I felt odd posting this, but was encouraged to do so by friends who thought that maybe I could be An Object Lesson for others. And so.
(EtA: and I suspect my agent may already have this on speed dial, so to speak....)
This isn't a new or sudden thought. It's one that's been coming on me for about a year now, encouraged by both my agent and my family. And that is:
I gotta slow down.
Yes, I'm hyperactive by nature, and the world's second-laziest perfectionist, and I thrive on deadlines.... but the past ten years have been taking that to an extreme. I mean - my first original novel came out in 2004. My 21st novel comes out in 2013. Plus short stories, novellas, and the editing gig...plus volunteer work, BookView Cafe, and trying to, y'know, Have A Life....
It used to be fun, that crazy-hectic pace, and I could bounce back from utter exhaustion with just a weekend to collapse. Now? Not so much fun. Not so much with the quick recovery. What took me two days now eats up a week.
I still have stories to tell. Oh, do I have stories to tell. But I need to slow down the torrent, consider the costs. And make sure I don't take too much on, simply because I'm on a writing-adrenaline high. Make sure I don't work past my breaking point, simply because there's so much to be done (there will always be so much to be done).
Mind, I'm not going to throw the brakes entirely. Going cold turkey isn't going to work (that's how I quit smoking, but writing isn't an addiction, it's a lifeblood). I just need to ease myself into a better, healthier, more sustainable pace, one that will keep me working, but not damage my ability to keep working.
So I'm giving myself Five Steps to start.
1. Six hours of sleep, every night. It shouldn't be so much to ask, right? But where I used to wake up at 5 or 5:30 and think "oh what the hell, let's get the day started," now I'm telling myself to stay in bed another 30 minutes or an hour. Even if I can't fall back asleep, I don't need to be GO that early. And if I can (convince the cats to let me) sleep until 7? Perfect.
2. I already eat well - a lot of home-cooked, healthy meals - so there isn't much I can do to increase that. And I'm pretty good about staying hydrated. But I can cut back on the alcohol. No, I'm not going to give up drinking - I'm just going to get even more particular about how MUCH I drink, and of what. In fact, I've already been doing that over the past five years; giving up most mixed drinks and cocktails, and limiting myself to wine, Scotch and the occasional G&T. When I was in my 20's and 30's, getting drunk was a stress-release. I find I don't need that particular release any more.
3. Don't start work before 8 am. This one's harder for me - I work well in the early morning. But it ties in with #1 - if I'm up at 6, and starting work at 6:30, I'm not giving myself time to ease into the day. Read email, check the social networks, fine. But no brain-heavy working. EtA: and no guilt for not being at my desk by 7am, either!
4. Exercise. I've always needed to move (see: hyperactive), but I'm trying to channel it into more structured forms now. Baby-level yoga, and I've taken up running again (ok, slow jogging). Stretches in-between writing breaks. Things that slow me down and loosen me up as much as kick up my heart rate.
5. Don't work past 7pm. This one's hard. If you look at your evening, and all that's on the schedule is digesting dinner and maybe watching some tv (and I don't have cable) the thought creeps in - hey, why not try for another 1k words? Or even 500? Or... No. Evening needs to be a time I interact with other people, or spend time with the cats, or read something someone else wrote, for pleasure. Or, yes, watch television without feeling like I'm somehow "wasting" time.
These seem like easy steps. They're not. I'm my sole support, and this career has a crap retirement plan. The urge to do more, earn more, get more work out of the day... it's intense, and you think "well, if I just pull a few 12 hour days this week, I can catch up."
But I'm going to be 45 next August. I'd like to still be writing when I'm 65. And that's not going to happen if I burn myself from the inside-out.
Odds are, most of you won't see a significant difference. But maybe you will. Hopefully, they'll be positive differences. Hopefully, we'll still be discussing it, twenty years from now.
- Five Steps to Start