Pressing pause

west cork scenery

Days like this have to be taken advantage of

This is a kind of ‘hello everyone, I am still here’ post and an apology at the same time. May has proved to be a very busy month so far and I’m only just getting round to adding a post. I know, I know… but sometimes the blog just has to wait. The balance has tipped. I had to press pause.

I often speak to writers about trying to balance their writing with work and every day life. As we all know, modern life is busy. If we do manage to get a gap in our schedule, we fill it so it’s… well, busier still. And if you write, you can always improve something/start another project/tie up some loose ends, so you’ll always need more time. But that (I’ve learned) doesn’t mean you have to be writing constantly.

There’s a difference between dedication and obsession – just like there’s a difference between working at an optimum level and battling through just because you feel you should. Sometimes a challenge is good and you have to battle; I’m currently rewriting my YA book from third to first person which I find very challenging. It’s necessary for the book but not my natural way to write. But sometimes you have to learn to press pause.

This year, I’m trying really hard to fight the urge to constantly write or work. I’m awarding myself one day off a week from everything that involves the written word. No social media. no articles, no writing. The computer stays firmly shut.

This is an attempt at maintaining sanity. To allow my brain to unwind. To be rested enough to write at an optimum level the other six days of the week. I failed the first few weeks and did some sneaky (about four hours each day) editing on the day off, but guess what? By Wednesday night, I was starting to run on adrenaline alone. By Saturday, I was shattered.

How can you resist? A bit of this means more smiles all round.

How can you resist? A bit of this means more smiles all round.

I think it’s a legacy of my childhood, this need to always be achieving, to always be moving forward. I believed that enough fight and enough hard work would open up doors. That they’d provide me with opportunities I was told would never be possible. I was right. The hard work paid off. Only I never quite managed to figure out how to put on the brakes.

Strangely enough, writing has taught me a lot about the need for pause and reflection. Not in a navel-gazing kind of way, or a waiting for inspiration to hit kind of way. As far as I’m concerned, that’s complete nonsense. But writing has shown me that – very frustratingly – there some things are, and always will be, out of your control. That hard work will get you so far, but you need your health and wellbeing too. That you’re far better off working shorter bursts at an optimum level than always fighting.

When I first left my job to focus on my writing, I was arrogant and impatient and pushy. All the time pushing; to beat deadlines in record time, to write for longer and faster than the day before, to produce as many finished pieces as I could. I turned down social engagements, days out, nights out (especially these – I mean, I had to be up at six to write the next five thousand words). I missed out on some interesting opportunities because my writing had to come first. I ended up feeling lonely, isolated and somewhat bug-eyed by it all.

west cork writer

Tools of the trade – should have some great fresh eats by the end of it all

And so slowly I have learned – I need time off.

This month, Sundays have been my only spare days for blog writing and so – apologies, but I chose to press pause.

Instead, I’ve been getting the garden in order, planting and nurturing potatoes, tomatoes, beans, sweet pea, chillies (I didn’t nurture them very well – they died), pak choi, lettuce etc.

I’ve helped fix up and paint the boat and get it back in the water. We used it to go watch a basking shark last week and last Thursday, I ate my first fresh-caught mackerel of 2014 for breakfast.

I’ve been taking walks and visiting the local Sunday market and reading lots of great books or watching great documentaries. And I’ve been going to sleep early, without my characters yapping on at me or images of the computer screen floating in my head.

west cork writer

Gotta love the sea dog (not so much the barking at seagulls or fish we’ve caught, but hey, can’t have everything!)

Has my writing suffered? No. I’m still on schedule. I’ve completed one big project. I’m almost finished another, And I’ve a few dalliances in-between that may, or may not, come to something fruitful. We shall see.

So if you’re feeling stung out or stressed out or even slightly overwhelmed, here’s my suggestion: have a look at how much you’re doing, compare it with what you think you should be doing and then figure out how much you realistically can manage, without tearing your hair out or losing it over the slightest irritation.

Find a spot to press pause. And do. It might not be easy at first, but I think you’ll feel the benefits over time. I’d love to know how you get on – and what wonderful things you get up to. You never know, there could be a story lurking there…

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5 thoughts on “Pressing pause

  1. SJ O'Hart says:

    I love this post! Such clear and helpful advice, and all with your usual warmth and compassion. Thank you for this, Elizabeth – I’ll try to bear it in mind next time my brain is roaring at me that I should be working when I’m trying to have a bit of down-time! 🙂

  2. C.J. Black says:

    Loved the post Elizabeth, not being in the same league as you I have no problem locating the pause button, it’s the switch on one I find hard to locate and when I do – making sense is the next hurdle to be crossed.

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