and take nights and weekends off. That's not to say that I don't end up working on the weekend; like anyone else in this day and age, creep is somewhat inevitable. I do try to limit whatever work I do on the weekends to non-writing as much as possible; it usually consists of outlining, jotting down little things I want to work into the novel, or reading blogs about the self-publishing business, like this one and this one.
But nights and weekends are to allow me to get away from the story a bit, reflect, and live life so that I have new experiences to bring to the table as a writer, and new perspectives that may in turn better entertain any potential readers.
So far, so good; I found that by late last night, I was itching to get back in front of the Mac and start writing again. Like the old saying says "absence makes the heart grow fonder," and right now I'm teasing the hell out of the writer in me by sticking to this schedule.
And the bigger life lesson for those of you out there? Set aside a certain block of time that's for you and your friends or family to do what you want to do and get away from whatever work you're doing. In the grand scheme of things, an hour or two isn't much to sacrifice, and your sanity will be much better for it, especially if you have a stressful job that provides you with little or no joy.
If you don't, you might find yourself chasing life on the tops of waves somewhere on Australia's east coast.
Now that you mention it...
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D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here). E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.