There comes a time in every author's life when she needs a vacation from writing. Or so I told myself. I felt like I'd been on a writerly hamster wheel forever. I was mentally exhausted. Stressed. Blocked. At the precipice and ready to jump. Well, at least ready for a break from writing. So, for the first time in the twenty-six years since I sold my first book, I took that break. I decided not to start my next contracted novel until the end of the school year after my grades were in for the Suspense-Thriller class I was teaching. I hoped the break would allow me to go back to the familiar with a fresh view and renewed enthusiasm.
There were so many things I wanted or needed to do in those four months-gardening, reading, catching up with the repairs I needed to do in my apartment and my 2-flat. I took the Master Gardner program and am now a Master Gardner intern. As Spring arrived, I started to transform my own garden. All along, I read a little, but not nearly as much as I thought I would. I did some of the organization and repairs needed around my place.
And, surprise...I wrote.
After two weeks of "vacation" from writing, I started to get antsy. It was winter, so I couldn't work outside and not much else appealed to me after the first rush of freedom. The class I was teaching and the class I was taking and the volunteer work at a pet adoption center just didn't fill enough hours in the week.
My thoughts kept drifting to writing...to working on projects that didn't provide my living and therefore excited me. Okay, I've already admitted I'm addicted. I just learned it was worse than I thought.
First I decided to take another look at a suspense project that never sold but that I still believed in. Four weeks later, I sent the rewritten proposal to my agent.
The next break lasted another two weeks. After which an urban fantasy idea started to plague me. I'd gotten the premise and characters down a year ago, then had abandoned the proposal in the wake of several contracted books. So now that I had time, I picked it up again. This was going to be my "fun" project.
It should have been fun. I didn't have to write it. Nothing depended on it. It wasn't competing with other writing projects for time. So what was hanging me up? At least part of the problem was worldbuilding. Yes, I know how to worldbuild. I've done enough paranormal romances and a couple urban fantasy thrillers. But this project presented a particular challenge for me that made me rethink writing it.
After getting notes from critique partners, I would avoid the project for days. Even a couple of weeks. I questioned myself, worrying that perhaps I just couldn't write anymore. One of my critique partners suggested that I didn't have to write this story, that I could just stop. Abandon it and find something fun to do. I really did consider doing so...but something stopped me.
One of the things about me that is both a blessing and a curse-if I start something, I see it through. I don't give up in the middle. Sometimes I really want to stop, but something always drives me forward. A good example is that Russian class in college that I really, really should have dropped.
I'm currently a volunteer client for a creativity coach in training, which proved to be a good thing at this time. She gave me some tools to use that helped get my head back on track. Exercises to banish negativity.
I realized I didn't want to quit the story, that I had to push until I broke through and got the worldbuilding right. Then I was convinced the story would come. I think it finally has happened. I'm on the right track. The story is fun again. I have a couple weeks left on my professional Spring vacation. I just hope it's enough to finish a dynamite proposal. If not, the story can wait. I don't want to rush to the finish and finish weakly.
What I experienced makes me wonder about this stress thing. How deeply does it go? Career authors are pushed to produce and produce and produce. My fear is that someday I'll push myself so far that I'll break and not be able to come back. Is that likely? I don't know. I only know for sure that from now on, I'll plan for some down time between books. Maybe not four months, but even a month is more than I ever gave myself in the past.
Will four months be enough down time to bring me back from the edge? I don't know that, either. The next contracted book will tell.
I'm sure I'm not the only author who has experienced the precipice. If you have a tale you'd like to share, I'd like to hear it...