Putting a stop to the 24/7 before my head explodes

lovely eggs

I am not good at taking days off, and this week was Spring Break; I did not allow myself any days off and I paid for that ambition. I had all kinds of things planned in my head for Spring Break, namely making epic progress on my novel revision. Pretty soon though, my inspiration turned into immense pressure, turned into self flagellation turned into self derision, turned into a chorus of “I suck, I suck, I suck, I suck, I suck, I suck…” in my head.

Every time I looked at my novel on Scrivener, I couldn’t quiet that damning voice. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t cry. I wanted to die. I couldn’t believe the novel was bringing me to my knees like that. By Tuesday evening, I found myself saying, “All I have to do is make it to L O S T tonight.” Dudes–I was MOTIVATING myself to LIVE by telling myself I had to keep my head above water just to watch what happens on L O S T. The only thing I’m proud of is the fact that somehow I didn’t have any desire to smoke cigarettes, a habit that I broke two years before my stroke.

I was in trouble, and I began to assess things. Last week, I went to my annual physical exam, and my doctor, who is the most wonderful doctor ever, one who practices more holistic medicine and spends an ENTIRE hour with me each year, cocked her head at one point and asked, “What do you do for fun, Christine?”

I looked at her, and answered in a mouse-like voice, “I write.” Actually, I confess, I said something more like, “I write?”

She smiled. “That’s what I thought you’d say.”

And that was that. But her question bumped me off my feet, as I wondered, “What *is* it that I do for fun these days?” It was the week of Passover, and it coincided with more socializing than I’d done in MONTHS. I had two very good friends over for dinner, and then I had lunch with another friend who happened to be in town for a day. My writing wasn’t going well, and I was miserable. But my friends, I found, kept my spirits up. I was hungry, and not just for leavened bread.

What is it that I do for fun?

Lately, nothing.

I tried to chalk my blasé spirits up to my annual Spring Misery and Spring allergies. And then I thumbed through my journals and found that every Spring, I feel this way and go on vacation to mitigate the Spring Misery. That’s how I get myself through Spring–and this year during my weeklong Spring Break, I’d planned on doing WORK. (The one thing about teaching that I find dreadful is that I can’t just take off for vacation at random moments–I’m married to the academic calendar).

To mitigate the Spring Misery without the luxury of travel, I tried reading books about writing, including Walter Mosley’s This Year You Write Your Novel. It crushed me. Maybe it was the timeline of writing a novel in a year, maybe it was his very very airy reference to revision…but it crushed me. I felt like a failure. I felt like he was keeping secrets from me. It takes WAY longer than a year to write a novel, at least in my reality. The pressure killed me.

In desperation, and with my happiness in mind, I took a few days off from the novel, spending the last three days of Spring Break on Farm Town (oh I am so addicted to that Facebook app). I told myself to NOT look at my novel, to NOT revise at all. Full stop. I began to feel better. I began to have time to have fun–my husband and I even went to a movie! (Hot Tub Time Machine!!!). I began to relax. I began to think of cooking (my hobby of love) again–even Lobster Thermidor. I began to WANT to work on my novel again.

Now my Spring Break ends. But my vacation isn’t ending. I’m enforcing myself to go on a vacation from novel, and I have vowed to not touch my novel until May. I need the break from the 24/7 obsession. I need to give myself permission to go out and have fun with the increase in spare time. I need to read books and meet friends and feed myself again.

I think it was Bobby McFerrin who once said something like, “In order to create, I have to be full of myself.” Well. I was empty. I am empty, for various reasons. I need to fill my reserves up. So that’s what I’m going to do with this vacation.

I will allow myself to write essays, maybe even write a short story–but no novel.

And I’ll think about Cormac McCarthy’s response, in his interview with the Wall Street Journal, to why he doesn’t write short stories: “I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.”

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10 Comments

Filed under Novel, Revision, Writing

10 responses to “Putting a stop to the 24/7 before my head explodes

  1. oh girl. i hear you. i’m “working on” being “in the moment” a lot right now, and it’s tough for those of us who never leave our heads. (you can make your own assumptions as to why those phrases are “in quotation marks.”) i think now that i’m in my fourth year of teaching (whoa), i’ve only just begun to set aside time for work, then writing, then alone time, then family and friends, then everything else. if i had not started, i doubt i would have made it through this semester on various levels.

    good news: those elements don’t have to be in that order, even though that’s how i always see them in priority.

    difficult news: turning off the go-go-go switch and carving out separate times and separate priorities when you need to.

    these days, i spend a lot of my energy telling my teacher/writer/party girl/wife/friend at various times. gotta take it bird by bird. 🙂

    • argh! stupid brain.

      *these days…../friend *SELF* to shut up* at various times.

      • I’m glad you’re doing it! One of the MOST important things I learned from my stroke was about “being in the present” (mostly because I was forced to be in the present, given my short term memory problems)…I miss that one aspect of my stroke–and now am left to recapture it. April is going to be fun, dammit! 😉

  2. Nate

    Good for you CZ, reclaim that break!

    As you know Mrs. Nate is a teacher, and I will confess that that very same question has crossed these lips many, many times (at least you had an answer, albeit a weak one!) Teaching can be a great job, but it has no end. Set strict boundaries.

    • You speak the truth, Nate.

      • Nate

        That’s the #1 recurring fight in our household running away. Might be the #1 recurring conversation too, if it isn’t edged out by “when and to where are we going to move”.

        In the movies the teacher always gives up everything for the sake of a rag-tag group of kids. IRL those teachers burn out and leave the classroom in a year or two. The teachers that last are the ones that learn to say “when” and seek the support of their friends and family.

        Your post reminds me that lately I’ve been running stupid errands during my writing time, I’ve got to put a stop to that mess forthwith.

        And BTW Bobby McFerrin is just f’n awesome in every way!

  3. That McCarthy quote is great! That’s pretty much the way I feel about writing. I like the long-haul stuff that grinds inside your head for years on end and erodes your very soul. (That was why I thought I could do a PhD, but as it turns out that wasn’t the right kind of erosion.)

    Trust that when you are fallow, writing (or revising) is still happening even when words aren’t being set down on the page. The words are really a product of a perpetual mode of consciousness. Sometimes I am even tempted to say the words are merely a byproduct.

  4. Elena’s words: “Trust that when you are fallow, writing (or revising) is still happening even when words aren’t being set down on the page” is so true. Enjoy your break. You deserve it!

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