I love to work.
There was a point early on in my career when I was working full-time as a staff writer AND full-time as a freelancer, on top of my ongoing hobby as a part-time blogger. I worked seven days a week, sometimes for more than 12 of the 18 or so waking hours I had each of those very long days.
I was so proud of myself for having the “willpower” to do all that. As a young twentysomething, I was making a lot of money, paying off my student loans, finishing graduate school, and convinced I’d mastered the art of working hard to earn the success I believed I deserved.
But I wasn’t doing it right.
You’ve heard plenty of “productivity experts” tell the same personal story a dozen times, so I won’t bore you with the details. In a nutshell, I thought writing all the time and sacrificing downtime would make me more successful. It didn’t. It just made me tired and sad.
But I’m not here to tell you that working hard is a bad idea, or that doing so won’t eventually get you to wherever you’re supposed to be.
The thing is, most of us don’t know how to “relax.” At least, I didn’t. When I did sit down to watch a movie or read a book, it was usually because I [felt I] should have been doing something else. Resting while procrastinating just increases your stress hormones and it’s totally not fun and you know it.
Also, sometimes people get too “into” the whole relaxing thing and forget to do the writing thing, which is the most important part.
When I felt burned out and miserable, I had to stop and ask myself what I really wanted. And the conclusion I came to was that even though I did love to work (still do!), I did not want to work all the time. Nor did I want to sit around watching Netflix every evening and weekend.
I wanted a balance. I know that’s a trigger word for some people, but that’s what I envisioned when I pictured the life I wanted. I wanted to be a hard-working, happy, successful writer who also stayed up-to-date on all the new shows and movies and Star Wars comics (yep).
I wanted to be a person who wrote things for a living who also had a life outside of her very cool job. So that’s who I became.
It didn’t happen right away. In fact, I still struggle to accept the fact that I can’t do work all the time and be happy. I, personally, need to focus my brain on other, less stressful things. I still don’t have a perfect work-free weekend schedule. I still feel guilty when I feel I don’t have the energy to work an extra hour in the evening and end up streaming a show instead.
It is a process, learning to be less of a word-making machine and more of a human.
I don’t know you, your schedule, why you write or don’t write or wish you could write more but can’t. But I do know this: if rest isn’t a small but significant part of your life, you won’t make it. You can’t do it all and have it all. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way more than once. I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to push myself when I would have been much better off just going at my own pace.
Don’t waste any of your time trying to sprint to a finish line you could jog to. Don’t hurt yourself. Enjoy writing. And enjoy everything else that makes your life good. If I could do the last five years over, I would. But I can’t. All I can do now is try to create a schedule I can live with, and learn to be content with it. Write, but not always. And a little bit of everything else, too.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.