What happens to a light bulb when you use it off and on for a while? It burns out.
What happens to a light bulb when you leave it on constantly? It burns out faster.
What happens to a person when they work off and on for many years? They burn out. Eventually.
And what happens to a person when they work constantly without stopping? They also burn out. But it happens much more quickly. And much more frequently.
Why am I starting out this post by telling you things you likely already know?
Because sometimes we don’t even realize we need to hear certain messages until we hear them. So consider this your wake-up call, if you need one.
Now I ask you this:
Do you ever get tired of feeling like you always have to turn yourself up to your highest possible setting?
You’re definitely not alone.
I’ve felt under a lot of pressure as a writer lately. More so than I think I ever have before — even back when I was trying to get my first freelancing job and whether or not I could pay my student loans literally depended on my ability to get paid to write things.
The longer I have spent away from life as a full-time writer (I work as an editor now and write only on my own time), the more I miss writing all day. And the more I miss writing all day, the more I find myself wondering if no one is paying me to write all day because I’m not very good at writing.
I know this isn’t true — the impostor syndrome is strong with this lie. But that hasn’t stopped me from apparently deciding I have to write as much as possible, for as many publications as possible, in order to get my work out there and avoid … what? Fading into oblivion, I guess.
My brain has convinced me that if I keep writing as much as possible, I will prove to someone — maybe to myself — that I’m not bad at writing, I just haven’t settled into one writing “home” yet.
What if I never find my way home again?
It doesn’t help that the more I write the more worn down I feel, and the more worn down I feel the easier it is to believe that somehow — SOMEHOW — I am still not working hard enough.
This is a never-ending cycle I deal with quite regularly. I write more. I sleep less. I get paranoid. I get anxious. I write less. I sleep more. I feel well rested. I write more. Repeat.
Don’t worry — I’m fine. I went to bed early last night and slept wonderfully. I didn’t feel guilty for not being able to hit my goal yesterday because you know what? It’s been a WEEK. I’ve worked HARD. No one is reading my piece about the lack of respect for trees in Star Wars movies but WHO CARES I HAD FUN.
When you work hard you have to play hard. And “play” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re running as fast as you can on a treadmill blasting Lindsey Stirling’s new song because it’s the only thing reminding you right now that you are alive and that you matter.
Rest CAN include exercise, if said exercise recharges you. Is there a word for people who are revived by exercise like there is for people who are recharged by being around people? Anyway. It’s late. I have a point to make.
Rest can also mean spending two solid hours on the couch with your cat in your lap, a cup of tea in one hand, and the other holding a good book. Or it can mean watching a show or movie. Talking to a friend on the phone. Going to bed early. Watching the sunset.
It can mean anything you want it to mean as long as it’s allowing you to relax an appropriate amount.
Why does relaxation matter? Because humans aren’t built to work all the time. We’re told that’s what we have to do if we want to succeed (for some reason). But that’s a lie. Of course it’s a lie. You succeed by making time for yourself in-between periods of intense work. It’s called balance.
If you keep your light bulb on too long, it will burn out. And replacing your light bulb isn’t as easy as you might think.
Don’t forget that you are more than just a writer. You are a person — a human. Yes, you have ideas and ambitions and motivation. You also have a body that needs nurturing and rest, and a mind that needs stimulation from things other than computer screens and fictional friends.
You can’t always be “on.” You can’t always force yourself to run one hundred miles an hour and expect to be able to remain standing.
I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I’ve come close to dropping out of school, quitting a job, giving up on a dream because of it. Hard work isn’t worth it if all it gets you is suffering and pain.
You have to work. But you also have to NOT work.
Yes. Someday, your hard work will pay off. But it doesn’t have to be today.
Today, you can rest. Today, you can step away from your laptop. Go outside. Breathe in the fresh air. Imagine all the things you want to do in your life, and allowing yourself to believe — even for just one moment — that you have the power to make all your dreams come true.
If you take care of yourself, you will be able to continue working toward the many things you want to achieve. If you don’t, you won’t. It’s hard to believe we’re anything but invincible until something comes along to remind us we aren’t.
Don’t wait to be reminded. Know that every minute counts, and if you want to spend a few hundred of them watching random comedy specials on Netflix on a Friday night, do it. And don’t regret it. Your down time is just as valuable, if not more so, as your up time. Your off time is just as important as your “on” time.
You can’t always be on. Spend some time in the dark with your eyes closed. It will be good for you, I promise.
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.
One thought on “A Writer Can’t Always Be ‘On’”
Thank you for the reminder! I’ve been “working” on replacing my burned out bulb by finally learning some new things I’ve always wanted to (like quilting/sewing and planting vegetables) and by doing more with my family.
It will be hard to get back to writing, but now it’s time–past time, really. I’ve been feeling guilty over my extended break, and concerned that the longer it goes, the harder I’ll have to push myself to meet a reasonable deadline for 2020. But your words remind me that I’m human and breaks are needed. I’m hoping to get back to work now, recharged with fresh energy and new ideas. Maybe with shorter, more regular breaks in between this time, my newly lit bulb will last a bit longer. :)