I’ve been writing nearly every day for about six years. Before then, I wrote every few days, reviewing books and PC games for various publications, and occasionally writing travel reviews and editorials. Then I discovered fan fiction and wrote what I fondly refer to as “my first novel,” a 93k word epic entitled The Hero of Ferelden.
I’d written fiction before, but never seriously. Never anything long. Never anything that consumed me in quite the same way as writing about my Warden and his allies did. I went on to write a chapter a day for eight months, producing another 500k words—two more novels, several novellas and a lot of short stories.
Then I wrote something of my own and got it published. Then I wrote something else. Meanwhile, I’d been role playing with an active forum for about three years, writing sometimes up to 9k a day in posts. Oh, and Jenn and I wrote a book together somewhere in there, a dark fantasy that topped 120k.
Together, Jenn and I wrote the Chaos Station series in about fifteen months. That’s another 360k. During that time I also wrote two other novels, five novellas and a handful of short stories. This year alone I’ve written another two novels (one of which we tossed at 55k), both with Jenn.
I’m not going to add up all these words. It’s a lot and I don’t need to see the tally to understand that. I’ve felt the load. There have been days where my brain refuses to produce the right word for anything other than tea and toast.
The first time I burned out, I took a weekend off and then got back to work. I fretted the entire time. WHAT IF I LOST MY WORDS? The second time I had to take a break, it was because my arms hurt too much to use the keyboard. And I’d lost sensation in one of my shoulders. And I couldn’t turn my neck.
After several months of physical therapy we traced the original injury—a pinched nerve in my neck—to a bad fall during karate class. I’d forgotten to stiffen my neck and gave myself a good dose of whiplash. I got up and tried the takedown again. Because I’m a stubborn fool. Then I ignored the pain in my neck and shoulders for five months until I literally couldn’t move.
The words, man. THE WORDS.
I took a break—or I tried to. I limited myself to 1000 words a day, in addition to all the “extras” that go along with being published. The blog posts, the newsletters, the website, the social media presence. I started taking weekends off and that worked for a while. But what I really needed (aside from weekly PT appointments where a lovely massage therapist does cruel and unusual things to my neck and shoulders) was to take a break. Something longer than four days. A break where I didn’t think or write. Where my life revolved around something other than words.
If you’re a writer, you know how hard it is not to write. It’s like…impossible. The stories are RIGHT there. The voices are LOUD. You have to write. If I took a break, I’d lose my place. I’d be stuck on a raft in the middle of a boundless ocean, floating away from the only island I knew existed.
With a trip to Australia coming up this summer, I decided to try and use my vacation as, um, vacation. I didn’t manage it last year. I spent a week in Cape May working on edits and writing blog posts. The summer before I took my laptop to New Orleans and wrote every morning in the hotel room. The summer before that…
You get the idea.
This summer I decided to actually go for it. In preparation, I worked stupid hours for a couple of weeks writing sixteen blog posts for an upcoming tour as well as revising two projects for submission, putting together synopses and query letters, and outlining another project. Oh, and I was writing a book with Jenn as the same time, one we finished a few days before I stepped on the plane. By the time I got to Australia, I was due a break.
The first week I fretted. I pulled my laptop out the first day and opened a file. I had a novella to outline and a proposal to write. After staring at a blank document for about five minutes, I flipped over to Facebook and watched cat videos. I was jetlagged and tired. The next day my laptop remained closed. The day after that I fretted aloud: “I really should be writing!”
The unanimous response was: “Kick back and have a beer!”
(It’s the Aussie cure for what ails you.)
Four days into my vacation, I started vacationing. I ate, drank, socialised, saw the sights and slept past 4am in the morning. I continued to worry, quietly, that my words were fading like tear stains on a pillow. For two weeks, I didn’t write a single word. I did pull out my phone to jot down the occasional idea and I spent many enjoyable a morning talking books and stories with my dad. But I did NO WORK. I didn’t write a single blog post. I didn’t craft a single promotional tweet.
This is the part where I tell you how amazing it was. Imagine me tipping my head from side to side. I don’t know if it was amazing or not. I don’t know if I’m going to sit down soon and start writing the BEST BOOK ever. What I do know is that I needed the break, mentally and physically. Regardless of what you do for a living, you cannot do it all day, every day, and not suffer the consequences. Our brains require variety. Colours and sensations and experiences. I can’t write good stories if I’m not out there living a good life. Not the kind of stories I want to tell, anyway.
What I have taken from this experience is that I’m not a shark. I can stop swimming. I’d like to write every day, but I know it’s not sustainable. I’ve discovered that I can ignore the voices for a while—if I really try—and they’ll wait for me. New ideas will crop up while I’m not writing. New characters will continue to whisper somewhere between my ears. So long as I make a note of this and that, I’ll never lose these potential words. They’ll always be with me, no matter how much time I take off.
Also, when I’m not writing, there are a heck of a lot of hours left over in the day. Like… what do regular folk do with all this time???
I’m five days back and I’ve spent the morning writing blog posts. I actually plan to take the rest of this week off (quelle horreur) because I have two new books releasing next week and that’s WORK right there. What I do hope is that when I finally get back to it, I love writing just as much as before.
Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I will! Otherwise I wouldn’t still be hearing those whispers. 😀
For more pictures of my vacation, connect with me on Instagram! (Scroll down past the cats and Pokémon) For info about my two new releases, check out my Coming Soon page or stay tuned. I’ll be posting about them! Oh, and if you do check out my fan fiction, remember they were written well before I understood what editing was. 😉 (My heart was totally in it!)