By Jan Graham
There’s an old saying my grandmother used to use: a change is as good as a holiday. I’m not so sure about the truth in that statement at the moment because I’m on a holiday vacation and trying to write. It’s not really working for me.
I’m not sure what it is; perhaps the change of location, not being at my desk where I’ve trained myself to sit for hours each day and work or maybe it’s just to quiet here, surrounded by the sounds of nature rather than inner-city horn honking and hustle and bustle. The thing is, I’ve always told myself it would be easier to write if I didn’t have the city’s background noise distracting me, which seems to be a fallacy as well.
My choice of destination seemed perfect. I’m staying in a lovely home in the picturesque Blue Mountains of Australia. It’s quiet and serene, and the only noise throughout the day is the chattering of native birds. I had viewed my time away as more of a writing retreat than the traditional sight-seeing getaway a person imagines a vacation to be—and after five days away, that’s not proving to be the case.
I keep telling myself that taking time out to relax and do nothing is a good thing. I mean, we can’t write continually, at some point we need a break or we burn out. I’ve noticed, though, that I feel guilty not writing. This thought has been weighing heavily on my mind and I’ve started to ask myself why? Anyone in a regular job gets holiday leave, and I know from experience that when I had what’s often referred to as the evil-day-job, I didn’t experience any angst while taking time off. I never worried about the work piling up on my desk or whether I should go back to the office because I had work to do. So why should it be any different now that I write full-time?
It amazed me how many authors in writers’ forums and facebook groups commented, over the Christmas/New Year break, that it was difficult to make time to write amid family celebrations, travel, even vacations from evil-day-jobs which had seemed so promising with their string of relatively uninterrupted days. The challenge of writing during what might otherwise be considered “break time” appears to be a widespread phenomenon in the world of authors.
So it’s time to share the lesson I appear to be learning while tucked away in my mountain retreat:
I need to be nice to myself. I need time out to just chill and do the things I enjoy, like sitting in a comfy chair and reading or lying on the couch listening to music or watching movies. I’ve been taking long walks, experiencing my new environment, going out and meeting new people as well as catching up with friends I haven’t seen for ages. I don’t do those things at home. I try to tell myself I do but, in fact, taking time out for me is a rare occurrence. I sit and write, I occasionally go and visit with friends, but my main objective is to stay at home and work. I refuse initiations to social activities with the excuse that I’m working. Thinking about it now, I work seven days a week, with little time to experience everything else life has to offer. Even if I’m not writing, I’m thinking about it. I’m plotting, I’m promoting my work or I’m blogging. Most of what I do at home involves my work.
I really have turned into a boring creature ☺
The search for balance is an ongoing theme in my blog posts—balance between work, social media and publicity, focused writing and exploratory writing. That’s all well and good, but I need to add “kindness to myself” into the mix. I’m confident that if I do, in the end, it will only make me a better writer. Here’s why:
Inspiration for my writing often comes from meeting new people. I don’t write books about the people I meet or know, but interacting with others helps me with character development and many other areas of my story telling. Socializing offers a perspective that’s different from my own—and when you have multiple characters in books, you need multiple perspectives. I write contemporary erotic romance, so staying in touch with what’s happening in the world, what people think about current issues and what’s trending in society all add to the authenticity of my work. By locking myself away, I’m doing a disservice to myself and to my readers.
Having said that, time alone to do the quiet, solitary things I enjoy also gives me a writing advantage. If I’ve taken time out to be alone for a while, I’m more relaxed when I go back to the keyboard to work. If I spend that time reading, for example, I get to see the construction of a story from another author’s perspective. We all have a different voice when we write, and there’s an advantage to reading work written in a voice other than your own—again, it’s a new perspective.
The other thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been away is that taking time out gives me a physical advantage. At home, even with a carefully selected ergonomic desk, chair, keyboard, you name it…I often collapse into bed at night with parts of my body aching, I’m always readjusting my position as the day progresses, trying to ease an ache in my neck or arm. Over the last five days, I haven’t been plagued with sore shoulder and neck muscles, or aching wrists from constantly tapping away at the keyboard. At home my eyes often feel dry and sore—but here, they aren’t; I’ve given them a break from staring at a screen all day. Dare I say it…my body feels relaxed.
I don’t believe in New Year resolutions but I do believe in setting goals to improve your life, no matter what time of year it is. So my goal for 2014 is a simple one: aim to achieve balance in all things—not just a balanced work life, but a balanced life.